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From the big screen to our streets

by Youmna El Halabi November 13, 2018
From the big screen to our streets

Montreal honours Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin in new mural

While walking along Lincoln Ave., one will notice a recent addition to the street’s regular brick exteriors. Unlike St-Laurent Blvd. and the Plateau, street art rarely graces this avenue.

However, on Nov. 4, award-winning filmmaker and artist Meky Ottawa began painting over a brick wall on the corner of Lincoln and Atwater Avenues as a way to pay homage to Indigenous icon Alanis Obomsawin. In collaboration with MU MTL and inaugurated by the Conseil des arts de Montréal, the mural is a touching gesture to the Abenaki artist and esteemed documentary filmmaker.

Ottawa is a Manawan native, from the Atikamekw community and has been making films from the early age of 13. Now in her mid-twenties, Ottawa has recently participated in an installation with two other Indigenous artists at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

MU MTL aims to rejuvenate Montreal neighbourhoods using art, transforming the city into an open air “MUseum.”
Co-founders Elizabeth-Ann Doyle and Emmanuelle Hébert came together to showcase urban art’s ability to transform, or ‘ripen’ a city’s artistic culture.

The new mural on Lincoln depicts Obomsawin in a red dress, sporting her hair in braids and holding a traditional Abenaki drum. According to Abenaki legend, the spirit of the drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth, inducing harmony by accompanying the voices of the people.

Obomsawin’s portrait is framed against a beautiful teal background. Olive branches float above her head, and forming a halo.

Although Obomsawin’s figure is the focal point of the piece, it is the children below her that catch the viewer’s eye. Holding hands in single file, they are inside what seem to be musical soundwaves. It is as if Obomsawin’s drumming is dictating the children’s direction, seemingly guiding them forward.

Obomsawin is a renowned singer, writer and storyteller, performing for humanitarian causes in Canada, the United States and Europe. She has greatly impacted Indigenous communities by spending almost 40 years directing documentaries at the National Film Board (NFB) with strong social content. The icon has worked on over 30 films documenting the discrimination and injustice her people face in Canada.

The 1977 film, Mother of Many Children, examines the central role of women in Indigenous cultures and was screened during POP Montreal this past September. The film is available online via the NFB database. Kanesatake: 270 years of resistance (1993) examines the land dispute between the Mohawk people of Kanesatake and the municipality of Oka, known as the Oka Crisis. The film is still used as an educational tool in many of Concordia’s classrooms.

According to the NFB, Obomsawin’s main concern is education, “because that’s where you develop yourself, where you learn to hate, or to love.”

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