The CAGE conference is coming up soon — May 3-5, 2018 in Ottawa. As part of a series about our workshop presenters and guest speakers, here is Nicolle Nugent’s heart-felt and detailed account of working with Indigenous artist and teacher Peter Morin in 2015. If you like what you read here, come experience Peter Morin’s thoughtful and immersive practice in person. Early bird registration has been extended until April 1!

Nicolle Nugent, CAGE Co-Chair,  writes:

I first met Artist Peter Morin in the winter of 2015 when he was conducting a residency at the MacKenzie Art Gallery for the Moving Forward, Never Forgetting project. Moving Forward, Never Forgetting was an exhibition, a series of three specially commissioned performances, art workshops, and a symposium celebrating Indigenous continuance, resistance and adaptation through the visual arts.

Through the week-long residency Peter engaged Indigenous participants from the community in a series of performance workshops leading up to a durational performance at the opening of the exhibition. The piece was titled de-colonize my heart. The goal for the performance was to gather, wash, and heal texts that contained untrue content related to Indigenous presence, knowledge, culture, and contributions. These washed books would then form the installation for the exhibition.

My role was to support the community engagement portion of Peter’s residency in advance of the performance and exhibition opening. I organized the participants, the dates and times, the location and the hospitality for the workshops. The activities and participation in the workshops required an environment of respect, safety, openness and comfort. During the first workshop, Peter kindly asked me to join in the activities and participate, versus sitting on the side by the sandwiches. I felt nervous, as I was the only non-Indigenous participant and I didn’t have the confidence to believe that I would have something meaningful to contribute. Throughout the week Peter persisted in proving me wrong. I laughed, I cried, (I even sang!) and I pushed myself and my heart in ways I never imagined. The performance was an experience that I’ll never forget; I had 5 new friends who shared the space with me and who welcomed me into the circle. I had time to think, to examine, to dig deeply into my perspective and understanding of what it means to be a non-Indigenous ally, to stand beside friends in support and love, with a raw and honest awareness and acceptance of my own limitations. Was my heart de-colonized? I feel it was.

From the text panel for the artwork:

Working with members of the community, Peter Morin developed this performance and installation titled de-colonize my heart. The performance took place at the MacKenzie Art Gallery February 27, 2015. About de-colonize my heart Morin says: “This is a transformation. This is about de-colonizing hearts. This is about singing healing.”

 For several years, Morin has been working to symbolically de-colonize sites where Indigenous ways of knowing and being have collided with Western settler colonization. Morin is interested in transformation and how symbolic actions can alter our perceptions and hearts. He is interested in seeing and acknowledging how the heart is a repository of knowledge and non-cognitive ways of knowing. Never forgetting, Morin’s performance also acknowledges the silencing of Indigenous hearts by the colonial project, by Indian Residential Schools. His performances strive to shift our relationship to the difficult political histories that have created this place called Canada. 

When the CAGE executive was brainstorming ideas for this year’s symposium and discussing the topic of Making Learning Visible, I couldn’t help but recall my experience in the Moving Forward, Never Forgetting exhibition. I thought about what it means to examine our roles as educators within these largely colonial institutions, and how the work that we do with audiences and communities has the potential to de-colonize hearts. I am very grateful Peter has agreed to spend time with us in Ottawa this year, presenting a workshop on de-colonizing methodologies through performance. Be prepared to sing!

 Peter Morin is a Tahltan Nation artist, curator, and writer who recently relocated from British Columbia to Brandon, Manitoba, where he joined the Visual and Aboriginal Arts Faculty at Brandon University. Morin studied art at Emily Carr University of Art+Design and recently completed his MFA at University of British Columbia, Okanagan, in 2011. In both his artistic practice as well as his curatorial work, Morin’s research investigates the spaces between Indigenous cultural-based practices and western settler colonialism. This work, defined by Tahltan Nation production and worldview, often takes on the form of performance interventions, and includes object and picture-making. Morin has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions across Canada and was long-listed for the Sobey Art Prize in 2014.

-guest blogger Nicolle Nugent, Coordinator of Public Programs and Community Engagement, MacKenzie Art Gallery