Anishinaabe artist turns everyday garbage into beaded pieces of art

Nico Williams is an Anishinaabe contemporary artist who is turning pieces of garbage that he found lying on the ground in Montreal into beaded works of art on display at a new exhibition.

Latest exhibition from Nico Williams features beaded cereal boxes, Kraft Dinner box

Artist Nico Williams has a new art exhibition where he beaded pieces of garbage that he found while walking through the streets of Montreal. (Paul Litherland)

One man's trash is another man's beadwork.

Nico Williams, an Anishinaabe contemporary artist, is turning pieces of garbage that he found lying on the ground in Montreal into beaded works of art for a new exhibition.

He said that in the past, Indigenous peoples used baskets and basketry to hold things, and passed these items down from generation to generation. With his latest work, he hopes to get people thinking about the objects they bring into their homes, and how they are temporary pieces that get used only once. 

His newest exhibition, ataason | ils emmagasinent | they store it, opened at Blouin Division in Montreal on Nov. 6.

"I've been getting contacted from the community and they're like, 'Oh my gosh, we love this work.' And they're laughing because it's just so rez," said Williams, who is from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in southwestern Ontario.

In the past he has beaded lottery scratch tickets, and his newest exhibition features a three-dimensional-style beaded grocery bag, as well as cereal and Kraft Dinner boxes.

Nico Williams said he wants his new exhibition to get people thinking about the types of objects they bring into their homes — things like packaging, for instance. (Nico Williams/Facebook)

"I think there's always humour within the Indigenous community because it's like a healing process, and it's great to have a good laugh with the community," said Williams.

The artist has also beaded a J Cloth, which he said reminds him of his grandmother's house.

"It's just an object that we all had in our household," said Williams.

"A lot of stuff happened in the kitchen like … when aunties would sit at a table on Sundays or Friday nights all together as a community. So it's kind of interesting that I'm using these objects in the kitchen to try to have that discussion and that relationship."

As a multidisciplinary artist, one of Williams's main inspirations is to get people interested in beadwork.

He has a public art project, a metal beadwork sculpture, coming up in Quebec City in the spring, and has been teaching beading workshops to people interested in learning the craft.

"I just was really interested in how Nico was able to look around in his surroundings and then use that as inspiration for his art," said Craig Commanda. 

Commanda, who is from Kitigan Zibi Anishinaabeg in Quebec, has been applying some of the techniques that he learned from Williams and has collaborated with the artist on a couple of projects.

Michelle McGeough, an assistant professor at Concordia University in the art history department, visited the exhibition on Saturday and said she's impressed by how Williams is taking everyday objects and turning them into pieces of art.

"I think that artists like Nico open up the possibilities for us to see and explore the materials that we work with in really different ways," said McGeough.

The exhibit at Blouin Division is on until Jan. 22, 2022.


  • A previous version of this story said the exhibition was in Quebec City. In fact, it is at Blouin Division in Montreal.
    Nov 15, 2021 2:17 PM ET


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1