MONTREAL (CITYNEWS) – Montreal-based Mohawk artist Skawennati is heading to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., on a research fellowship, and she’s using the opportunity to learn more about her Indigenous heritage.
Skawennati, who creates virtual artwork on Indigenous culture, hopes to use her research at the prestigious American museum to create more art.
Only 16 people worldwide were selected to the Smithsonian fellowship.
“I get to go into this museum, this institution, that has an incredible collection of Indigenous artifacts and I get to look at those and see what they have there, and I get to learn about them,” said Skawennati, the co-director of Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace. “And I get to therefore learn more about my own culture by doing that.
“I want my people to see what’s there. We’re very curious to know what is in those collections. Very many things have been lost to us. Many things have been forgotten.”
Skawennati has been creating futuristic artwork, like avatars in cyberspace, since 1997. Her characters are Indigenous people set in the future – something she says was important for her to do.
“We are always depicted in the past,” she said. “We are shown wearing buckskin and beads and feathers, which is great and beautiful. And actually many people are reviving those traditions, and I think that’s awesome. But we are never depicted in the future.
“We’ve been so busy just surviving and resisting.”
But her work doesn’t only look ahead. She also explores historical roots of Indigenous culture. The research she hopes to conduct at the world’s largest museum and research complex stems from the origins of the Indigenous ribbon shirt.
“The ribbon shirt is part of our traditional regalia,” she added. “And many Indigenous people wear it. But I don’t know where it first came from. So I’m very interested to know where it came from. By knowing that, I can tell a story about it. What I mostly do is tell stories.”
Skawennati says she’s unsure exactly when she will begin her Smithsonian fellowship. Her departure has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m very happy to be going there. I feel an honour, but I also think there’s a responsibility. It really matters to us.”