Student art pieces examine Indigenous issues

CKSS Grade 11 student Jennaya Bechard stands beside the art piece her group did for English Class called Project Generation Alpha. It shows the concerns Indigenous women have for the future of their children. The piece, along with several others done by the class, is on display at the Thames Art Gallery until March 15.

Students in Grade 11 at Chatham-Kent Secondary School in Chatham had a unique opportunity in their English class to use art to sum up what they learned about First Nations, Metis and Inuit Studies.

The art pieces created in class were showcased for the first time at the Thames Art Gallery during the opening of the Legends are the Rivers That Take Us Home exhibit that runs until March 15.

According to Denise Helmer-Johnston, Secondary Special Projects Teacher – Indigenous Studies – for the Lambton Kent District School Board, the students at CKSS participated in a series of art workshops that encouraged them to express their feelings on the issues they explored.

“We have had a project running in the LKDSB that incorporates art in the English classroom. Anishinaabe artist, Jay Soule, also known as Chippewar, spent three days with students at CKSS this semester talking about issues pertinent to Indigenous people and then he helped the students create pieces that allowed them to voice their opinion about topics relevant to the course,” Helmer-Johnston said. “The students were then given this extraordinary opportunity to have their pieces featured in the newest exhibition at the Thames Art Gallery: Stories Are the Roads that Take Us Home by guest curator Cara Eastcott.”

The students’ art is featured on the second floor of the gallery and is entitled Cultural Transmission, 2020.

The gallery was full Friday night with students and family members, as well as the participants in this year’s Art Crawl. One student, Jennaya Bechard, was at the exhibit to see her group’s art piece that depicted a pregnant Indigenous female on a background of pictures and stories cut out that tell of the issues and concerns they face daily.

“At first doing an art piece in English class, it was a little strange because I’m not a big art person but as we got doing it, it became fun and interesting how we were learning things as we were doing it,” Bechard said.

She said her group of five students decided to something about the next generation and that is why they titled their piece, ‘Generation Alpha.’

“The pregnant mother pictured is worried about all the bad things around her that could affect her child and her child’s future as an Indigenous person, and we tried to mix a little mixed media by using the pictures and having them pop out of the background a little bit to make it look clustered and show there was a lot to worry about,” Bechard explained.

Working with Soule and seeing the art pieces he created was a great experience, Bechard noted, and “being able to work with him and him give us some ideas was really cool.”

The students spent several days with Soule. The entire experience was a good one according to Bechard.

“It’s weird for me because tonight, people keep coming up to me and asking me if this is my piece and I tell them my group did it, and it’s cool. I’ve never seen something I’ve done showcased at a gallery like this.”

The group who worked on the Project Generation Alpha piece included Bechard, Michelle Bueckert-Stewart, Paylie Dauphin, Ethan Labadie, and Abbigail Stoner.

A second Chatham-Kent Secondary School that hangs on display in the Thames Art Gallery.


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