Articulating Identity

Texts are strewn about and art is placed along the walls amidst a puzzle of second-hand furniture. Each item, whether handcrafted or found, has its own story.

Stepping into Joseph Tisiga’s humble home is much like stepping into the young artist’s mind. The clutter reflects the multitude of ideas swirling in his brain, while the collection of kitschy knick-knacks correlates with his artistic aspirations that are without borders.

Paintings and drawings are either hanging or tucked away in each room. More often than not they reveal Tisiga’s own Kaska First Nation heritage through his multi-media approach.

“Normally what’s going on at the forefront of my mind is sort of a combination of outrage and pop culture,” Tisiga says.

“And then I really have to make a point of drawing on obvious indigenous references because there’s a lot of stuff that I see as being indigenous or Indian-ish that people might actually not see and recognize.”

Popular culture and indigenous artistic traditions are intentionally brought together in Tisiga’s work, whether in a drawing, painting or collage. His motive behind this, he says, is to examine the stigmas perpetuated around indigenous people and their way of living.

In one rough painting, the identifiable shape and markings of a soda can are juxtaposed with the strong lines of traditional Northwest Coast art. Some of Tisiga’s other works depict faux stories, which embrace and play off the creation tales of indigenous people while integrating gentle satire amongst its characters.

In the past he has tackled more sensitive discussions in his art, such as the affects of Indian residential schools.

“I don’t know, I never really considered what I was doing very edgy and I don’t think it is,” he says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily provocative. Although I’d like to provoke people, I don’t think that’s necessarily what I do.”

But, he admits to some personal conflicts when it comes to creating art.

“I don’t want to do something that’s just nice and call myself an artist and sell it as art,” he explains. “What I want to do is sort of create an understanding of what the terms are that we’re living by and creating upon.”

Art became an integral part of his life a few years ago while living in France. He says it increasingly takes on an educative role, allowing him to experiment.

“Now I feel like I’m just sort of exploring design, in the artistic way of it,” he explains. “I’m just doing things and seeing what happens and not trying to just restrict myself too much from saying ‘I draw or I paint or I do this or I do that.'”

Furthermore, the Yukon Government recently awarded Tisiga with an Advanced Artist Award to assist in his continued exploration of illustration. He says he intends to use the funds to express more of his youth-inspired art.

“For a long time, indigenous art has just been considered sort of a dead art. And so instead of going into galleries, it goes into museums where art goes to die,” Tisiga says.

“I think what is really interesting is that there’s all these kids now who want to play on these traditional forms and traditional symbolism to create a reflection of what the world is today for them.”

PHOTO: MORGAN WHIBLEY [email protected]

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