The 21st First Peoples Festival officially began August 2 in Montreal, but the festivities got underway a bit early this year with a vernissage at the Canadian Guild of Crafts on July 21.

The Guild, founded in 1906, is known for its efforts to conserve and promote Inuit and First Nations art in addition to fine Canadian crafts. This exhibit, which presents digital photomontage, is a departure from what most expect at the guild. But the images do not feel out of place among the more traditional crafts on display.

The two aboriginal artists behind the exhibit, Chris Bose and Martin Loft, take the viewer on a journey through the past and explore ideas of tradition in much the same way as more traditional crafts. By integrating photography and digital media the two artists have successfully connected tradition and storytelling by using contemporary media. The result of which is a mosaic of images that are not only nice to look at, but are thought provoking as well.

Martin Loft, a Kahnawake Mohawk, is a newcomer to this form of art and says he had been on hiatus from photography for almost 20 years. Having spent the better part of that time working in his community to preserve Mohawk language and culture, the artist and community worker did not expect to get back into the arts, let alone digital media.

Loft says that it was by chance that an old friend discovered across his photographs a few years back and recommended he attend courses at a digital media centre on the south shore.

They helped Loft gain new appreciation for what he calls “the limitless possibilities that could be achieved by using this form of mixed media.” A huge fan of poster art and graphic design from the 60s and 70s, Loft began exploring these influences and techniques with fervour, the results of which can be seen in his pieces at the exhibition.

Loft’s digital photomontages, while aesthetically pleasing, also create a sense of connection between First Nations history and culture, with respect to its relevance in modern society. By juxtaposing old images and new artistic tools he is able to tell a story about the lives of Aboriginal people from Canada and the rest of the world.

The integration of images from other indigenous cultures was important for Loft because “most First Peoples Nations face the same struggles for the same rights,” he said.

While he may appear to have a political or social message to pass on with his work, Loft describes his work as aesthetic rather than political. Despite this, his many years of working to preserve Mohawk culture and tradition inevitably, in unintentionally, shine through in his work.

While Martin Loft may be a newcomer to the digital arts field, Chris Bose, N’laka’pamux from the Secwepemc Nation, is definitely no stranger to the digital medium. Bose, the second of the two contributors at the Travel Guides exhibit, is known primarily as a social and political filmmaker. He is also an artist who practices a variety of artistic techniques, also experimenting with music, and visual art.

The works Bose has on display at the Guild focus on what he calls “digital storytelling” and showcase his dedication to First Peoples culture and tradition through mixed media prints. Bright, busy, and high contrast, his images more obviously symbolize tradition, culture, politics, and the conflicts or hypocrisies therein. Bose’s pieces are not quiet; they are loud and insist that we think about the stories they are trying to tell.

Although both artists showing in the Travel Guides exhibit at the Guild share the same media form and a similar aesthetic, they take a very different approach to how they create their own digital stories. While one employs a softer, quieter, more subdued method to his digital storytelling, the other is louder and definite.

Each of the artists could stand alone, but the combination of the two is truly what makes this show so interesting. It is a successful juxtaposition and really must be seen in person to be appreciated.

The exposition, appropriately titled “Travel Guides” and featuring works by Chris Bose and Martin Loft, runs until August 9 at the Canadian Guild of Crafts.
Canadian Guild of Crafts

1460 Sherbrooke St. West, suite B, Montreal, Quebec, H3G 1K4, (514) 849-6091, 1-866-477-6091