Lisa Boivin is a member of the Deninu Kue First Nation, an interdisciplinary artist, and a PhD student at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine.
While her artistic focus is primarily to use art as a pedagogical tool to bridge gaps between aspects of Indigenous cultures and worldviews and medical ethics, her upcoming title through HighWater Press, I Will See You Again, is an exploration of grief through art and storytelling.
To better understand the connections between her experiences, Dene culture, and art, we talked to Lisa about her creative process and about painting ideas that can’t be expressed through words.
1. You’ve stated that your use of plants and flowers is intended to represent connection with the land. Can you talk about this relationship and its particular importance to Dene people?
I do not speak for all Dene. I understand why a one size fits all answer about Dene land-based culture is desirable but I am not an expert. I only speak from my perspective as a single Dene person. I feel particularly connected to the land-based knowledge my father shared with me before he died, but many of those conversations are private. I think of things he said continually while I am creating images.
I also make sense of the world I live in by looking to the land around me. For example, if I see an animal or a plant, I think about the stories my father told me. I consider what is their purpose and what can I learn from them? How are they teaching me to be a better human being?
2. In your TEDxUofT talk, you note that “in Dene culture, there are stories which cannot be contained with words.” Can you explain more about how Dene storytelling is enhanced and expanded through art?
Many things I paint cannot be held in print. There are stories to be told in person, and there are also stories I keep to myself, or that I share only with family members. There are elements in my paintings that I place in there just for us. I know they are there, and when my family looks at them, they know what the meanings are.
3. The images in I Will See You Again feature bright, eye-catching colors. Why did you decide to explore feelings of grief and loss with such vivid palettes?
Initially I thought about how life begins and ends in the sacred dark. It is a peaceful dark that allows us to find ourselves. As we grow into our bodies, we discover the bright colourful world around us. I imagine the colours begin to fade as we leave our bodies, and we see new colors when we enter the spirit world. I also wanted my work to be recognized as Dene. I wanted the bright flowers resting on the black background to reflect the bright beading on rich black velvet.
4. In the book, your brother’s spirit is embodied by flowers and leaves. What significance do these artistic elements have for you?
Flowers represent many things in my illustrations: Medicine, sacred teachings, stories. In a way, I am interacting with the dead. I find that comforting. I am illustrating to understand how I feel about death. I use leaves to represent the cycle of life as they fall all over the pages of my book. Leaves must fall to make room for new leaves. Leaves must fall to remind us that we are alive.
5. You’ve talked about “using paint to create a safe space to heal.” How has creating artwork helped you to understand and share your personal experiences?
Many knowledges unfold in my images; intergenerational, spiritual and ancestral knowledges come to life as I am painting. I was one of those who was taken away. I was not raised with my culture. I learned many things about my culture when I reunited with my father and then he died.
I am finding my way back in my illustrations. I am literally painting a safe space to heal. I Will See You Again is available on February 25, 2020. Pre-order your copy today.