artist statement

“I don’t know an indigenous woman who has not know sexual harassment, abuse, or trauma.  Everyone I know has a story, or two, or three.

At this point I wonder if it’s possible at all to not be just another statistic. When you’re 3 times  more likely to experience violence, 3 times more likely to fear for your life, 4 times more likely  to go missing, and makeup only 10% of Canada’s female population but make up 24% of the  country’s homicides (reported in 2015, but the count has been lost), it’s almost an accepted fate  that I will at some point again feel worthless inside uninvited hands, and so will every woman in  my family, every sister, cousin, and niece. It has become apart of my life to assume every  woman I meet has a story, but to never press for it. The worst part of the statistics is how drastic  they are, yet they only include what was reported. Most women I know have little to no faith in  our justice system (for good reason), and therefore never report. Some women are ashamed as if  this trauma is their burden to carry, not their abuser’s, and simply never tell anyone. I learned young that flowers shouldn’t be touched or prodded as it will stunt its growth. I learned  that the only time you should touch a flower is with caring hands, and of course if you pluck this  flower you will kill it.

I also learned young the meaning and crucial effects of consent. My petals have been plucked,  my care taken out of my own and grabbed by hands that don’t know how to be gentle enough, or  didn’t care to, and I have been withheld from the love, care, and water I need. I want this flower figure to show the beauty that is the soul, fragile but able to regrow itself in its  own decomposition.

The strength that exists in fragility is true and itself unbreakable.

My work reflects my experience as an indigenous, neurodivergent, bisexual woman in a colonial,  capitalistic, and heteronormative world. Raised Nisga’a and trained contemporary, my work  walks on a borderline between the two. What I create reflects my lived experience, the resilience  of my heritage, and the forced adoption of Western methodologies. I work in historical and  contemporary mediums, from intaglio to screen printing, pastels to digital drawings, traditional  wood carving, and mixed-media sculpture. To openly and uncomfortably explore my mental  health and trauma, so I may make a space comfortable enough for others to do the same. Express  my rage and dissatisfaction with our country’s lack of accountability regarding colonial violence  to validate others’. We put Canada on a pedestal for being a cultural mosaic, but this analogy isn’t  accurate for the positive idea presented. It’s not for the acceptance and pride of each unique  culture embedded in this country, but for the process of creating a mosaic; cultures shattered  through assimilation into partial fragments that fit into the puzzle-pieced idea of western culture,  built for and by straight, cis, European men. I want to reclaim the stolen pieces that are my  birthright and utilize the parts of western culture shoved onto my people to create a mosaic that  authentically represents my experience.

Being myself out loud on a continent dedicated to making me do the opposite is radical.”

– Shaina Richelle Stephens