Finding Her Voice, Finding Her Way
By Rebekah Skochinski
In the window of the Ahnisnabae Art Gallery, a wearable art piece by Cree Stevens stands on display, tilted towards the passersby as though it has a message to deliver. It features long strands of ivory, chestnut, and black horse hair trailing arm-like from the sleeves of her cut-up childhood pow wow dress, a red hand branded across its chest, along with a birch bark mask, deer antlers, and white high top Converse sneakers with sewn-on jingles. This piece, called “The One,” which Stevens created for Definitely Superior Art Gallery’s Derelicte Fashion Odyssey, epitomizes her style: a blending of Indigenous and contemporary influences. Her work is raw, compelling, touches on social, political, and cultural issues, and transcends into the spirit world.
Drawing on her studies at Lakehead University, stories from her father, from various Indigenous cultures, and other local artists, Stevens is in a perpetual state of learning. “I love working in many different mediums, styles, and techniques; I love learning new things,” she says. Working primarily in mixed media on wood panel, Stevens also does illustrations, printmaking, ceramics, wearable art, and makes jewelry. Faces, both obscured and masked, as well as birch bark feature prominently. “I love birch bark,” she says. “Ojibway peoples used to draw geometric patterns and shapes on it to tell a story or message. I like to honour birch bark by mirroring it without actually using it.” She achieves this with acrylic paint, gel, drywall compound, beads, and paper. The result is remarkably realistic and intricate.
Soft spoken and a self-professed introvert, Stevens prefers to let her art speak for her. “It’s through my work that I have a voice, it’s how I communicate,” she says. And since returning to this first love about four years ago, she has found a way to reclaim her heritage and to share that voice. Being an Ojibway and Cree First Nations artist who is also of European descent, Stevens feels it’s important that all aspects of her heritage be represented in what she creates. “I hope that my work is all-encompassing of all people,” she says.
Though Stevens has received awards and recognition for her work—her triptych piece “Tonto” is part of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s Aboriginal art collection—it seems like she is on the cusp of great things. “It’s really special to me that I’m starting my career here at home, and to create work that represents this region.”
To see more of Cree Steven’s work visit creestevens.com.