I had the pleasure of meeting Maria this January in Parry Sound, ON.
She was there to perform at the GCHI DEWIN Indigenous Storytellers Festival, presented by the wonderful Rebeka Tabobodung of Muskrat Magazine. Based on what I knew of Maria's work, I had a feeling I'd really like her in person. I was right. Maria was warm and generous, and clearly confident in her craft without being arrogant about it. As I watched her take care of final details before going on stage, I got the sense that Maria knew exactly why she was there but wasn't hung up on the need for perfection.
Maria now lives in Brooklyn, NY, and her work travels across the globe. However her performance in Parry Sound was truly a home-coming celebration of her family and geographic roots. The piece, titled The One Who Keeps Giving, was a tribute to her late mother Peggy Hupfield. On stage, Maria was joined by her sister Johna, her brother John, and her sister-in-law Deanne. The performance was filmed by her cousin Waukaumon Pawis and is now featured as a solo piece at The Power Plant in Toronto until May 14, 2017. Be sure to go see it if you can, it's really moving.
After meeting Maria, I really wanted to share some of her beautiful energy and intention as an artist in WIOT Magazine. She was gracious enough to be interviewed and to offer an excerpt from her video performance, The One Who Keeps Giving.
Maria, how would you describe yourself?
keep them guessing
more than the surface
keep it simple
trust building & kinship ties
bigger than the singular
layers, no one answer, meaning unfolds, adapts, re-evaluates over time
Right now, what is the biggest message that you want your art to communicate?
My most common strategy is incorporating secret, culturally codified messages of survival and endurance for the audience to discover. I try to keep everything very tangible, physical, and grounded in the real world. You don't have to be anishinaabe or know the culture to appreciate the way I use storytelling, time, and materials in my work.
Your recent piece recorded in Parry Sound is very personal. What do you want broader audiences to experience from it?
I can appreciate how The One Who Keeps Giving is personal because it includes my family. But ultimately, all of us in the video are doing activities that we normally do in a public space (like a powwow or gathering). As an artist, my goal is to see, feel and share what it means to be connected to a place, and in this performance I wanted the link to be to my late mother, the water and my family. On both a personal and public level, this work highlights our need to create a place in the future that protects the water as life and an essential gift of creation.
What was it like to develop a performance piece with your family members?
It was so good. By working together we learned so much about each other's crafts as singers, dancers, and artists. This project really strengthened our bond, which is already pretty close. The communal trust and respect was already there, so it wasn't a jump to ask them to work with me on this.
What was a challenge you faced while developing this piece?
Timing is always a challenge. We shot and edited the whole project in two weeks, which included all of us traveling for the performances in Parry Sound and Toronto. This level of organization requires a lot of pre-planning between many people. Our performance in Parry Sound wound up delayed, and we worried my sister Johna might not be able to make it because of her work schedule. These are real life situations that come up, and they require quick and confident decision making.
Is the concept of 'Family' something you'll continue to explore in the future?
Yes, I would say so. In my work family is more of an idea that links back to the broader theme of kinship. If the right opportunity were to come up, I would absolutely work with my family again. Trust and community building is a big part of my performance methodology. Working with my family on The One Who Keeps Giving is a perfect example, because it signifies coming home, and it's an introduction of who I am, where I come from, and who stands with me.
When your work explores broad concepts such as 'womanhood' and 'family', how does your Indigenous identity play a role?
As an Indigenous person, I use art as an opportunity to reflect our people's day-to-day realities. The Anishinaabe - women included - have a long tradition of perseverance, enterprising spirit, and innovative creativity. This is the identity I want to reflect in my work.
Contemporary Indigenous issues are often expressed through politics, education, front-line activism, etc. What can the Arts offer that no other medium can?
For me, art is a decolonial weapon. It has the power to transcend barriers and reach the heart before it hits the mind. At a recent talk I attended, someone described banners being worn and used as literal shields on the front lines of Standing Rock. Indigenous art incorporates all the senses, as well as sound, dance, ceremony and spirit. There is nothing more powerful than that!
To explore more of Maria's work, visit her website.
Xina Cowan is the Editor-in-Chief of WIOT Magazine, and a digital media Producer at Rezolution Pictures in Montreal. She has the privilege of working with remarkable community members every day, and uses the web as a platform to build strength, connections, and ideas. In her spare time, she loves bopping around with her two bunnies and dreaming about beadwork.