With his brush, Nelson White captures modern Indigenous life

Painter Nelson White, a member of the Flat Bay First Nation Band, lives in St. John's. (Zach Goudie/CBC - image credit)
Painter Nelson White, a member of the Flat Bay First Nation Band, lives in St. John's. (Zach Goudie/CBC - image credit)
Zach Goudie/CBC
Zach Goudie/CBC

If you have a picture in your mind of what an Indigenous person looks like, then there's a new show at The Rooms you should see.

It's by Nelson White, a Mi'kmaw painter and member of the Flat Bay First Nation Band. Tukien (Awaken) boldly depicts the variety and vibrancy of Indigenous people in today's society. The colourful portraits are of real people, including White's friends and family, and other Indigenous creators such as artist Jordan Bennett and hip-hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids.

"Indigenous people tend to be seen in one light, and I paint people from my life who are cool, interesting, funky Indigenous people." said White. "People tend to come with preconceived notions about what Indigenous people are. Either that we're a people of the past, or a people of poverty, or a people who are only in regalia, feathers and those sort of things."

White's portraits show Indigenous people taking selfies, piloting helicopters, working as doctors and police officers and simply existing as modern human beings, holding a child or a pet, or taking a nap. The subject's Indigenous identity is often conveyed subtly but proudly, through details like a revealed tattoo or beaded necklace.

Tukien (Awaken) opens Jan. 27 with a public reception at The Rooms. Nelson White will also be giving an artist's talk on Wednesday, and a gallery tour on Feb. 17. He hopes people will take in the show, and the simple but powerful message behind it: "That Indigenous people are cool. That we are interesting, that we come from a variety of walks of life." White said.

Click the video above to see White's portraits for yourself.

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