Meet the Cree artist behind the 'Bead This In Your Style' challenge

Saige Mukash only started beading a few years ago, but is inspiring bead artists from across North America with the launch of a design challenge.

It's called "Bead This In Your Style" and is a bi-monthly challenge to get beaders of all levels working a piece based on Mukash's original designs using whatever materials, colours, techniques, or styles they prefer over the course of a month. 

"On Instagram, I saw a lot of 'draw this in your style' challenges, and I thought it would be really cool if we could do that with beadwork," said the 22-year-old Cree artist from Whapmagoostui, Que.

"Seeing other people's process and how they interpret the piece is super interesting."

Mukash started the first challenge in June over Instagram and Facebook. Participants are asked to keep the finished piece personal use or gift to family or friends. 

Mukash, who uses the pronoun they, said the designs draw inspiration from what grows and lives in the North — a place they said can be difficult to live in while being a full-time artist. Whapmagoostui is the most northern Cree community in the province.

Relying on social media has become integral for sharing work, like the video they posted earlier this month of a beaded kaleidocycle.

"My mother didn't have social media. For her, it was going to events, art shows, and all those kind of things. But, it's a totally different experience for me. Everything is done on social media," said Mukash.

"I really enjoyed making the kaleidocycle because I fidget a lot. I thought it would be a cool way to work with my hands, make it, and once it's done, I still have something to play around with."

Beaders across North America take part

While the first challenge asked beaders for their take on a floral design, this month participants are beading a strawberry design. 

"I just try to keep them very simple shapes and designs," Mukash said.

"The challenge is not only for experienced beaders, it's also for beginners who want to practise more with their beadwork."

Indigenous bead artists from across Canada and the United States have taken the challenge, demonstrating a variety of beading techniques, colour schemes and materials like seal skin, birch bark and quills.

"It's really fun to do when you're uninspired," said Destiny Thomas, a beadwork artist from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne. 

"If I had to compare it, the beading challenge is to beaders what mandala colouring books are to drawers or other artists. There isn't much thinking other than deciding what colours to use. It has its own calming effect."

Saige Mukash

Thomas wasn't the only one from Akwesasne to participate. Kaiahtenhtas Thompson, a longtime beader who splits her time between Akwesasne and Squamish, B.C., said the challenge was a fun opportunity to take a break from orders she's been struggling with.

"No matter how long you've been beading, you'll still be able to enjoy yourself," said Thompson.

"It's such a beautiful thing that no two of these strawberries are the same."