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Posted: December 7, 2019

Incorporating culture into work

By Stephanie Stevens

Edgar Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Robyn Tardif

Robyn Tardif is doing just that.

The 23-year-old First Nations Secwépemc artist from the Shuswap Band near Invermere said art has always been a part of her life, first with drawing and painting, but as she matured she became more interested in three dimensional art.

That growth resulted in Tardif attending The Alberta University of Fine Arts, and in her third year, the creation of a project that showcased not only her talent and heritage but gave voice to many who do not have one: a jingle dress with glass jingles.

“Growing up in Invermere, I was fortunate enough to have the support to participate in Native Dance,” said Tardif. “A big part of this was due to my mom. She used to make my regalia, which was always the jingle dress, and she is the reason I was able to complete this project last year.”

The piece, titled Glass Jingle Dress, was a “massive undertaking,” said Tardif, taking in total 40 hours to create and complete.

“It is primarily black, but the accent colours are red and orange. These colours are necessary because of Truth and Reconciliation. Orange because of the Orange Shirt Day for residential school survivors, and red for the Red Dress Project for missing and murdered indigenous women.”

The dress has a total of 96 handmade jingles, in part to work with the glass medium Tardif loves and experiment with materiality, but it goes further than the art.

“Glass is fragile, and as an Indigenous person, so is my heritage,” she explained. “I chose to include my culture in my practice because I have this sense of responsibility to keep in alive.”

Tardif said she feels all Indigenous artists carry that responsibility, and should be asking themselves “If not me then who?”

While she considers herself a multimedia artist, working also with clay, fibres and metals, her favourite material is glass.

“I think the most significant appeal to for me is how the material can transform from a molten substance to a solid form. Manipulating glass is incredibly hard and challenging, but it can be so rewarding.”

Tardif, who graduated from David Thompson Secondary School in 2013, will graduate next year with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree under her belt, and hopes to start a business soon after.

“I would like an outlet to sell my work, along with continuing to create large scale projects like the Glass Jingle Dress. I am really passionate about contemporary art as it allows me to dig deeper into my heritage while refining my artistic abilities.”

Tardif’s sister Tish, who works as an aboriginal support worker at Martin Morigeau Elementary School in Canal Flats and Eileen Madson Primary in Invermere, said her sister’s passion and commitment to both her art and her heritage is beyond commendable.

“Robyn has worked very hard to be where she is at now. I admire her growing cultural aspects into the work she does and will be doing (in the future),” she said.  “It’s not easy thinking how you can incorporate your culture into your work, let alone imagine trying to do it with glass. She’s a very committed Secwépemc Indigenous entrepreneur, and I am very proud of her… our entire family is.”

Lead image: Shuswap Band resident and artist Robyn Tardif. Stephanie Stevens photos

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