Nfld. & Labrador

Titanic expedition a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these Indigenous artists from N.L.

Alex Antle and Nelson White will spend eight days this summer traveling on a voyage to the place where the Titanic struck an iceberg in 1912 and sank almost four kilometres beneath the sea.

Alex Antle and Nelson White will use the ocean voyage to inspire their art

Alex Antle and Nelson White are two M'ikmaw artists who have been chosen to go on an expedition to the site of the Titanic disaster and create art based on their experience. (Submitted by Alex Antle and Nelson White)

A pair of Indigenous artists from Newfoundland and Labrador are going to sail to the site of one of the most famous maritime disasters in history and interpret the experience through their art.

Alex Antle and Nelson White will spend eight days this summer travelling to the place where the Titanic struck an iceberg in 1912 and sank almost four kilometres beneath the sea.

It's an initiative of Miawpukek Horizon Maritime Services, a company dedicated to developing First Nations seafarers, and OceanGate Expeditions, which is conducting scientific surveys of the Titanic wreck.

The artists will interact with an Indigenous crew, as well as research scientists and tourists, and could get the chance to dive to the wreck themselves.

Antle does traditional beadwork, sometimes using it in innovative ways such as in this print highlighting the harvesting of Labrador tea. (Submitted by Alex Antle)

To experience the journey

When Antle, a Mi'kmaw beadwork artist from the Bay of Islands area, saw the call for Indigenous artists, she leapt at the opportunity. 

"I called in every favour I had for that one. I got some letters of support from all kinds of community members and arts organizations."

Antle has been expanding into printmaking and traditional crafts such as caribou tufting and quill work but she isn't committing to any one art form for this expedition just yet.

"I have some plans going into it or what I think I want to do but I'm not making any decisions until I actually go and see what I'm most inspired by," she said "Right now, I'm really just thinking about how cool the wreck is going to be. But maybe I get there and I'm really inspired by the stars or something like that.

"I'm trying not to make too many plans before I actually go and get to experience the journey."

White's paintings frequently focus on individuals engaged in work or leisure activities. (Submitted by Nelson White)

Meeting the Indigenous crew

Nelson White is a Mi'kmaw painter and member of the Flat Bay First Nation Band who lives in St. John's. His work often focuses on ordinary Indigenous people, frequently at work, and that's what is inspiring him most about this opportunity as well.

"The Titanic is an exciting name and it's an exciting wreck and things like that. But my real interest is working with Indigenous crew and seeing how they interact on such a large vessel with a science crew, with adventure tourists, with all these different elements and things like that," said White.

Like Antle, White doesn't know yet what he will create out of the experience. But he does know how he's going to go about it.

"I'll take lots of reference photographs and I'll talk to people, the same as I work now. I talk to people and I paint people who I find interesting and situations that I find interesting and I'm sure over the course of eight days, I'll find more than one thing interesting on the voyage."

The plan is to take the experience and translate it into art, and, for Miawpukek Horizon Maritime Services, a chance to introduce more Indigenous people to the potential of a maritime career.

White said the artists will get to interact with everyone on board and, if the weather and time agrees with them, could get to go on a dive to the wreck.

"I will be very happy if I get to do a dive," he said. "I'm really, really hoping that we get to go down."

Antle is interested in the scientific application of the dives as well.

"I know on this mission they're going to be taking environmental DNA samples of the water to figure out how the Titanic wreckage actually acts as an artificial reef," she said.

"So I'm really interested in that, to see what grows around the Titanic site and what kind of marine life is around there. That's what I'm kind of hoping to incorporate into the art that I'll be creating."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Andrew Hawthorn


Andrew Hawthorn is a writer and reporter working with the CBC in St. John's.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show