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Featured Video of the Day: Indigenous Youth Screen Media – Next Generation Practice And Production

by mmnationtalk on January 22, 20141267 Views

This art work was part of a prior imagineNATIVE Festival.

Canada • 2013

World Premiere
An investigation into the cultural and thematic perspectives found in youth-made digital media, their representations of identity and the methodology within community organizations and the Indigenous film movement. 

Indigenous Youth Screen and Digital Media – Next Generation Practice and Production

Co-Written By:

Rachelle Dickenson, British, Irish, Cree; Curatorial Assistant, Indigenous Art Department, National Gallery of Canada
Carla Taunton, PhD, Professor, NSCAD University: Indigenous Contemporary Art History and Settler Responsibility.

Indigenous youth screen and digital media works navigate issues of social justice, identity politics, technology, belonging, and customary practice. The innovative works of Cheyenne Scott, Ippiksaut Friesen. Cameron Parkinson, Eve-Lauryn La Fountain, and Tehoniehtathe Delisle, participant in the SKINS: Workshops on Aboriginal Digital Storytelling in Digital Media at Kahnawake, raises hard questions and pushes indigenous representation as well as artistic practice in sophisticated, nuanced and unexpected ways. Through the experience of exploring recent Indigenous youth screen and digital media works we’ve found that the future is bright, dynamic and full of stories that are courageous, triumphant, critical and healing.

As emerging scholars, educators, and critical thinkers in the field of contemporary Indigenous arts, the development of our diverse research and curatorial practices have been mentored and strengthened by leaders in the Indigenous arts community. In a similar way, the youth media workshop programs across Canada and the imagineNATIVE Youth screenings mentor and support both the creative and professional development of young artists. Here, we look at selected works that are part of a larger body of recent youth media production in Canada. These young storytellers, particularly, the diversity, depth and sophistication of aesthetics and critical engagement in their works, inspire us.  We admire the courageous ways in which youth artists negotiate their burgeoning practice and, in many cases, their identities, as they enter complicated and competitive art markets.

Inspired by Indigenous contemporary art practices over the past three decades, Indigenous contemporary art histories and criticisms in Canada and globally have exploded in the last 10 years.  As we continue to work to challenge, dispel, and rupture stereotypical representations and expectations for indigenous artistic practice, we honour the work of artists, scholars and curators who have demanded and claimed space for Indigenous perspectives, stories, and activism. Strategies of ‘claiming spaces’ or indigenizing spaces, support and transmit modes of expression and methodology that assert diverse cultural autonomy, self-determination and cultural continuance through storytelling. As Candice Hopkins puts it: “Story tellers are continually embracing new materials and technologies such as video and digital media – materials that ensure that these practice maintain their relevance. I would suggest that this move does not threaten storytelling tradition, but is merely a continuation of what Aboriginal people have been doing from time immemorial: making things our own.”

As acts of cultural continuance and critical inquiry, these recent youth screen media works are part of a continuum of Indigenous art practice which have always been rooted in ‘making things our own,’ through innovation in storytelling. For example, the works by Cheyenne Scott and Ippiksaut Friesen empower the diversity of indigenous identities through a layering of aesthetics and audio. Scott’s piece Spot the NDN is a seemingly uncomplicated statement of belonging and community. Scott’s carefully considered overlays of the voices of her peers articulates a complicated relationship between what is means to be indigenous and expectations of indigeneity in urban contexts. Friesen’s experimental video-work, The Dimming, engages an Inuk creation story of the Sun and Moon, which on one hand, illuminates and contextualizes the impact of the Indian Residential School system on Inuit communities. On the other hand, Friesen’s telling of this story is also a deeply personal declaration and a journey.  She embeds her narrative within a web of contemporary and traditional aesthetics that incorporate Inuit printmaking and textiles in collaboration with portraiture and black light stop-motion. 

These two works exemplify Dana Claxton’s poignant statement that “[a]boriginal new media is connected in context and cultural practice as a result of shared socio-cultural experiences. Together, these works bring forth significant accounts that are embodied in our ancient homeland.  Our creative expression sustains a connection to ancient ways, places our identities and concerns in the immediate, while linking us to the future.”

Interestingly, however, the work of Cameron Parkinson does not hearken back to ancient knowledge. Parkinson’s sound-piece, Run is a carefully constructed and layered articulation of his experience of place, belonging and rootedness.  We are inclined to interpret issues of indigenous rights and social justice in this work and have been encouraged to do so by the artist; his intent, however, was not to synthesize ancient ways, but rather to articulate personal lived experience and perspectives.  Does this make his work any less indigenous or rather, do works such as Run challenge our expectations of what indigenous art must address or look like?  Perhaps, then, when considered in relationship to the historizied essentialization of Indigenous cultural production by Euro-Canadian society, Run exemplifies the rejection of such expectations and signals the success of Indigenous art and curatorial activism in the dissolution of out-dated expectations of cultural production.

The proficiency with which indigenous youth media production synthesizes technology, identity and colonial legacies through a reconsideration of both indigenous and non-indigenous histories, is evident in Eve-Lauryn LaFountain’s In the Ghost Land.  In this 16mm film, LaFountain, provides a representation of disembodied occupation, which locates the viewer in an ambiguous present.  Through the aesthetic collaboration of seemingly dated cinematography and haunting audio that evokes both an indigenous and and Jewish presence, LaFountain, acknowledges how, in American western expansion, undergirded by Manifest Destiny, Indigenous peoples and rights were made absent.  At the same time, she refers to the notion that the past is present, specifically, that the impacts of colonial expansion are still felt today. Through her inclusion of evocative Pow Wow and Klezmer music, in juxtaposition with a seemingly unpopulated landscape, In the Ghost Land, creates a commentary of the continuous presence of Indigenous sovereignty and Jewish settlement in a constructed ‘wild west’.

The dynamic expression of cultural sovereignty through indigenous story telling and an aesthetic articulation of Indigenous active presence is well demonstrated in the work of Ot:sì! Rise of the Kanien’kehá:ka Legends. Ot:sì! was produced through the SKINS: Workshops on Aboriginal Digital Storytelling in Digital Media, a youth video game creation program based in Kahnawake Quebec. As Tehoniehtathe Delisle, lead designer of Ot:sì!1.0, explains, working as a collective of Indigenous scholars, artists, students, knowledge keepers and technicians, builds online video games from Haudensaunee traditional stories and contemporary teachings.  Ot:sì!, as a media-web based project, activates intergenerational community-collaboration whereby youth mobilize cultural autonomy through their collective identities, stories, and experiences. Recent Indigenous youth screen and media works like Ot:sì!, embody Indigenous cultural practice of adaption and innovation of technologies, in order to ‘make things our own’.

Taken together, including the distinctness of individual practice, youth screen and digital media works present contemporary indigenous realities and lived experiences, powerfully imagined through audio-visual languages of self-determined indigeneity and sovereign Indigenous spaces. As Mohawk curator Steven Loft writes, “When members of a community assert control over their own lives and culture, politically, socially, and artistically, they go beyond oppression. Thus, control of “our” image becomes not only an act of subversion, but of resistance, and ultimately, liberation…” The next generation of Indigenous screen and digital media artists is a powerful one.  We are in good hands!

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