Regina artist collective ready to showcase Indigenous body painting at world festival in Europe

It started with an idea to explore traditional Indigenous body painting and turned into a family-like group of artists and models. Now the Regina-based group is taking its art international.

Amber Maxie is a filmmaker in Regina. After being away from the art world for some time, Maxie wanted to start filmmaking again to explore Indigenous identity and traditional body painting.

"There is no real written record of it. It's a lot of oral history," Maxie said. "I really wanted to find a way to capture that kind of history."

She approached artist Ren Lonechild about a project. Over time they linked up with Larissa Kitchemonia, Garnett Dervis Tootoosis Jr. and Jayda Delorme to create Where We Stand, a Regina-based artist collective.

Where We Stand has now been invited to participate and compete in the World Body Painting Festival this July in Klagenfurt at the Lake Wörthersee in Austria. 

Maxie was already working on a film about the history of the art form, but now it will also be about representing Indigenous people, identity and art internationally. 

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Larissa Kitchemonia started drawing as a young girl on The Key First Nation. She fell away from it as a teenager, but her uncle inspired her to start up again. 

"He was actually the one that bought me my first paint," she said. "He didn't give me any direction. He was just like 'Here's some supplies.' "

Since then, Kitchemonia has gone to school for painting and worked around Regina, including at the First Nations University of Canada tipis.

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"For me, it's really therapeutic," she said. "My art is my way of putting something out into the world."

She said the move to painting bodies wasn't a difficult transition. She was used to painting people on canvas. Now she was simply painting her floral art on people. 

Kitchemonia said she hopes people get a sense of her Indigenous heritage when they look at her art. 

"It's really important to me that people look at my artwork and they know that it's Indigenous," she said. "It's really important that it's like visually there and they have a space."

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Olivia Saulteaux, who was recently was in Europe for the Indigenous Fashion Week in Paris, is one of the models travelling to Austria with Where We Stand. She said there's a big difference between the two types of modelling. 

"On the runways I'm wearing clothes," she said with a laugh. "I've never done anything like this before. It was definitely out of my comfort zone but I thought it's a really good opportunity."

It's important to her to represent Indigenous fashion, art and culture on an international stage because of who she is, she said. Saulteux grew up in the city and didn't know much about her culture, she said. 

"I am a proud Indigenous young woman," she said. "It's nice to be able to connect with my own people and hearing stories — it helps me have a better understanding of who I am as a person and where I come from."

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Garnett Dervis Tootoosis Jr. has been drawing, sketching and designing for years but started painting about four months ago. 

"[Kitchemonia] needed a canvas and she convinced me so I ended up coming out and let her paint me up," Tootoosis said.

During his time as a model, he started using one of the airbrush machines for fun. Maxie saw his skills and invited him to be one of the artists. Art has always been a way for Tootoosis to express himself, whether through sketching, clothing or tattoos. 

"I love self-expression. Everything that's marked on me from head to toe is who I am as a person," he said.

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In Austria, Tootoosis plans to do traditional family markings, with a brown bear along with Cree writing and symbolism. 

"My generation and the generation below me, we kind of lost base with [our traditions]," he said. 

Tootoosis grew up in a traditional home until he was placed in the foster care system at nine years old. His father got him out of the system when he was 10 and he has lived in Regina since. Art and music helped reconnect him with his culture. 

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As the big trip approaches, the group is practicing, preparing and filming. Ren Lonechild is helping them with their airbrushing and painting techniques, even though he won't be making the trip. They've gotten to know each other well.

"I love the relationship that's being built between all of us," she said. "We're close in a different way. I don't think the group of us would have happened upon each other and become as close friends as we have."

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