What does a meaningful collaboration between settler and Indigenous artists look like?
Joel Richardson and Nyle Miigizi Johnston are searching for a way forward
What does a meaningful collaboration between settlers and Indigenous people look like? Artists Joel Richardson and Nyle Miigizi Johnston began to explore that question in 2014 through their shared practice. Their first project, Betwixt & Between: An Untold Tom Thomson Story — alongside Italian Canadian artist Germinio Pio Politi — was a retelling of the life of Canadian artist Tom Thomson and his imagined friendship with the fictional character of Indigenous war veteran George Nadjiwon.
Johnston is an Anishinaabe visual storyteller and cultural director of Finding Our Power Together, a youth organization. His art incorporates teachings based on traditional knowledge. Richardson is a multidisciplinary artist and co-founder of Metipso Portal, an experimental media lab in the highlands of central Kenya.
This video by filmmakers Kelli Kieley and Natasha Naveau dives into Johnston and Richardson's most recent collaboration, 2057 Neyaashiinigmiing International Time Portal, a project that involves Indigenous communities in Canada and Kenya exchanging stories. It's so multifaceted the filmmakers found it challenging to capture, but some elements are featured in the video. Like Betwixt & Between, it begins with a story, this time about a time-travelling duo — Captain Jimmy Swann and Commander George Nadjiwon, played by the artists — who return to the present day to save the earth from environmental disaster.
These types of collaborations are not easy. Some settlers believe reconciliation has already happened, while others are becoming aware there is a great deal more work to be done — especially amid discourses arising out of the Black Lives Matter movement. Art, however, has the potential to shine a light in dark places, allowing society an entry point into different perspectives and difficult truths and conversations.
Through their work, the duo have been learning a great deal from each other and say their collaborations have been successful because they listen, communicate honestly, and face problems with courage. In this video, witness how Richardson and Johnston are finding a way forward.