New Indigenous media lab at University of Winnipeg to help creators combine art and technology

The director of a new Indigenous media lab at the University of Winnipeg envisions it as a community hub for many of the up-and-coming and established artists who call the city home.

Aabijijiwan Media Lab provides access to things like 3D printing, animation for new and established artists

Julie Nagam is the director of the Aabijijiwan New Media Lab. The lab will feature state of the art podcasting, virtual reality, animation and 3D printing technologies. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

The director of a new Indigenous media lab at the University of Winnipeg envisions it as a community hub for many of the up-and-coming and established artists who call the city home.

"When I look at artists globally and nationally, we're leading the way in terms of digital new media artwork," said Julie Nagam, director of Aabijijiwan New Media Lab.

Nagam, who is Métis and German-Syrian from Winnipeg, is an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg and a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous arts, collaboration and digital media.

The 4,000-square-foot space is located on the third floor of the university's Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex. Aabijijiwan will include three media labs, which will allow community members access to equipment like 3D printers, podcasting equipment, animation studio, laser cutters, green screens and virtual reality programming. 

"I feel like what makes it so cool is one of its kind in Canada, there's very few Indigenous digital media labs that are present across the country," said Nagam. 

The lab will also have space and capabilities for artists to practise traditional mediums like beadwork and tufting. This will allow artists in the lab to combine new and old technologies in the space.

"Could you imagine taking an octopus bag and we 3D scan it and then we can do a digital media replica of it through the digital printer?" said Nagam.

Octopus bags were carried by Métis men to store the needed supplies to start fires. (Stephanie Cram)

Aabijijiwan's first artist in residence is Scott Benesiinaabandan from Lac Seul First Nation in northern Ontario, who specializes in photography and is now focusing on augmented reality and virtual reality work.

He said he thinks Winnipeg is a great city for developing young artists and he is excited to see what types of projects will be created in the lab.

Scott Benesiinaabandan is the first artist in residence at the Aabijijiwan New Media Lab. He says he is excited to see the innovative art and collaboration that will happen at the new space. (CBC Arts)

"There's going to be a lot of young artists with their first introduction to these sort of advanced technologies... It gives you that access, portability to technologies that we wouldn't have otherwise and I think it's going to be a very generative and fertile sort of place to burst new artists and new artistic ideas," said Benesiinaabandan. 

Indigenous led project for the community

From the beginning of the project, the ideas, the planning and design has been led by Indigenous people, in particular, Indigenous women.

"We want to be able to have elders and kids and all kinds of people running around having fun in the space," said Nagam.

The interior design was done by Destiny Seymour, owner of design studio Woven Collaborative.

A woman standing in a field is pictured.
Destiny Seymour is an interior designer and co-owner of Woven Collaborative, an interior design company. She helped to design the new media lab. (Ella Greyeyes)

It features a herringbone flooring pattern, Indigenous-designed furniture and accessories and a breastfeeding space for mothers who attend.

"There were a lot of women at the table when we were designing this," said Seymour, who has been an interior designer for 14 years.

One of the first public workshops for the Abijijiwan New Media Lab will be an online introduction to animation and paper puppets on April 7. Depending on public health orders, Nagam is hopeful artists and community members will be able to access the space as early as June.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He was an associate producer with CBC Indigenous.