Cutting through tragedy with humour: This Indigenous artist takes on a complicated history

Artist Joseph Tisiga opens up about his history and why he's exploring his Indigenous identity with a sense of humour.

Joseph Tisiga on why he's exploring his Indigenous identity with a sense of humour

First Nations artist Joseph Tisiga opens up about why he's exploring his Indigenous identity with a sense of humour. 3:23

Kaska Dene artist Joseph Tisiga started making art as a skateboarding teen living in Winnipeg. He didn't grow up exposed to art, but he eventually discovered that it was a great avenue for him to explore his roots. Now, he's based in Whitehorse, where he regularly works with watercolour, oil and mixed media.

Much of Tisiga's work deals with not only his own Indigenous identity but with the stereotypes and tropes imposed on it. Satire and humour play a large role in his practice.

"Humour can cut through really serious and tragic realities," Tisiga says. "Reality is complicated and I think that using satire can sometimes address those complications and not moralize an issue."

His conceptual project Indian Brand Corporation, which has appeared in his artwork over the last decade, features Archie characters, Hudson Bay blankets and cigar store Indians as a means for Tisiga to explore Indigenous iconography.

In this video, step into Tisiga's Whitehorse studio to hear him talk about his own history and how it's informed the work he's still making.

Joseph Tisiga will receive a Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Indigenous Art Award at a ceremony in Winnipeg on May 22. And you can see his solo show at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery in Ontario opening on June 22.

Watch Exhibitionists on Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.

About the Author

Vivian Belik is a filmmaker and programmer based in Whitehorse but also spending time in Winnipeg and Toronto. She co-directed the CBC documentary short, Underdog, and is currently producing the feature documentary, How To Bee.