Renowned artists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch have created a unique, large-scale painting for MacEwan University’s kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre.
Ms. Belcourt and Mr. Murdoch came to paint the mural while travelling across the country to raise funds with Onaman Collective, an Indigenous artist group to which they both belong. The artists posted on Facebook that they were looking for commissions to help support Nimkii Aazhibikong, an Ojibway-language camp put on by the group. Terri Suntjens, MacEwan’s director of Indigenous initiatives, jumped at the prospect.
“They happened to be in Edmonton looking for a project and within 10 minutes, Terri booked them to come to our space,” said Keestin O’Dell, student engagement adviser at the centre. “They did the painting here, but I like to think that the feel of the painting, the feel of our centre and the feel of our community went into that painting as well.”
The artwork, a five-foot by nine-foot acrylic painting on canvas, took about a week to complete. It symbolizes water, life and womanhood – themes that both artists revisit often in their work. Mr. Murdoch, who hails from Serpent River First Nation in Northern Ontario, and Ms. Belcourt, who is Ontario-raised Michif with ties to the Manitou Sakhigan (Lac Ste. Anne) community in central Alberta, painted the piece together. “Thunderbird woman [on the left] is Isaac’s image,” Ms. Belcourt explained. “She’s an iconic image that has been seen at Standing Rock and all around the world. People have embraced that image as a symbol of strength and resiliency. The other image of the woman [on the right] is my drawing and that’s a symbol beyond motherhood. It’s a symbol of protection of babies and the next ones to come.”
Mr. O’Dell, who hails from Frog Lake, Alberta, said the mural is also a good representation of the Indigenous student population at MacEwan, where approximately 1,500 students out of 20,000 identify as Indigenous and most Indigenous students are women. “The painting is talking about not only water and how water is life, but also motherhood and that cycle as well,” Mr. O’Dell said. “We’re celebrating Indigenous women and talking about them [as] the leaders of our community.” He added that he hopes the mural will serve as a sign of hope and as inspiration.
It is a beautiful painting that to me speaks to the hopefulness of a lifespan of wellness based on love.