KITCHENER – Growing up, Autumn Smith rarely saw the work of Indigenous artists in galleries, let alone Indigenous people pursuing careers in the arts.
“When I was younger and I told my family I wanted to be an artist, I was discouraged because they felt that artists weren’t making enough money to live on,” said Smith, an Ojibway and Odawa painter.
Smith is one of four native artists whose work will be featured in an augmented reality exhibition at Bingemans in August. Waterloo Region artists Luke Swinson and Alanah Jewell Morningstar will also have their work at the art fair.
The Neebing Indigenous Art Fair celebrates the Grand River — an important natural feature for many Indigenous communities, said artist Thomas Sinclair. But it also uses advanced technology to provide visitors with a more in-depth experience.
Both Sinclair and Smith took advantage of nature experiences with the elderly to create art that illustrates the importance of nature to Indigenous communities.
“Having an exhibition centered around such a vital source of water for many indigenous communities is truly representative of the respect and love we have for nature and our way of showing what it means to us” , says Sinclair, an Ojibway Woodland artist.
The exhibition uses technology to provide a richer experience of the art.
Each artwork is accompanied by a recording that tells attendees about the hidden meanings of each piece and explains the story behind it.
Portions of the exhibit will also be online, making the art accessible to a wider audience, said Ben Switzer, chief growth officer at EXAR Studios, responsible for the augmented reality aspects of the show.
“Bringing the exhibit to multiple cities and having components available online will allow a wider audience to participate in and learn more about Indigenous art,” said Switzer.
That wider audience includes indigenous people in remote areas, Sinclair said.
“Many remote Indigenous communities can access the experience online and see themselves represented,” Sinclair said. “It shows young people in isolated communities that there is much more to life for us Indigenous people than sitting at home alone.”
Mark Bingeman, president of Bingemans, said he is excited to bring the show to the people of Waterloo Region.
“Thomas and Autumn are great artists who have connections to the wider Indigenous artist community, which has helped to get more people on board,” he said.
The art fair will start in Kitchener, but will also travel to several other spots in Ontario, including the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
The show runs every day in Kitchener from August 6 to 21 from 12 noon to 8 p.m. Tickets start at $10.