By the people for the people. Students set to unveil Indigenous art project
For Brooke Fearns, it’s more than a mural.
The work by Natalie King, a queer interdisciplinary Anishinaabe (Algonquin) artist, will be unveiled Feb. 12. Natalie’s four-panel mural will then permanently displayed just inside the main entrance to the Burke Science Building later this month. The mural will be the first thing hundreds of students, faculty, staff and visitors see every day while heading into the building.
Brooke, who’s a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, worked on the art installation project with students Sage Hartmann and Alisha Sharma. The student pitched and led project is part of a broader and ongoing initiative by the Dean’s Office to advance Indigenous knowledge, wisdom and culture across the Faculty of Science.
The mural’s a catalyst for overdue change, says Brooke, who’s in the final year of the Faculty of Science’s Human Behavior program. “It’s important to display Indigenous art on campus. It’s one way we can disrupt the historical erasure of Indigenous people’s existence within academic institutions.”
Brooke says art helps raise the visibility and recognize the value of Indigenous peoples and their communities. “The mural shows that the Faculty of Science is serious about becoming a more inclusive and supportive place to learn and work for Indigenous students, faculty and staff.”
The students started working on the project in 2022 by compiling a list of Indigenous artists throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. It was a long list that Natalie, who’s known for bold and figurative paintings, videos and installations, topped.
“As soon as we came across Natalie’s work we knew without any doubt that she was the artist we wanted to collaborate with,” says Brooke. “Natalie was excited to create and contribute a meaningful piece of art. She’s among the many Indigenous leaders who are advocating for change within her community. She’s uplifting Indigenous people, traditional knowledge and culture while at the same time confronting the challenges our communities continue to face.”
Sage came back to Mac from Osgood Hall Law School for the unveiling. She’d originally proposed the installation after she was invited to review the Faculty of Science’s strategic plan and offer feedback as an Indigenous student.
“I was asked to speak truth to power,” says Sage, who’s from Red River Metis Nation. She says she was critically kind and kindly critical.
There was one mention of reconciliation in the strategic plan. It felt like a box was being checked, says Sage.
“The Faculty wanted to turn that word into action but didn’t know how or where to start.” Art would be one way to address a lack of Indigenous voices. Before leaving for law school, Sage asked Brooke to lead the project.
When the event invite landed in her inbox, Sage immediately called her mom with the news. “I was in tears.”
Alisha joined the project after Sage graduated and enrolled at Osgood Hall Law School. “I wanted to get involved after Sage talked about how the project was for the people by the people,” says the 3rd year Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization student. “I felt it was important to get involved and support this work as an ally for McMaster’s Indigenous community.”
Count Maggie Cockburn as another ally. She’s the project coordinator in the Dean’s Office and supported the students from start to finish. “Working with Brooke, Alisha and Sage from the very start of the project’s been an absolute joy. They’ve contributed so much enthusiasm and thoughtfulness at every step in the process. The success of this project can be attributed to their passion and efforts. It really came together around their vision.”
Working on the project gave Brooke the confidence to be a changemaker. “I’ve been reconnecting with my own Indigenous roots so I recognize that others might have the same trepidation and self-doubt that I felt at the start of this project. But I’ve learned that it’s never too late to learn about your own or another person’s culture. And then it’s never too late to begin advocating for any social change once you’ve educated yourself. Continuous education is a powerful tool that can spark positive and impactful change.”
The murals will be unveiled on Monday, Feb. 12 from 10:30 am in BSB 104. The unveiling and meet-and-greet with the students and artist is taking place in partnership with the Faculty’s Foundations of Science: Equity, Justice and Anti-Racism in Science course.Staff, Students