The Centre for All Canadians
Native Gothic, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Musicians, 2019, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist

Nelson White: Tukien (Awaken)

Native Gothic, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Musicians, 2019, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist
A series of 18 portraits of indigenous artists and activists by the St. John's-based Mi'kmaw painter, this body of work celebrates the blending of past, present and future in contemporary indigenous cultural life, what the artist describes as a "collective awakening."

Nelson White’s portrait paintings document and celebrate kin. Tukien (Awaken)maps an extended community of artists, creatives, activists, and leaders who defy simple and singular understandings of contemporary Indigenous life. The exhibition title Tukien a Mi’kmaw word meaning awaken, evokes a collective raising of consciousness.

Portraying prominent and accomplished Indigenous people with bright colours; a Pop art style combined with traditional motifs; and lush brushwork, White’s very contemporary paintings undermine one-dimensional understandings of Mi’kmaq people and their lived realities. His paintings are particularly resonant in a province, Newfoundland and Labrador, where joining Confederation was predicated on the erasure of Indigenous personhood.

Born on the west coast of Newfoundland, in the community of Flat Bay, Nelson is a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band. He attended the Visual Arts program at the former Bay St. George Community College, before graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. His paintings are included in public and private collections across North America, including the provincial art collection of Newfoundland and Labrador andthe Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. His father, Calvin White, is a respected elder, past elder-in-residence at Grenfell Campus, and a significant Indigenous activist, who was inducted into the Order of Canada as well as the Order of Newfoundland in recognition of his lifetime of championing the rights of Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Organized by the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Grenfell Art Gallery, Memorial University of Newfoundland, with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts and ArtsNL.  

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