Mnidnoominehnsuk (2018) uses 54,000 glass Delicas and is created by Montéal based Anishinaabe artist Nico Williams| Photo Credit: Mike Patten
Anishinaabe artist Nico Williams unveils Mnidnoominehnsuk (spirit berries), a Delica beaded geometric piece that explores the traditional and contemporary aspects of himself. The exhibit will be featured at the Espace Culturel Ashukan in Montréal for the 28th ann ual Présence Autochtone until October 7, 2018. Erica Commanda from MUSKRAT Magazine got to speak with Nico Williams about his work, what inspired him to become a beadwork artist, and how he hopes to inspire others to start beading.
MM: You use 54,000+ glass woven Delica beads to create Mnidnoominehnsuk, can you tell me more about the creative process for this piece? What inspired you to create it?
NW: Delica beads come from Japan and are more of a perfect cylindrical shape. The creator of Delica beads, Masayoshi Katsuok, was looking at the seed beads that we have been using for hundreds of years. He liked the [hallowed centre] of the seed beads and how you could put the needle through, then decided to make his beads into perfect cylinders. I started playing around with those beads – they were the first beads I ever used. My partner just had them laying around and I was like – “Oh! I’m going to try these, then I started beading large triangle shapes with them.”
The work [Mnidnoominehnsuk] is a reflection of many things. It’s legends I was told by my grandmother growing up, and references from Ojibwe legend books. There’s a lot of my research in the work; you have ceremony, you have visual cues for people to research – especially if they want to start practicing ceremonies again. There is also utilitarian property, like how we went out birch bark harvesting and built them into canoes.
I tried to be more narrative, it’s an explosion of colour and shapes. It explores many things like berries. It’s a bright orange. [When making it] it was really hot that day in Montreal – the colours are also a reflection of that heat wave that killed ten people in Quebec, you can just feel the heat and the temperature in that legend.
MM: You also bead with with other materials such as seed beads, natural material and use peyote stitching. What’s your favourite method of beading/stitching?
NW: I do beaded applique, which is the traditional flat work. It is the floral motifs you usually see – I’ll do that on velvet and colour fabric. I do applique, because that’s how we’ve been doing it in our community for hundreds of years. But for the geometric work- that’s a peyote stitch. I remember on the rez growing up playing Sega Genesis with those pixelated games in my dad’s basement. I revisited some of those to see how they played with pixels, colours, trees and cityscapes, then I was like; “ok well I’m gonna start making my own images and use pieces of those video game pixels.” I just sort of let it come to me, the images. I don’t like to plan it- but there are times I do plan it.
MM: What inspired you to become an artist and get into beadworking?
NW: I decided to go into beadwork because I actually had a dream about it. I had a dream one night that I was looking at all these artworks and there were all these big beautiful glass beaded shapes, images and culture. It was just amazing. I was old in the dream, then when I asked who did it – I didn’t see the voice behind me, but they said I did. I started beading the next day and have been going the last three or four years on it.
MM: Indigenous art tends to be more political – what does that mean to you? What do you believe your role is an Indigenous artist?
NW: I think showing art work as an Indigenous artist is political in itself because we never had the voice or platform. I understand that the Woodlands Group of Seven ignited it and that there was the Cape Dorset movement. I think right now there is a change that is happening and basically any time we are putting a work in a gallery setting, I believe its a political statement – but it shouldn’t be! But it is. It should just be normal. Even with the legends that I’m communicating [through my art], some of these are sacred ceremonies – I’m trying to preserve it for Indigenous youth and allies who will eventually want to look into these patterns and say, “oh that’s what he’s trying to say and communicate there!” Nadine St. Louis – the Director of Espace Culturel Ashukan, told me that without language and art we don’t have any culture. That’s so true.
MM: What do you hope the audience takes away from your exhibit?
NW: I hope that it opens up the eyes of urban communities. I also want men to start beading more. I always ask them to start beading and they are like, “we have our wives on the rez!” I’m like, “no you got to do it! You’re not going out getting the moose meat anymore you gotta bead! Lol.”
I want to encourage all Indigenous communities to realize that they can push beading further than just the traditional pow wow stuff – which is also amazing stuff and really hard to do – and to encourage people to bead more and for them to see they can really play around. I taught some of the students in Wikwemikong on how to read and create patterns. I’m excited to see what that’s going to evolve into too. They can look at a picture of my work and they can recreate it. I hope Indigenous allies and Canadians realize that our work is very powerful and we are going to continue to do it. I have a piece called the Indian’s Frozen Computer, but we’re not frozen in time, we are going to keep going.
NICO WILLIAMS BIO
Nico Williams is a new media, beadwork artist who resides in Montréal, Quebec. He is Anishinaabe, from Aamjiwnaang “where the water flows spiritually like a braid.” He holds a Bachelor of Fine Art focusing on print media from Concordia University. Williams began experimenting with bead-work in 2015 using Japanese glass delicas, natural materials and seed beads. His use of beads explores a variety of Ojibwe fancy craft-work practices. He has actively been focusing on the revitalization and evolution of traditional, Ojibwe fine crafts. The bead-work he creates, like fine art, responds to the artists’ environment. It is a deep reflection of love and respect for the beauty and rich visual treasures in nature.