August 9, 2017

Bite Sizes: Joi T. Arcand

Throughout the Summer Institute, we'll be bringing you Bite Sizes which is sort of an episodic mini studio visit where we get to know bits about what the participants are up to and a bit about themselves. In this episode, we speak with artist Joi T. Arcand.

When I met up with Arcand, she was correcting misprints of pins she designed and outsourced for fabrication. The design is a riff from a motel sign in Arcand’s hometown of Saskatoon that oddly featured a neon palm tree and in red lettering spelt Capri. The peculiarity of this tropical image in a place where a palm tree could never been grown is an impetus for Arcand’s take on the sign. “It is funny to see things like that, that are not indigenous to the land.”

In Arcand’s version, she replaces Capri with Askiy, which in Cree means land. For Arcand, it is just another way to widely circulate the Cree language and Indigenous presence to the larger public conscious. The majority of her text-based work and designs have sought to do exactly this. By working with the phonetic of the Cree word, Arcand opens us up to a small piece of the language and makes visible its existence: “It’s a word that is easy for people to say because it is short. It is a word that I think a lot of people should know even if they are not Cree", she tells me, “and it is an easy entry point into the Cree language. It is very much about educating people. A lot of people don’t know whose land they’re on or who the original peoples of the land are” she adds. By reinserting Askiy in juxtaposition to the palm tree, Arcand highlights the false tropical appeal entities like that motel proliferates.

Apart from the pins, Arcand has been at work on developing a comic book adaptation of another project of Arcand's - The Beautiful NDN SuperMaidens (see this article about Tanis Worme and Arcand working on one edition of this series here: after coming across the early racist promotional poster that depict sexualized images of Indigenous women at the turn of the 19th century. Previously, she reworked this dehumanizing imagery through collaged photography, inserting her close community of family and friends. Now, she’s broadening it into an extensive illustration-filled comic book where her family and friends are a traveling band of superheroes: “I was thinking about how growing up we didn’t have a lot of role models reflected back to us in the media as Indigenous girls so I wanted to turn my family and friends into those kinds of characters. That’s why I came up with the superhero persona” Arcand expresses.

My sister for example is an academic soil scientist and she just earned her PhD, which is an amazing feat. Her character is called the doctor and everyone comes up with a narrative of what they might do if they were a superhero.

Arcand informs me of how she thought of her 13year old niece and their shared love for comic books while conceiving of the project. In a way, Arcand is making available to new generation, a form of representation and alternate narrative she didn’t see reflected in any kind of media when growing up. “I thought it would be cool to provide that kind of thing for her and for people of all ages to have those kinds of representation.”

Closing off my chat with Arcand I asked her one final question on what she thinks the world needs more off. And appropriately, she simply responds with Cree.

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