ST. JOHN’S, NL
– Soon the world will see the work of a Mi’kmaw artist from Flat Bay, NL when it goes on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection.
Nelson White graduated from the Visual Arts program at the Bay St. George Community College – now College of the North Atlantic (CNA). The piece is a portrait of his friend’s father.
“The Painting is called Veteran Elder
. It depicts Ellsworth Oakley, a Wampanoag elder and American veteran of the Korean War — who joined up at the age of just 17,” said White. “He’s the father of a friend of mine. The Smithsonian had its eye out for artwork from east coast Indigenous artists, as well as work involving Indigenous military experience, so this was a good fit for them.”
Currently living in St. John’s, NL, White says his work is the contemporary retelling of Indigenous history.
“My work is figurative; displaying natives in a modern setting, telling stories of who we are now,” he said. “There is no real history of Indigenous portraiture, apart from settler representations of ‘the noble savages.’”
He says his work aims to challenge people’s preconceived notions of how Indigenous people throughout the world live.
“My attempt is to step in and show people who exist in the 21st century,” White said. “I want to display natives in a position of beauty and power. It is also the intent to defy the stereotype of want a “native person’ looks like. They are doctors lawyers, musicians and people who are community leaders.”
Founded in 1845, The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with more than 30 million visitors annually.
Growing up on the west coast of the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador, White says he became interested in creating art at a young age.
“Since I’ve been old enough to hold a pencil,” he exclaimed.
To the depths of the sea
A member of the Flat Bay First Nation Band – No'kmaq Village – White is also set to visit the site of the Titanic wreckage this summer.
Along with another Indigenous artist, Alex Antle, White will be part of a group travelling to the area where the Titanic sank off the coast of NL in 1912.
“It's an initiative of Miawpukek Horizon Maritime Services, a company dedicated to developing First Nations seafarers, and OceanGate Expeditions, which is conducting scientific surveys of the Titanic wreck. They put out a call for artists and I applied and was chosen.”
White says he is looking forward to visiting the famed site.
“It will be interesting. There is a lot of history and lore around the Titanic, but I’m interested in working with the Indigenous crew and seeing how they interact on such a large vessel with a science crew, with adventure tourists, etc.”
White also received more good news about his artistic endeavours. He was recently awarded the Excellence in Visual Arts Milestone award from Visual Artists Newfoundland and Labrador (VANL)
. The award is given to a visual artist who has had a significant achievement in their career and comes with a $2,000-prize.
When he is not creating art, White enjoys spending time with his family and is appreciative of his NL roots.
“I’m very proud to be from Flat Bay and western Newfoundland.”
For more information about White and his artistry, visit www.nelsonwhiteart.com
For more information about CNA, visit www.cna.nl.ca
College of the North Atlantic