The latest exhibit at the Killarney Heritage Home for the Arts features the work of a Canupawakpa First Nation artist celebrating female Indigenous empowerment and identity.
Multimedia artist Jessie Jannuska’s exhibit, “Zhawenjigewin mazina’igan ndizhin-izha’amaas (Love Letter to Myself),” features seven pieces and took about two years to create.
“The show was inspired by me trying to love my body — an Indigenous female body that is plus-size,” Jannuska said. “It’s trying to gain body positivity looking at Indigenous female forms, Indigenous sexuality and Indigenous feminisms.”
She described her style as one based on realism that has been stylized with abstract elements that typically incorporate mixed media.
Her latest exhibit is rooted in moving away from the lateral violence caused by colonization and the intergenerational trauma inflicted by residential schools. She hopes to remove the shame created by these institutions while challenging the male gaze when looking at female bodies.
To create the exhibit, Jannuska used herself as a subject, as well as two models, when working on different pieces.
“I had to explore my own body in different forms of drawing and beading. This was a stepping stone in gaining more of my own self-confidence, a form of healing and appreciating my beauty in a mixed Dakota, Ojibway and European female body,” Jannuska said. “Once I felt more comfortable, I asked a friend and an acquaintance to model for me. I knew one of the models from my BFA and the other from beading. My two models are both Anishinaabe of descent, with one being Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer. They both are strong, Indigenous role models in their communities. Using models allowed for me to explore and accurately portray a range of forms.”
She encouraged those who visit the show to enter the Heritage Home of the Arts with an open mind, free of judgment. She cautioned that the exhibit features nude paintings.
Each piece for the show was carefully constructed using a mix of different mediums, including sections of beadwork that took hundreds of hours to complete. Jannuska learned to bead with the Brandon University Beading Babes while completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with honours.
While attending BU, Jannuska completed her thesis, “Akiktonz’a S’ni,” exploring residential school impacts by unpacking the inter-generational effects experienced by her family and speaking with elders and knowledge keepers in the community.
Her thesis inspired her to work with mixed media because of the creative ways different mediums can be combined. The combination of diverse mediums allowed her to explore her visions to create her work.
“Akiktonz’a S’ni” utilized beading, basket weaving, dreamcatcher techniques, hide and sinew to speak to the history of trauma associated with residential schools, she said, along with their intergenerational experiences of poverty, addiction and the loss of “Aboriginal” culture.
Jannuska graduated from BU in 2018, and the exhibit marks her first large solo show since she completed her honours thesis.
Jannuska added that “Akiktonz’a S’ni” will also be on display in Killarney with her new show.
“I think it will be a good seeing where I came from and where I am now and how they connect,” Jannuska said.
She hopes those who visit the show can relate to the issues and the challenge of loving one’s body and being positive. Her aim is to bring positivity to women and men so they can enjoy their bodies while fostering increased respect for the Indigenous form.
Jannuska said her goal is to continue working in feminism by collaborating with more Indigenous models on projects.
“As an artist, I hope my work educates the viewer about what Aboriginal people have gone through. The use of the beading and my spirit colours show my learning and healing with culture,” Jannuska said.
“Through painting, drawing, beading, and installation, I am exploring my families and some elders’ personal histories with residential schools and how one can heal through exploring their Aboriginal culture. I am trying to avoid putting anyone’s personal trauma on display. The use of abstraction and realism lets me play with the idea of how to represent Aboriginal spirituality.”
Jannuska’s exhibit runs through Oct. 29 at the Heritage Home for the Arts, located at 44 Water Ave. in Killarney.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun