Mediaplanet spoke with Indigenous artist, Patrick Hunter on taking steps towards reconciliation in the arts & culture industry
As a successful visual artist, you created art for recognizable corporations, brands and most recently the ice hockey team Chicago Blackhawks! What role do you think Indigenous art plays in reconciliation?
Indigenous art is certainly part of it, but it’s not the whole picture. When it comes to reconciliation between my community and the colonial system there needs to be first the intention on the side of the system in order to do the hard work of listening, understanding and figuring out how to action those learnings into something that’s meaningful. The way to get there has to be done in a manner that teaches people in the colonial system how they too can figure out reconciliation for themselves. It is not up to me to teach reconciliation, or facilitate workshops on how to do it, the person wanting that knowledge has to want to change and understand how the system has paved the road to success for them while putting up barriers for BIPOC communities.
It is not up to me to teach reconciliation, or facilitate workshops on how to do it, the person wanting that knowledge has to want to change and understand how the system has paved the road to success for them,
Are you ever concerned about your art being used as a performative gesture? How do you evaluate which opportunities to accept?
I have thought about that, and in some cases, I’m sure it has which is never my intention. Sincerity goes a long way and you definitely know when someone is speaking if it is sincere or not. Even if they’re stumbling over the pronunciation of Anishinaabe, I think that’s okay if you can tell that the person is really trying when it comes to reading out loud Land Acknowledgements. It’s usually after the first zoom meeting that I can gauge the sincerity of their intention. I tend to lead from the heart rather than the head, and I’d like to think I’m a pretty good judge of character, so it’ll feel right, or I’ll have to tell them that I’m not the artist that’s right for the project.
You’ve become a leader in the creative space for Indigenous people and educator to Non-Indigenous people through your work. How do you shape the intention behind your creations?
It used to be that I was just creating artwork that I felt like doing to pretty up people’s walls in their homes. That was the intention 10 years ago. Now, you’re right, I am leading, and the work has become more intentional because I know more eyes are on my work and I hope that it makes people want to learn more about Indigenous people and our iconography. I think for the longest time, there’s been a fear of just asking a question, or if it was asked, there would be a shame infusion because the person asking just didn’t know an answer that could be seen as something really basic or simple about my culture. I think shame is something super toxic that we’re taught for whatever reason growing up, and I just don’t do it, that’s not my teaching style, and it doesn’t have a place in my life. If you have a question, simple or not, I want to create a space where it’s okay to do that. So, that said, I try to give a lot of rationale behind my work so the viewer can walk away having some more context around what it is they’re looking at.
How would you like to see the landscape of Indigenous Arts Culture transform? What does it need to get there?
I think it starts with representation in communal public spaces. I grew up very proud of my identity and my culture represented in public spaces. As I moved more south for college, and later for my career, I saw my culture less represented in public spaces. It didn’t hit me until just a few years ago that my experience of growing up, proud, isn’t every Indigenous person’s experience. I would like to see Indigenous cultures in Canada represented in the heart of cities through HUGE feasts, pow wows, and arts festivals. Some kind of immersive experience where folks outside of my community can see just how beautiful it all is. How I’m trying to help achieve this is through subtly putting my Indigenous iconography onto useful products for people’s homes, and trying to influence buyers to not only think of buying Canadian but buying Indigenous-made products.
What is one of the most meaningful pieces you have created?
Gosh, it’s hard to choose just one. It’s the best feeling when someone comes up to you or emails you saying that a specific piece holds so much meaning in their life and it’s their favourite – it gives you all the feels. The most meaningful one for me, in terms of sheer impact, was the “Every Child Matters” campaign I did with the Orange Shirt Society and Rogers. I got to see something go from a sketch drawn in my apartment, turn into a painting. It was placed on shirts and worn by thousands of Canadians, talked about throughout Rogers’ media network and displayed on screens throughout the nation. The messaging being about residential school survivors, a topic that is hard not just for survivors to talk about, but it’s difficult to listen to because the abuse they endured is horrific. That was a piece where I truly got to see what the impact of my artwork and strong collaborative partners can accomplish.
What I love about Indigenous creators is this unspoken understanding that, hey, there’s not just one piece, there’s enough pie here for everyone! Everybody EATS!
This campaign aims to empower and celebrate the strength of Indigenous peoples. What is an empowering moment for you that you would like to share?
I think I just shared it above! Haha. Aside from that though, I have to say that opening my Instagram and seeing the artworks of Chief Lady Bird, Blake Angeconeb, Luke Swinson, Tsista and Emily Kewageshig empowers me, every day! What I love about Indigenous creators is this unspoken understanding that, hey, there’s not just one piece, there’s enough pie here for everyone! Everybody EATS!
Any final message that you would like to share about your work, yourself, and your mission as an artist?
I didn’t know that this job was even an option. I didn’t know how to dream this big for myself either, and I’m really just getting started. I’d like my career to read as a roadmap on “how to do it”, and I’m fully open to being asked questions about it. One thing you can look for on my website is an FAQ from my perspective on becoming an artist. I want to have that there because there really wasn’t anyone to show me how to do any of this, and the learning curve has been so steep the last 7 years I’ve been self-employed, but it’s been the most fulfilling decision I’ve ever made. Waking up every day, deciding for yourself what to do with the day, it’s awesome, and I hope more people find themselves a career that brings out the absolute best in them.