Skawennati takes aboriginal storytelling into cyberspace

The Mohawk artist has tapped into the creative possibilities of the digital age, and now she’s sharing them with aboriginal youth

Skawennati, the award-winning new-media artist, did not set out to create a career for herself in cyberspace. Based in Montreal, she was born in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, grew up in the suburb of Châteauguay, and studied design art at Concordia University.

“When I started [there], the supplies that we had to get were Rapidograph pens, inks, erasers,” she says with a laugh. “That’s how old I am.”

Skawennati is speaking to the Georgia Straight while seated on a sofa in the Contemporary Art Gallery’s Burrard Marina Field House, where she has been artist in residence for the past couple of weeks. She is in the early stages of a CAG commission to create a work for exhibition in 2017, but more immediately, she has been in Vancouver to lead an extended machinima workshop with aboriginal youth.

The word machinima, she explains, is a cross between machine and cinema and denotes a means of producing animated films by using computer graphics and video-game technology.
Skawennati’s Hunter and Warriors.

In coordination with the CAG, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the Museum of Anthropology, Skawennati has been working with six participants in MOA’s Native Youth Program, demonstrating ways in which oral storytelling traditions can be “reimagined” in virtual environments.