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Neebing Indigenous Art Fair: A Celebration of Water, Life, Inclusion

A poster displaying a collage of several colourful Indigenous art pieces. The words across the bottom of the poster sayThe Neebing Indigenous Art Fair.. Beneath it are the words August 6-21.
by Ian Shantz | August 2022

Depending on the dialect and inflection, the Indigenous-language word ‘neebing’ translates to mean either ‘by the river’ or ‘summertime.’It’s entirely fitting, then, that the Neebing Indigenous Art Fair, which opens to the public Aug. 6-21 at Bingemans in Kitchener, will take place mere steps from the Grand River in the heart of the summer.“The Grand River was one of the major arteries for Indigenous people to travel, with canoes being our main way of travelling. It reaches deep within the interior of Ontario from the Great Lakes, so it was a very important waterway for our people,” said Thomas Sinclair, a Thunder Bay-raised Ojibway artist who helped name and organize the first-time exhibit. “Water is such a major issue for Indigenous people. We are so connected to the water.”

Moreover, the event is viewed by organizers as a watershed moment for Indigenous representation as it relates to the arts. While galleries and shows are common, events that exclusively feature First Nations/Indigenous talent generally are not. This interactive display takes direct aim at rectifying the gap.“I can’t believe that this is actually happening — that we’re able to show our art,” said Sinclair, one of six Indigenous artists being showcased through the event. “We’re able to be unabashedly Indigenous. This is inclusion on a scale that I can’t wrap my mind around. It’s reconciliation happening in my life in real-time. I’m getting emotional thinking about it.”

The art studio of Indigenous artist Thomas Sinclair. He is off to the left side, smiling into the camera: the studio is filled with large, colourful murals he is working on

Thomas Sinclair in his studio working on some of the art that is part of Neebing

The idea for an all-Indigenous art fair first sprung up sometime in early spring. Community partners were quick to step in and step up, transforming what in the initial stages was a proverbial tributary into what’s now a flood of excitement — and reality.  “It’s an incredible experience for people to enjoy these pieces and, layered on top of that, some deeper stories and understandings,” said Mark Bingeman, president of Bingemans. “That type of education is best for all.“The level of creativity, talent — it’s just astounding,” he added. “Each piece will have a story.”

Among the rising Indigenous talents being featured are Kitchener residents Alanah Jewell Morningstar and Luke Swinson.Jewell’s works and murals can be found throughout the region, including contributions to Explore Waterloo Region’s Art Fresco Table Project. Her illustration of Charlie Hill, the first Indigenous stand-up comedian to appear on TV, was recently highlighted as a Google Doodle (a makeover of the Google logo often used to celebrate holidays and noteworthy individuals.)Swinson’s designs are likewise prominent in public spaces across the region. He has partnered on Indigenous projects with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and was recently named by Elle magazine among ‘Five Brilliant Canadian Artists and Illustrators to Watch.’“To see the things that they do, to watch their careers unfold, it’s just incredible,” Sinclair said of the Kitchener duo. “These people are the cream of the crop, the very best of native artists.”While the art fair will represent a cross-section of Indigenous backgrounds, it will likewise be diverse in its presentation thanks to the deployment of augmented reality technology.Each work will be accompanied by a storytelling recording to further enrich guests’ experiences, while parts of the exhibit will be accessible online.Through the use of the Engage ARt app on Android and iOs devices, users can “point the camera at a specific location and that will trigger the app that this is the correct location to show the artwork,” explained Shishir ‘S’ Pande, CEO of London, Ont.-based EXAR Studios, which is looking after the augmented reality portion of the show. “The art will pop up in your camera view as if it’s the real world.”In addition to Bingemans and EXAR, the Neebing Indigenous Art Fair is also supported by Explore Waterloo Region and ITO (Indigenous Tourism Ontario).The show runs from noon to 8 p.m. daily  Tickets start at $10.============================================================

LAND RECOGNITION

Bingemans is situated on the lands within the Haldimand Treaty of 1784, a formally ratified agreement acknowledging six miles on either side of the Grand River as treaty territory belonging to the Six Nations of the Grand River. Bingemans serves a region that is located within the traditional territories of the Neutral, Anishinaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples.

The outer view of a large tent. The tent has been painted by Indigenous artist Thomas Sinclair: It depicts two Indigenous people - one on either side of the tent door zipper. The paintings are very colourful.

Paintings on the tent that is part of the Neebing Indigenous Art Fair

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Headshot of a male (Ian Shantz). He is Caucasian, with short brown hair and a short beard and mustache.

Ian Shantz is an award-winning, seasoned writer and editor based in Waterloo Region. Throughout his career in journalism spanning nearly 20 years, Ian has specialized in various storytelling, including sports, travel and breaking news reporting. He works at The Toronto Sun. Raised in the townships of Wellesley and Woolwich, Ian is forever in pursuit of a quality cup of coffee, a  top-secret swimming hole, and a favourite new band.

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