Lauren Crazybull will spend 2019 painting a portrait of the province many know as Alberta. This project and its legacy will offer not only an understanding of what this province looks like to Indigenous Peoples on this land, but also serve as a glimpse into what can be accomplished when art and advocacy are championed. Meet Lauren Crazybull—visual artist, youth advocate, documentarian, Blackfoot/Dene painter, and the first provincial artist in residence for Alberta…
WHERE: Tell us about The Portrait of Alberta and its premise.
Lauren C.: The idea came to me when I decided I wanted to create an informal map of Lethbridge. My aunties and relatives knew distinct parts of the city differently than everyone else, they had names for places I had never heard. Sik Ooh Kotoki is the Blackfoot name for Lethbridge, and I had never heard that until they told me. I wanted to create an artistic visual map highlighting Indigenous history and stories here. On a large canvas or in the form of a mural, I will paint an original piece of art that tells some of Alberta’s Indigenous history. The project will be informal mapmaking and storytelling that will paint a portrait of the province many know as Alberta. The impact of storytelling and connecting back to the land we are on is always important, especially in this time of ecological disaster. I want to talk openly about the history and present. I hope through knowledge, folks can find more connection to this land and recognize the importance of taking care of it.
W: What are some of the themes you’re hoping to talk openly about?
L.C.: A lot of the work that I’ve done in the past focused on issues that Indigenous folks face, specifically in southern Alberta. I created audio documentaries and podcast episodes on residential schools, intergenerational trauma, and gender-based violence that Indigenous folks experience. These things are all a part of the fabric of this country and province. I’m careful not to just say “history” when I talk about colonialism because it is ongoing—it was and continues to be intentional. These are things that all matter as a part of Alberta’s history and present. So for this project, I’d like to learn more about how these things impact the development of a province. How have these things impacted Indigenous communities and how we connect to the land? How has the resource-hungry culture shaped so many people’s relationship with the land and then the devastation of it? Obviously I only have the year for this project, so these ideas might become more focused, but I think the dialogue is an important responsibility when it comes to being in this role.
W: When will you start travelling and collecting stories?
L.C.: I’ll be doing most of my travelling this summer, beginning in southern Alberta and ending in northern Alberta.
W: You’ve said that working with youth through art has informed your own work. How?
L.C.: I met so many talented youth who had hardly any access to spaces and materials to create work. Often, they’d find alternative ways to create their work and be criminalized for it. It made me think that creating art is such a privilege and how inaccessible it can be. It also made me think about who is given space to create work in this city (Edmonton) and province. The youth I worked with undoubtedly deserve as much space as any other artist, but without accessible spaces to do so, they’ll find alternative ways to do it. I don’t want my work to be uninviting or inaccessible. When art becomes being a part of an elite club is when it becomes uninteresting to me. I want to connect with as many people as I can. I want to be in conversation about art and how we can make more space for more artists of all kinds. We can learn so much from one another.
W: Why do you think art resonates as such a powerful outlet for youth to express themselves?
L.C.: Art creates community and dialogue. I think it’s powerful for anyone to express themselves, and art is a great tool for some people to do that. It’s important to listen to what youth are saying and doing. We often patronize and underestimate youth. It’s important for us to hear them with the same weight that we do when we talk and listen to older folks. Creating art takes a lot of courage, and to put something out there isn’t always easy. Youth are talking about complex issues and ideas and putting it into a specific form for the world to see. Art-making can be for fun, sometimes therapeutic, very often political, and that versatility is one of the things I find exciting and important about it.
W: Whose work is inspiring you right now?
L.C.: Dee Barsy is a painter and visual artist I met last summer. She’s based in Winnipeg, and I love seeing her work and process. I admire her style. Her work is what I would describe as abstract, and she brings in this shade of blue to a lot of her paintings, so whenever I see it, I know it’s hers. I’ve only been able to see her work online and in print, but I get excited when I see it in different spaces. It makes me excited to be connected to other artists and see what they create.
W: What advice would you offer next year’s artist in residence?
L.C.: I guess to use the position to its full potential. Meet as many artists as possible, learn about more practices, keep looking to expand what you know. There’s so many cool projects being done all over the province, and so much knowledge and history here in Alberta, and it’s a great opportunity to learn about it. I think we have a responsibility to our communities and to starting and continuing important dialogues when we step into roles like these.