Expressing Identity

Finding Balance: Honouring Tradition, Celebrating Partnership, and Embracing the Future

February 2019

Jessica Winters

My name is Jessica Winters and I am from Makkovik, Labrador. In 1959, my grandmother Nellie Winters was relocated south from her home in Nutak to the settler community of Makkovik with her three youngest, and that is how I came to be a Makkovimiuk. I am in my final semester of my undergraduate degree in Biology of Ecology and Conservation at Memorial University of Newfoundland, with a minor in Archaeology. I left my little Inuit community of Makkovik at the age of 17, not exactly sure of what to do at Memorial. After 2 years of exploring the university world, which was so vastly different from what I previously knew, I finally settled on Biology. Given that a healthy ecosystem has been and continues to be so important to my family and I, it was a surprise that it took me so long to settle in this field. Through my “exploration” years (as I like to call them), I also took a few archaeology courses, and became increasingly interested in the process of land/resource development on Indigenous lands. All the while, my free time between labs and papers was spent making art, an ability I inherited from my mother, grandmother, and many aunts, uncles and cousins. My interest in art and craft has existed my entire life because I was absolutely immersed in it as a child. Our living room was and still is my mom’s craft room where she spends most of her time outside of work sewing everything from atigait to slippers. My grandma has been sewing and craft-making her entire life; she is well known for her embroidery & Inuk dolls, and even held a booth at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Montreal. Some of my favorite memories with my gram involve going to her house during Christmas and making homemade Christmas decorations from her huge collection of crafts; she always has the best ideas.

I attribute my own growth and development as an artist/craft-person to my immediate family who, as artists/craft-people themselves, encouraged and nurtured my interest. When I was 14, my aunt Dinah Andersen sent me an acrylic paint set which was how I was introduced to paints. By the time I was 17, I had been invited to participate in the Northern Lights Conference in Ottawa as a selling artist. I have been selling paintings ever since, most of which depict Inuit lifestyle and arctic scenes & wildlife. In the summer of 2017, I was asked to create a seal skin piece for a cod mosaic being displayed at The Rooms in celebration of Canada 150. This piece gained a lot of attention and inspired me to further explore this new seal skin mosaic type medium which I’ve never really quite seen before. I still do a lot of painting but I feel there is real potential for me as an artist to establish my style in the medium of seal skin mosaics, for lack of a better word. I am also very happy to share that I will be curating my first show this year at The Rooms Museum under the mentorship of Heather Igloliorte. The show will also be displaying the work of Billy Gauthier, an extremely talented and unique Inuit carver from the Labrador community of North West River.

The piece that I was commissioned to create for Tradition & Transition is a depiction of the partnership. Instead of portraying the mainstream vision of partnership between members of the community and outsiders, I decided to keep it internal in effort to highlight the many partnerships we see in our communities and culture. The scene depicts Inuit pulling up a whale from the sina (ice-edge) after a successful hunt. Restoring Inuit autonomy and empowering our youth while maintaining our beliefs and values as Inuit is something that I aim to do through both my work as an artist and an academic/scientist.

Like many in Nunatsiavut, Jessica Winters grew up in a family of artists and craftspeople and was surrounded by art from a young age. Over the years, her passion for art was nurtured through crafting with her mother and grandmother in her home community of Makkovik. Although she often works with traditional materials such as sealskin, Winters is primarily a painter. In this respect she follows in the footsteps of many Labrador artists who, left out of the co-operatives that influenced the artist production elsewhere in Inuit Nunangat, forged their own creative paths with mediums that many in the Inuit art industry considered “inauthentic” at the time. Like other trailblazing Labrador Inuit artists such as Dinah Anderson and Michael Massie, Winters’ paintings exemplify how timeless cultural traditions are re-energized through the characteristic Inuit trait of adaptation. The subject matters in Winters’ art often depict the landscapes, plants, and animals of Nunatsiavut, reflecting her close relationship to her land, both as an Inuk and as an aspiring biologist.

A common thread that runs through much of Winters’ work is the notion of decolonial love, community, and collaboration. This is evident in her recent mural on a pillar in the Memorial University library. The work features an Inuksuk facing North. Winters’ intent for mural, as she explained in an interview, was not so much done for the library as it was to serve as a welcoming beacon for other Indigenous students studying away from home so that they might not feel so alone.

- Amy Prouty, PhD Student, Concordia University