Artist Lance Cardinal is increasing Indigenous awareness - in Alberta and beyond

·5 min read

(ANNews) - The vibrant image on the cover of this month’s Alberta Native News is “Intergenerational Love” by Lance Cardinal, an acclaimed contemporary artist. It is a detail from a mural that the artist is currently painting for the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.

Cardinal has worked as an artist in Alberta for over 25 years and has done a large variety of work in the region, including set and prop design, live performances, as well as painting, sculpture and drawing.

He has been nominated and won multiple awards in theatre, such as the Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding Set Design.

Lance sat down with Alberta Native News and at the time of the interview, he was at an IKEA in Edmonton to support new prints of a painting by artist Erin Currie -- from Montana First Nation. The prints are selling for $20 and 100% of the proceeds go to the Bent Arrow Healing Society.

Cardinal and IKEA have been in collaboration for “the last year or two to incorporate some new Indigenous elements into their space. (In part) to acknowledge that the land they’re on is in treaty 6 territory.”

“This was an idea they had to bring representation and authenticity to their store and to have the Indigenous people of Alberta see themselves in these spaces.”

In collaboration with IKEA, Cardinal created a huge, 40-foot mural that “represents the seven sacred teachings,” earlier this year. IKEA recently debuted its first-ever indigenous showroom, which was designed by Cardinal.

The artist faced many obstacles on his artistic journey. He grew up on Bigstone Cree Nation, Treaty 8.

“My home community is Calling Lake, Alberta and my reserve is up near Desmarais, by Wabasca.”

“I come from a very small town – about 500 people - an Indigenous community. And I grew up there with a pretty typical Indigenous upbringing.”

Cardinal continued, “Our family, a single-mom-family, was very poor. Didn’t have muchmoney; didn’t have many resources then. I grew up around a lot of alcohol, a lot of crime and those kinds of environments. So, it was a bit of a tough journey growing up.”

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have much of a place to express who I was. I didn’t know it then, but I realized when I was older that I was two-spirited. And there was a lot of identity crises trying to discover who I was. I was also a mixed-blooded Indigenous person -- I’m very light-skinned – so, I faced a lot of discrimination and stereotypes in my small town.”

Art was his escape from all the discrimination, name-calling, and bullying that he was facing.

“Creativity was my best outlet. It let me escape into a world of imagination where I could be free. I could be important, I could be heard, and that just translated further and further into my career.”

And there was never a plan B; “I absolutely always knew I was going to be an artist. That was something that I wanted to do when I was growing up, something that I focused on in my high school years, something I went to school for in my university and college years; and something that I do full-time and have done professionally full-time for about thirty years.”

Cardinal worked as a performer at the beginning of his career and worked on stages all over Western Canada. He then got into set design work and started his own set-building company and ran it for fifteen years, creating pieces for the mainstages of Vancouver and winning many of the top Vancouver set-design awards.

Then after spending time in the theatre industry he bounced back into the art world by “doing sculpture shows in galleries all over Vancouver for a while. Showcasing my contemporary Indigenous sculpture work.”

Pine Needle is one of such sculptures.

The large, hand-carved sewing needle was made out of pine wood and was placed through an artist plinth, the white-stand common for displaying sculptures. To support the notion that beadwork and sewing are artforms, Cardinal said he used the giant needle to represent “the artisans in Indigenous communities. The sewers, the beaders who are under appreciated - who are not considered artists.”

“I decided to put that needle right through the plinth to talk about how we are breaking through into the world of art and away from the world of artisans and crafts.”

However, Cardinal felt a longing for home, “All that was great and fine, but I was living in Vancouver away from my homeland, and felt like I needed to come home and bring all that knowledge and experience back to Alberta and try to build the Indigenous footprint in Edmonton. My goal now is to try to raise the recognition of our people here in Edmonton through creativity, positivity, conversation. Really using art to tell our story, but in a very accessible way so that all Nations can learn.”

Today, Lance Cardinal is currently hosting a children’s show that he has created, called Indigenous Art Adventures with Lance Cardinal.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Cardinal was isolated far away from his family. With experience in children’s workshops, he had the idea to create some children’s videos for families to do with their children at home during isolation. What began as 12 videos produced, written, and directed by himself, Cardinal is now in a TV studio in Edmonton doing the videos full-time.

“It’s sort of like an art tutorial video, but it also has culture in it. I teach Cree words that are associated with the art that I’m sharing and I also talk about Indigenous artists all over Canada as part of the teaching.”

“It’s a fun, Indigenous-style Mr. Dress-up or Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood but with Cree words and Indigenous art.”

Indigenous Art Adventures is being run through the Aboriginal Congress of Alberta Association’s Facebook page, but you can also check out Lance’s YouTube channel “Family Art Adventures with Lance Cardinal,” which has all the episodes available for streaming for free.

Jacob Cardinal is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Native News.

Jacob Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News