Local artist connects with powwow mural at Hart House

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Visitors to Hart House at the University of Toronto will be treated to a visually stunning work of art this fall: “Intertribal, 2022,” a mixed-media mural at the end of the east hallway in the basement.

Quinn Hopkins’ mural – her first major solo project – depicts a powwow in Toronto and merges technology with art in a provocative and highly original way. Broadly speaking, his work, which has garnered national media attention, is multi-layered and political.

Hopkins says the mural tells a powerful story, depicting the traditional Na-Me-Res powwow at Toronto’s Fort York, seen against the city’s skyline. The piece includes a light element, a light sculpture and an augmented reality element.

“It’s part of a pow-wow, a celebration of life. It’s a place to share culture, food, songs and dances,” he says of the mural, noting that “Intertribal” is the name of a specific dance.

“It’s an invitation to everyone attending the powwow to come into the circle and dance. I think it’s a beautiful representation of community, unity and diversity.

The latest example of Hart House’s commitment to expanding Indigenous education programs, the facility is located in a student-focused location that offers many opportunities for young people to engage.

Hopkins says he is inspired by innovative new technologies, and through his art he connects that technology to the earth and its roots.

Hopkins grew up seeing the work of well-known native artists in his best friend’s home. “I was lucky enough to go to their house and see this huge collection,” he says. “In their home, the artwork was floor to ceiling, every wall was covered in beautiful native artwork. It was a huge and fundamental inspiration for me.

Hopkins says Indigenous educator and art dealer Conrad Bobiwash was a mentor to him, teaching him the early forms and central ideas of the Woodland style of painting at a young age.

He draws inspiration from innovative new technologies, and through his art connects that technology to the land and to his roots as Anishinaabe. He also seeks to find new ways to visualize the spirit of the earth and thus reveal the many truths about humanity’s relationship with the earth. Never afraid to experiment with new tools and mediums, Hopkins uses cutting edge techniques such as 3D modeling, digital drawing, editing, creative coding and machine learning.

‘Intertribal’ as an invitation

As for the Hart House mural, he says he likes the mood it depicts.

“Everyone is always having fun and smiling,” he says of the powwow. “You see toddlers dancing in their badges, elders walking around and nodding to the beat, natives and non-natives having fun, feeling like they’re part of it. It’s an invitation to participate in something you usually think is exclusive.

The Eagle (Miigizi) also has a powerful message. “In the seven teachings of the grandfather, the eagle is love (Zaagidiwin),” he says. “That’s what I felt thinking about the powwow and Intertribal: love; community; and love of the place, Tkaronto, where we stand and where we feel I love how the eagle is like an umbrella that holds everyone under one roof in this room.

Inspire people through art

Since the pandemic, Hopkins has sought to engage with audiences in new and profound ways. “It’s extremely important to me to inspire people and teach them new things,” he says.

Through “Intertribal,” he sought “to remind viewers that Indigenous peoples are modern, forward-thinking innovators. We are used to taking the latest tools and adapting them to our own purposes. We are not stuck in the past. We look seven generations into the future.

“To have my job at Hart House is to look at the next generation, those students, those warriors who are learning and propelling our communities and our society into the future. It’s an honor to have them learn something new from this mural or just enjoy it; sit there, meditate or whatever people do when they look at the art. It might be a quick glance, but whatever it is, I hope it brightens their day or makes them feel something.

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