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Art Express’d: Jessie Buchanan’s Cross-Canada Journey

Studying at Algoma University was a life changing event for Jessie Buchanan. While earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Algoma U, Buchanan was exposed to a plethora of skills and theories in the field of art, but also began a spiritual journey toward understanding her cultural heritage. From 2006 to 2010, Buchanan began her spiritual awakening, which today, continues to influence her work.

From Southern Ontario, Buchanan chose to study at the University based upon the opportunity to connect with her Ojibway heritage as well as with the arts culture of Northern Ontario. She took elective courses with Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig (SKG). “Grand Chief Eddie Benton-Banai helped me embrace my heritage and identity as a First Nations person. Through the Shingwauk courses, I became really connected to Anishinaabe spirituality, which I still follow and practice today,” she says.

It was during her time at Algoma U that her work began to be informed by her Ojibway heritage. She continued this work at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute, where she developed her own art therapy models that contributed to the literature on helping heal First Nations communities. Today, her artwork is often remarked as being Canadian, inspired by the Woodland style and is used as a way to “discover, revitalize, and celebrate Ojibway traditional culture, language, and spirituality” and “to capture the ineffable quality of spirit (mantiouwabi)”. She draws upon spiritual connections to the land.  Buchanan’s work is also often inspired by the ruggedness of Lake Superior, which she was first exposed to while studying at Algoma U. She frequents Lake Superior Provincial Park annual with her family to camp and paint. Her related paintings are sold within the Agawa Bay Visitor Centre in the summer months.

It is for such uniqueness that Buchanan was recently selected as one of three Canadian contemporary artists to showcase her work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s (WAG) Canada 150 coast-to-coast-to-coast exhibit, titled Art Express’d/Art Exprime. After a nation-wide search, Buchanan was chosen to travel across Canada’s three territories in a 20-foot metal shipping mobile art studio, making stops in Inuvik, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Churchill, and the Rankin Inlet. Her artwork will be installed in the mobile shipping container, depicting her vision of Canada and the diversity of the northern landscape. “My vision for the project is a mobile art studio that represented the Canadian north and all of its diversity but also its traditional cultures and stories that reflect the landscape and the people that live up north.”

The other two artists will do the same, travelling different routes, with stops made in each of Canada’s provinces.

Besides showing off their artistic creations, the artists engaged with community members in a variety of workshops, inspiring others to get involved in art and to also share their ideas of Canada. Artwork created from these workshops will then be added to the travelling exhibits.

Buchanan’s travelling exhibit, titled “Voices of the Landscape”, featured prominently two-dimensional acrylic paintings. Artwork created answered “How do you understand yourself as a Canadian?” and “Do you feel connected with your land and/or environment?” She also used her mobile studio to bring attention the beauty and the struggles of northern communities.

“It is such an honour to be selected for this project. I believe it will help me on my own journey of growth; artistically, personally, and spiritually. I am always wanting to celebrate Canada’s First Peoples and what better way to do that than through the arts!”

Although Art Express’d/Art Exprime allowed Buchanan’s artwork to reach a national level and gain plenty of publicity, she was happy to be able to continue her spiritual journey and celebrate her Anishinaabe heritage through art, which first began in the art studios at Algoma U.

Written By: Meaghan Kent

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