With droplets of water and ink, Inuit artist Heather Campbell calls for justice for Indigenous women

Campbell's painting digs into the story of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam and violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Campbell's art digs into the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam and violence against Indigenous women and girls

“This poison is grasping her neck." Inuit artist Heather Campbell explains her painting Methylmercury. (CBC Arts)

Heather Campbell grew up with her grandparents in Nunatsiavut, Northern Labrador, and stories and experiences of the ocean were always at the centre of her education. So it's no wonder that the deep has made its way into her paintings — the artist uses a watery ink on special paper designed to let water flow over it, rather than soak in. And using those materials allows Campbell to let brightly-coloured droplets of ink and water fall onto the page, then tilt, twist or blow on the paper to create organic shapes and patterns that seem to be in continuous motion, swirling like the sea.

Watch the video:

Heather Campbell speaks about the significance behind her painting "Methylmercury". 4:01

Using this technique, Campbell painted a piece called Methylmercury for the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Insurgence/Resurgence exhibition. And it delves into some troubling subject matter: environmental and Indigenous justice in the building of the Muskrat Falls dam and the legacy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

The connection to water is easy to see in Campbell's reference to flooding for the dam at Muskrat Falls. The practice is expected to raise levels of methylmercury in the water that will ultimately flow to communities downstream. And the project has been the subject of longstanding protests in the nearby community where Heather's family still lives.

Heather Campbell demonstrates how she paints in the video.

The woman at the centre of this swirling, poisonous painting, meanwhile, makes reference to the history of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

Heather Campbell now lives in Ottawa with her six-year-old daughter, who she says loves to see her paintings, and to hear the traditional stories of her people that inspire them. And while the subject matter of Methylmercury is dark, the work also communicates a message of strength — the woman at the centre symbolizes Nuliajuk, a symbol for the power of women, and an important figure to carry through future generations.

Heather Campbell's painting Methylmercury is on display at the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. (CBC Arts)

You can see Heather Campbell's painting at the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until April 22, 2018.

This series of Insurgence/Resurgence artist profiles is a collaboration between CBC Arts and CBC Indigenous. Check out other videos here.

About the Author

Charlie Croskery is a photographer and short film producer based in Ottawa. His digital projects take him across the country, so in his downtime, he makes maple syrup at home the old-fashioned way over a wood fire.