By Jennifer Humphries
You’ll soon be seeing five freshly decorated newspaper boxes on Bank Street in the Glebe and in Old Ottawa South. They are the result of a collaboration between the Glebe Report and OSCAR to get papers out to readers who may not receive them at home or who would like to reach for a copy while having morning coffee at a favourite café.
These boxes look a lot more appealing than a standard newspaper box. That’s because the Glebe Report and OSCAR teams invited young local artists and students to submit designs to “dress them up” and turn them into public art. The three winners were Kate Solar, and sisters Claire and Mairi Brascoupé.
“Murals and other types of public art bring colour and personality to neighbourhoods,” said Solar. “For my designs, I’m using heritage photos from the OSCAR website, uncovering Old Ottawa South history.”
“We wanted to open up an opportunity to young Ottawa artists, ideally with neighbourhood ties, to get exposure,” said Patricia Lightfoot, the Glebe Report board chair. “At the same time, we wanted to give our residents and visitors the pleasure of seeing beautiful designs by up-and-coming talents who just might live, go to school and work around the corner.”
OSCAR editor Brendan McCoy said shared boxes work for both papers.
“Our publication date is early each month, while the Glebe Report comes out in mid-month,” he explained. “This makes it easy to share the boxes and to get more news and perspectives out to residents across the two neighbourhoods. It only makes sense, since most of us cross the Bank Street Bridge frequently and want to know what’s happening on both sides of the canal.”
Meet the Artists
The Brascoupé sisters are both visual artists who work in several media. The newspaper box project is the first that they’ve done entirely collaboratively from conception to production. The sisters are graduates of Corpus Christi School and Immaculata High School. Claire has a bachelor in film studies from Ryerson University. Mairi has a bachelor in fashion and costume-making from Ryerson and a masters in graphic communications design from Central Saint Martin’s, University of the Arts, London. They both are members of the Kitigan Zibi First Nation. This heritage weaves through their work. Their design will be featured on the boxes in three Glebe locations.
Kate Solar, now 18, lives in Old Ottawa South. She attended Mutchmor, Glashan and Lisgar. She is just starting her program in fine arts/film at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University in Halifax. Due to COVID-19, she will be studying online from home for at least the first semester. She doesn’t yet self identify as an artist, but she’s keenly interested in varied aspects of artistic creation and production. She has been featured as a photographer in OSCAR; now her designs will grace the newspaper boxes in her own community.
In August, I had the pleasure of talking with Claire, Mairi and Kate. The interviews are edited and condensed.
Claire and Mairi Brascoupé
Tell me about your path to becoming an artist.
Claire: Our upbringing was creative. We were constantly drawing. Our dad is an artist and our mom is a seamstress and costume maker. Our other sisters are creative too. We got lots of encouragement at home.
Mairi: We always had a full bin of markers. We’d write plays and draw backdrops for them.
What about your studies?
Mairi: I did my master’s thesis on the role of beadwork in indigenous culture. It’s an empowering activity for Indigenous people, done in groups. Women – sometimes men too – share stories as they bead. Some of the beadwork is elaborate. It’s a way of showing pride and resistance.
Claire: I studied film production, in particular, set design and film editing. I’m most interested in documentaries.
What else are you working on?
Claire: Lots of projects. Films, workshops, digital design. One of them was to design and paint paddles for our father Simon Brascoupé’s art installation at Pimisi LRT station. It’s called Màmawi, which means together, and consists of 100 painted paddles suspended from the ceiling. Each paddle is painted by an Indigenous artist including children and elders, from age 6 to 90.
Your designs are about nature through the four seasons. You mentioned in your proposal that you aim to “evoke the feeling of home and the sights of being out and about in our community.” Tell me more about the land and nature in your art.
Mairi: We create land-based art. You know, neither of us speaks the Algonquin language. It was taken. Our land was taken. But we’re still here. We still observe and honour the natural world. Nature needs to work in relationship to itself. As an example, we need pollinators to make our food grow. We want to highlight these relationships in our work, to ignite curiosity about nature in people who view it. I’m now learning some Algonkian words for an online Word of the Day project for the NAC Indigenous Theatre. The word for the month of June translates into English as “Strawberry Moon,” July is “Raspberry Moon” and August is “Blackberry Moon.”
We also want people to be curious about changes in nature. Why are the tulips late? What are the differences from season to season? The pandemic has caused people to slow down, to notice what’s different in our neighbourhoods. We need to look at the ecosystem. Through our designs, we hope people will consider what’s happening and what needs to be done for our future.
Claire: The natural world is central to my film work. The otter, the whisky jack (blue jay) and the beaver all figure in stories in our culture that I tell through film. [See Claire’s recent films at artists.clairebrascoupe.com/listing/mairi-brascoupe/]
Tell me about your path to becoming an artist.
I’ve always been interested in art. Throughout my childhood, I created art and writing. My dad is a furniture designer and maker, which also played a role in inspiring me to pursue a creative career.
For my university program, I considered various options, like graphic design or set design. I’ve decided to start in fine arts and then major in film.
Why NSCAD University?
There are only a few schools that offer the art education I’m looking for. Emily Carr [University of Art and Design] in Vancouver seemed too far away. OCAD [Ontario College of Art and Design University] in Toronto doesn’t have a complete film program. NSCAD University does have that and I liked that the foundation year is emphasized more at NSCAD U. Also, once I move to Halifax, I can live in the residence at King’s College [affiliated with Dalhousie University].
What appeals to you in public art?
I like the way art is used in Centretown, where the electrical boxes have images of the neighbourhood’s history of gay activism. The use of archival photos appeals to me too. Much of Bank Street looks and feels modern, but there’s a lot of history here.
You’re an OSCAR reader. What is it about community newspapers that makes them matter?
It’s the specificity. When you live in a place, small things are significant to you. I’ve read the OSCAR for years – it was always in our house, so I turned to it naturally. When I was young, I had some of my photos used for an article, which I was really proud of.
The history and tight-knit community of our neighbourhoods should be a source of pride, but we can look to history while also looking to the future. Our neighbourhoods should continue to evolve. Rather than being blinded by history, we should embrace change and the possibilities for enrichment, diversity, and growth that it can bring. Community newspapers and other neighbourhood institutions create a dialogue and can help us define the future we want.
Jennifer Humphries is a member of the board of the Glebe Report Association and co-chair of the Environment Committee of the Glebe Community Association. She can’t draw her way out of a paper bag but is an avid fan of the arts. She’s trying to learn more about Canadian Indigenous history and recently read Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America.
Being Indigenous in visual arts
Claire Brascoupé and Mairi Brascoupé
Tell me about Indigenous themes and indigeneity in your work.
Claire: Subconsciously we integrate aspects of Indigenous design into every day.
Mairi: I’m working at the National Arts Centre in the Indigenous Theatre. This new department is a step towards decolonization. We re-evaluate how we approach things – don’t just go to default but consider Indigenous approaches. What we say and practise is “nothing about us, without us.”
Claire: Film gives you a lens into someone else’s world. With streaming, we don’t need a major distributor to get our films shown, so Indigenous views and stories can be shared more widely.
Mairi: Our surname, Brascoupé, comes from our great, great and more greats grandfather. He broke a rule of some kind, so a Jesuit missionary cut off his arm. Our true family name is Apikan, but our ancestors kept Brascoupé to show resilience. [See Mairi’s bead artwork of the severed arm at mairib.com.]
What about reconciliation?
Mairi: I’m not a fan of the term reconciliation. I prefer decolonization. To me this means listening, honouring, not getting caught up in guilt but being open to challenge. Art is an easy access point to start conversations on the issues.
How does the Black Lives Matter movement impact the Indigenous voice?
Mairi: We can band together. Amplify each other’s messages. Art plays a role in that. We honour the space Black activists have been given, and we see Black interviewees bringing up Indigenous lives. Systemic issues impact us both, so working together we can solve multiple problems at once.