An Aboriginal man converses in Mohawk to a silent and attentive audience, he is performing a ritual of gratitude for all elements in life: people, earth, water, animals, plants, wind, sun and stars. Visitors don’t comprehend the language but they stand in silent contemplation. The ritual was held by Philip Deering, a Mohawk, at the opening of the exhibition Native Immigrant by Chilean artist Carolina Echeverria. The exhibition comprises 25 paintings, three sculptures and three participatory installations, all dealing with the experience of immigration.
In Echeverria’s opinion, everyone is an immigrant in Canada, with different arrival dates (except for the First Nations people). However, she feels “culturally closer to First Nations than to the settled people of the country,” because Native people, despite having different languages and cultures, identify as a single nation. Thus, through her work, she attempts to bridge the gap between immigrants and First Nation peoples.
Paintings are colourful, playful and symbolic. She depicts the connection of immigrants to the land through her imagery: women in nature, with trees, plants, animals, water and earth. Deering mentioned that for Aboriginal people, the myth of the creation begins in the sky; it involves a woman, birds and earth. Similarly to Echeverria’s work, Deering considers “that nature is a key element” for his Aboriginal culture.
Along with the paintings, three participatory works by Echeverria invite viewers to contribute with personal objects in the creation of the art.
“Immigrant Dress” invites the visitors to get together and sew a dress with fabrics, clothing or other symbolic objects of sentimental, multicultural values,” Echeverria explained.
For the artist, it is a way to construct culture inclusively. She wishes that the activity of creating the dress “could become a national activity, besides hockey and curling.” She dreams that all airports in Canada would have a dress to welcome immigrants.
“The Charter of Immigrant Values” is an ongoing creation of a mural where visitors can write their own “manifesto of Native immigrants.”
Echeverria explained that “it is a creative and inclusive response to the proposed Quebec charter of values. The time where the country [is] divided in French and in English is over, it is very outdated.”
The participatory installation “We are all in the same boat” is composed of a hand-knitted, eight-foot long boat and several glass containers.
“The boat navigates in the ocean of memories and I am inviting the viewers to get detached from their memories by putting personal objects in the container with St-Laurent River water,” she said.
Echeverria is influenced by the work of the Brigada Ramona Parra, a Chilean leftist art movement and by the artist Norval Morrisseau who created a visual language for native people. The exhibition has a rich vocabulary of life and rooting through different mediums. Paintings, sculptures and installations invite contemplation, imagination, healing and contribution.
All her work intends to empower immigrants. She considers art political, and that it is connected to people and permits social change. Furthermore, she wishes that artists would be fighters for ideals and for culture because culture is organic and alive.
“Imagine if that charter of values would have been written together, how amazing that would have been,” she said. “Instead of everybody fighting, we would all be excited about creating a new society or creating an identity based on common values.”
Native Immigrant runs until Nov. 3 in the Rialto Hall Theatre located at 5711 Parc Ave. Those who are interested in collaborating in “Immigrant Dress” can attend the specific sessions taking place from Wednesdays to Sundays from 12 to 6 p.m.