Interview with Artist Wally Dion

By Lacy Morin-Desjarlais

My name is Lacy Morin-Desjarlais and I am originally from Regina, Saskatchewan but now live in Burnaby, BC. I am Saulteaux/Metis and I am also an artist. When I lived in Regina, I went into foster care when I was 10 years old and lived in a foster home for two years. During that time I was really sad and went through some hard things but what helped me out was a program for intercity youth called the Street Culture Project. With the project I went to an art gallery for the first time, the MacKenzie Art Gallery and created art once a week in the art studio. It was really amazing for me at the time and that’s when I think I realized my passion for the arts. I always dreamed of having my own show at the MacKenzie Art Gallery! I have so much respect for how the Gallery has contributed towards the community in Regina, especially the aboriginal community and surrounding aboriginal communities.

Every time I visit Regina I go to the MacKenzie Art Gallery and check out the shows, this year I was back home in June and I happened to see Wally Dion’s Solo Exhibition. It was really inspiring to see the exhibit; his paintings are very large and the portraits speak to the viewer. He is a very talented painter and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Check out Wally Dion’s Website: www.epicindian.com

How has being aboriginal affected your art and career?

Being First Nations has given me lots to make art about. There's our history & colonization, the politics of being Indian. There's the identity crisis that I think every First Nations person in Canada has to struggle with in some way throughout their life. Being First Nations has been awesome in these respects, I could make art for the next 100 years and still not be done covering the issues. However, I think it is a prudent thing to keep it positive in the art making process. Most art, including mine, is political and concerns itself with injustice. I have always wanted to engage people with my art, not leave them feeling angry/powerless. In my opinion focusing on the solutions rather than the problems is the best way to keep a positive lifestyle.

What are some of the messages you are portraying through the exhibit "Epic Indian"?

The biggest message I portray through my art is that of empowerment through communication, education and economic well-being.

For example, some of the paintings at the show are from my 'Red Worker' series. In these paintings I am talking about how the working class First Nations people are, in fact, vast and well-represented in our Canadian work force. I talk about the stereotypes depicting First Nations people as "lazy" and "welfare recipients". I painted massive portraits of these real people in work cloths/uniform, working. The catch was, I painted my models in such a way that they would appear threatening and aggressive, in much the same way that Soviet-era propaganda posters depicted the proletariat working class. My hope is that people would start to wonder why the image of a 'working Indian' was/is so foreign in our country.

Following this, I started working with recycled circuit boards. I would strip and cut them into tiny pieces, reassembling them as Starblanket quilts. The message there is that technology and communication have changed our world. Today, people have increased access to information and the ability to communicate with greater ease. The circuit board has become an iconic symbol for this change.

Can you offer words of wisdom to young aboriginal artists on getting started?

My only advice is to follow your dreams. Young artists need to meet and surround themselves with other artists/people who will show them that they can make a living doing what they love. As a young person it is your job to stick with people who help you believe in yourself, people who create a feeling of confidence in yourself.

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