ImagineNATIVE exchange brings together Indigenous sound artists from Canada and Latin America

Two Canadian First Nation sound artists are in La Guajira, Colombia, working with Indigenous artists from Chile and Colombia to create a unique sound art installation to premiere at the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto this fall.

'Using media to tell our stories is almost a necessity,' says Mohawk sound artist Janet Rogers

This group of Indigenous sound artists is working on a sound installation that will premiere at the imagineNATIVE festival in October 2017. Shown from left to right: Francisco Huichaqueo from Chile, Alejandro Valbuena from Colombia, Casey Koyczan from Canada, Maria Dolores Arias Martinez from Chile and Janet Rogers from Canada. (Submitted by Alejandro Valbuena)

Two Canadian First Nation sound artists are currently in La Guajira, Colombia, working with Indigenous artists from Chile and Colombia to create a unique sound art installation to premiere at the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto this fall.

The cross-cultural project, called the Territ-Aur(i)al Imprints Exchange, invited sound artists Janet Rogers, who is Mohawk, and Casey Koyczan, who is Tlicho Dene.

They met with artists Dolores Arias Martínez and Francisco Huichaqueo from Chile and Alejandro Valbuena from Colombia at the Shain Wüunu Experimental Arts Centre in La Guajira to work together on a single project.

Despite the differences in culture and languages, the group has been working together to gather sound, video and still images as they tour nearby Indigenous communities in Colombia.

The Indigenous sound artists are taking part in the first Territ-Aur(i)al Imprints Exchange in La Guajira, Colombia. The exchange was launched by imagineNATIVE to promote sound art. (Janet Rogers/Facebook )

"We've been collecting sounds, and videos and all kinds of media samples from the places we've been taken to," said Rogers. "The experience is expanding my view of what media and sound art is."

While the project is primarily a sound art installation, the group plans to include other media such as video and images in an installation that is still in development.

Culture shock

The group has toured the country under the guidance of Valbuena, who is originally from Colombia but currently lives in Canada. He also serves as the group's translator.

The experience has come with a bit of culture shock for the Canadian artists.

"I didn't expect the heat and the humidity, I didn't expect the [Shain Wüunu Experimental Arts] Centre to be without walls … it ain't North America, that's for sure," said Rogers.

In addition to the culture shock, Koyczan says he sees a lot of similarities between Canadian First Nations and Colombian Indigenous people.

"It's really opened my eyes to … the similarities that the Dene culture has with the Colombian culture," he said.

While a lot of the similarities are cultural — such as food preparation and music — Rogers says Colombian Indigenous people also hold similar political views as their Canadian counterparts.

"They are staunch protectors of the territory, their environment, and the resources in the territory," she said. "I think politically we're like-minded around the environment and politics."

Chilean artist Francisco Huichaqueo films Indigenous people in Colombia.

Festival to highlight sound art

This is the first year the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Festival has launched a cross-cultural exchange on this scale, and it is the first year it is giving more attention to sound art.

In the past, audio work has been featured at the festival, but most of the work featured are radio documentaries, says Jason Ryle, imagineNATIVE's artistic director.

"In the last two years we've been looking at trying to find ways to support Indigenous artists working in audio; either sound artists or audio artists," said Ryle.

"Because we're an international festival, we're very interested in connecting Indigenous artists [from Canada] with other Indigenous artists from around the world."

Canadian artists Casey Koyczan and Janet Rogers record the sounds of the ocean. (Janet Rogers/Facebook)

Since the annual festival brings together artists from around the world to Toronto, Ryle says cross-cultural collaborations are a great way to highlight the common connections that Indigenous people have.

"We see the connections every single year [at the festival]…. It has always been a meeting place for Indigenous artists," he said.

Ryle said he hopes the success of this year's collaboration will bring about more opportunities for Canadian artists to visit and work with other Indigenous communities around the world.

The final sound art installation will premiere at the 2017 imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in October.