Quinn Hopkins' AR art connects Luminato-goers to Anishinaabe animal clan symbols around Toronto

"Meeting of the Doodem," an augmented reality piece at Luminato 2023, brings the animal systems of Anishinaabe doodem (or clans) to life.

'It's seven different animals appearing around you in a semi-circle, and they're there to meet you'

Quinn Hopkins stands next to a neon sign in the shape of a bird doodem.
Quinn Hopkins. (Quinn Hopkins)

Growing up, Toronto-based artist Quinn Hopkins used art as a way to connect with his Anishinaabe heritage. His mother is from Batchewana First Nation, and as a child, his grandmother would take him to look at rock paintings and learn about the culture. 

"I would come home and feel disconnected, so I would paint and it would make me feel a connection again," he says.

At the same time, his father worked in tech, giving him an interest in science and technology. When he went to university, he decided to pursue engineering and keep art "as a hobby." But after getting a concussion playing rugby during his first year, he had to drop out. When he recovered, he was able to take a second shot at university and went in a different direction.

"I decided I'm going to pursue what I'm really passionate about and I'm going to do it with all of my heart," he says. "I ended up studying drawing and painting at OCAD."

His augmented reality piece Meeting of the Doodem — which explores the animal symbols of various Anishinaabe doodem, or clans — will be available at various locations throughout Toronto as part of this year's Luminato Festival.

Collage of two images from Meeting of the Doodem. In both images, stick figure illustrations of animals are overlaid over a real-life nature scene, with stickers explaining which clan each animal belongs to underneath.
Screenshots of Quinn Hopkin's "Meeting of the Doodem" AR installation. (Quinn Hopkins)

How did you first get into augmented reality art?

It was during the pandemic. I found that my skill set from studying STEM could be transferred into the art space, and there was a pretty big community of artists that are trying to get this new medium off the ground. I do a lot of 3D animation and some creative coding as well. It's distilling down to this digital creative space that I'm building and trying to tell different stories about what it's like growing up as an Indigenous youth in the city.

What was it in the pandemic that made you want to do more work in AR?

During the pandemic I felt that there was a big disconnect in my practice. I feel like a lot of artists felt this way, where they weren't able to show art in the same way anymore. We're not showing art in person — it's all shown through the screen or in some very disconnected way.

I wanted my audience to be able to experience art in a more immersive way, by giving them the power to place the art in their space. I thought that was a really interesting way of sharing. And then I ended up connecting with some other Indigenous artists who were doing something similar or were interested in doing something similar. So I've actually had the fantastic opportunity to teach some augmented reality workshops to other Indigenous artists.

So tell me about the project. What are we actually going to see?

We were able to create this immersive educational experience that's also just fun. It's seven different animals sort of appearing around you in a semi-circle, and they're there to meet you. The names of each of the animals would be written in Anishinaabemowin, which is my ancestral language, the language of Anishinaabe. And the animals are all related to the different clans.

Quinn Hopkins seated in front of a large painting of Indigenous people gathered under a bird doodem.
Quinn Hopkins. (Quinn Hopkins)

You did a version of this last year, right? What's different for 2023?

This year, I'm trying to add a little bit more information about each doodem — a breakdown to each specific animal — what it means to be, for example, Bear doodem, or Makwa doodem. They're keepers of the medicine. There's specific regions where Bear doodem would typically be from, but due to colonization, you can find Bear doodem people all over Canada now. But traditionally speaking, they're more around the east sides of the Great Lakes.

I wasn't born with my doodem. I had to do a specific ceremony, and it came to me in a dream. [Doodem] is a spiritual thing, but also sort of a practical thing at the same time. 

How so?

Doodem is how we relate to each other and to the different territories around Turtle Island. Doodem are sort of like families, but they're also a form of governance, like governing bodies … but also it's sort of like if you believe in astrology or something like that. [Your doodem] will affect certain aspects of the way you live your life or how you make certain decisions.

Orange and blue illustration of Quinn Hopkins.
Quinn Hopkins (Quinn Hopkins)

What do you want audiences, particularly non-Indigenous ones, to take away from this?

Just, like — we're here. This is us. Feel free to meet with us to learn more, to hold spaces where we can tell our stories.

That's why I love Luminato. They're putting on this big festival for creatives to tell stories like this. I just want to just show my presence. I think augmented reality is a great medium for showing what's invisible, right? It's bringing out the unseen. It's showing you another layer of reality.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now