Tamika Knutson had not thought of carving out a career in art when she was in high school. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen grew up in Dawson and graduated from Robert Service School. After what she describes as a less-than-successful stint at an academic college, she came back and signed up for the one-year certificate program at Yukon’s School of Visual Arts (SOVA).
On completing the foundation year at SOVA, in 2013, Tamika transferred to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, in Halifax, to further explore a variety of mediums and subjects in visual arts. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts, with a major in jewellery design and metalsmithing, in April 2017.
“I think I ended up making art that is jewellery because you can wear it at the end,” she said on the evening her show, Skin, opened at the ODD Gallery in Dawson, “and I think if your art can be worn and go out in the world and interact in different places with different people, it’s more effective in the way that it gets ideas out there.
“It just kind of gets to be a part of the world a little more than being on the inside and just sitting in a gallery all the time.”
Her artist’s statement on the program brochure explains her feelings in more detail.
“Your skin protects and houses the most vital parts of your body; it is your shelter and home. I am inspired by how birch bark, the skin of a tree, is used as a material by First Nations and how crucial it has been to their livelihood.
“My aim with these jewellery pieces is to explore and retrace my Indigenous identity, as a Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen, while also bringing First Nation craft into a more contemporary space.
“Through resourcefulness, First Nations transform ordinary things into useful materials, functional objects, and beautiful ornaments. I identify with this evolution of materials as a jeweller, as we also take rough materials and transform them into something precious.
“The use of birch bark in my work symbolizes an historical exchange between nature and people, and the subjectivity of preciousness.”
Skin displays nine of her pieces, hung on nearly invisible line so that they seem suspended in the air, their shadows on the wall becoming part of the effect. Most of the birch bark is from local trees although she started working on these pieces in Halifax, where those trees are a bit harder to find.
The pieces are made of moosehide, glass beads and copper, which she fashioned into clasps. In addition to this type of work, Knutson is also known for her earrings and other jewellery.
She spent the winter working with youth, as part of the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, when she wasn’t working on finishing pieces for this exhibit, which opened on May 17 and will run until June 21.
Tamika will be participating in the Adäka Cultural Festival, in Whitehorse, and later attending an artist residency in Roaring Forks, Colorado.