By Deb A.
Ursula Johnson, also known as Little Bear, is this year's winner of Canada's Sobey Art Award.
The prestigious prize recognises the country's most promising contemporary artists under the age of 40. This year's shortlist included a record number of women (four of five of the artists are female) and two Indigenous artists from the five regions.
Ursula Johnson, representing the Atlantic region, is a performance and installation artist of Mi'kmaw First Nation ancestry. She descends from a long line of artists, including Caroline Gould, her great-grandmother and master basket weaver. Often incorporating basketry traditions into her art, Ms. Johnson explores identity, community, colonialism, and her Indigenous heritage: she wove baskets around herself for her Basket Weaving (Cultural Cocoon) series (2003-2015), was symbolically scalped in Elmiet (He/She Goes Home) (2010) to draw attention to Nova Scotia's history of scalping, and collaborated with Soto Pow Wow dancer Bert Milberg for Hot Looking (2014), a commentary on the appropriation of indigenous culture.
"I will now have the tremendous opportunity to work on a larger scale and expand the reach of my work to a broader community while exploring more diversity in materials and content as well as beginning to create a network of collaborators internationally!" Ms. Johnson said of her win.
Her desire to work with and learn from others was just part of the reason Ursula Johnson received the $50,000 CDN award; the selection committee noted that she "was singled out for her strong voice, her generosity and collaborative spirit. Through her work, she redefines traditional materials and re-imagines colonized histories."
Ursula Johnson is a talented, insightful artist with a strong sense of community, history and social justice--in other words, a fitting representative for the nation's contemporary art scene in a year in which Canada's colonial history has come under the microscope and gender and identity politics dominate public discourse.
The shortlisted artists, Raymond Boisjoly (West Coast & Yukon), Divya Mehra (Prairies & North), Bridget Moser (Ontario), and Jacynthe Carrier (Quebec), will each receive $10,000 CDN. All five artists' works are on display at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto until December 9th.
By Deb A.
Catherine Evleshin's crisp, vivid writing graces the pages of the latest issue of Agave Magazine in the form of a short story entitled Maceo's Rumba. A former dancer, she neatly weaves the rhythms of dance into her writing, creating works that pulse with energy and meaning. She recently shared her unique perspective on fiction with us for this week's installment of Five Questions With....
AGAVE: As a former performer, researcher, and teacher, what motivates you to write?
CATHERINE EVLESHIN: As an “objective” researcher, I found I could not tell the stories that I knew were out there. Fiction can often reveal more profound truths. I went back and forth for some years, swinging deeper into the world of fiction.
What themes are you most interested in examining through writing?
I am concerned with environmental issues and social justice –intrigued with the near future. Most of my stories could be labeled political or science fiction or fantasy, but dance creeps in, because I can demonstrate setting and character best in the mode of celebration, especially since music and dance are so central to African and Latino cultures.
What role do you believe dance can play in literature?
That depends upon the author’s experience. I can spot a surface understanding not based on actual participation by the author. Not that she must be “professional,” just authentic.
"Maceo's Rumba" practically vibrates with energy. What you you believe is the key to maintaining a steady, elevated pace throughout the story?
“Maceo’s Rumba” is a paean to my favorite dance complex, the Afro-Cuban rumba, and a tribute to the Cuban artists and everyday people who suffer family separation, physical deprivation, and bureaucratic torment. African drums, Spanish poetry, flamenco passion, unique to Cuba and informing musical and dance styles throughout the Americas, even back to Africa. Alternately sensual, tender, combative, or comic, performed with fierce pride and synchronicity. I love what you said about the story vibrating with energy. That is because Havana itself does that. No one comes away from that city unchanged. I kept the pace by visualizing, dancing in my mind, if you will, the tension and rhythm of the city.
What experience would you like to give your reader?
You might ask, why not use film/video to illustrate dance. Been there, done that. I took on the challenge of fiction to do what no other medium can, get inside the head of the dancer, with the goal that the reader can vicariously experience the intensity.
By Deb A.Dorotea Saykaly
What happens when an abandoned building slowly gives itself over to the power of nature? PAINTED is a beautiful exploration of the tension between civilization and wilderness. We spoke with Compagnie Marie Chouinard dancer Dorotea Saykaly, the film's dancer and choreographer, about the her experience creating the Best Dance Film of the 2012 Fastnet Film Festival.
Photo courtesy of
AGAVE: What motivated you to do this piece?
DOROTEA: The director, Duncan McDowall, who is also my partner, suggested that we work together and combine architecture and dance. He always had a fascination and interest in abandoned spaces, and more importantly the theme of the tug-of-war between nature and civilization. When he suggested that we work together, him on the directing, and myself on the choreography and performance, I was honored and jumped at the occasion. I also wanted to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone of performing on stage.
Tell us about your character in PAINTED.
The character is a lonely one, yet she keeps on dancing and is trying to find breath even though she knows her candle is burning out. It's her struggle and the struggle of that immense structure around her. They are both trying to survive. I think that is for me was the essence of the choreography and motor of the film.
Did any of your choreography arise from the moment, or was it all carefully scripted beforehand?
The choreography was all set for simplicity of shooting. It was extremely hard for me to set choreography, since I normally work with improvisational systems, but the fact that 95% of the choreography in PAINTED was precisely set to the music made the shoot a lot easier. However, I did keep a little room for improvisation and we see this in the scene where I'm dancing up against a coloured wall and the flakes of paint fall off I as I brush them. I knew the feeling that I wanted to convey in that section and the movement that I envisioned, so when it came time to shoot, I could allow myself to float through the dance and not think so much about recreating exactly the same moves from take to take. It's actually my favorite part of the film.
How does being on camera compare to being on stage?
The shoot took place over only one day. That's intense! I learned very quickly that when the camera is rolling, it isn't time to be shy. It's very different, being on stage versus being in front of the camera. The stage is so visceral, in the moment, ephemeral. The memory lasts, but the physical trace vanishes. With film, you have more variants to think of: time, what the end result will look like, angles. It's a whole other art form that I'm looking forward to exploring more.
Brief Candle, the second part of the trilogy, is due to be released this summer.
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