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Local artist collaborates with eBay to produce wearable aboriginal art


Jordan Bennett admits, when the e-mail from eBay first came in, he thought it was spam, or maybe an update on something he had purchased online.

After a couple days, when eBay wrote again, he realized the message was legitimate. The Canadian branch of the online auction giant was looking to partner with him on a special project with a number of benefits: he’d get to showcase his art and aboriginal culture, and give back to his home province at the same time.

RELATED STORIES:

Artists from this province exhibiting at Venice Biennale

Jordan Bennett’s art based on his Mi’kmaq heritage

eBay’s Canadian team, based in Toronto, often partners with Canadian designers on exclusive projects, but recently realized they had never worked with any aboriginal Canadians and wanted to showcase their work. They set their sights on Bennett, a native of Stephenville Crossing.

“We appreciated his style and aesthetics — contemporary creations informed by his indigenous heritage — and thought his designs would translate well to fashion accessories,” Andrea Stairs, eBay Canada’s managing director, tells The Telegram. “We loved that his pieces told a story of his heritage; every colour, every shape, every line has meaning.”

Bennett has long been making art that was meant to be experienced rather than simply seen. Known for his interactive installations, Bennett incorporates painting, sculpture, beadwork, performance, digital media and other art forms into his pieces, which have always been based on his Mi’kmaq heritage. He challenges stereotypes and explores issues with a goal of opening a discussion, often fusing the traditional and the contemporary.

Bennett, who represented the province during the 2015 Venice Biennale, has shown his work around the world, most recently in Australia. He’s currently in Nova Scotia, where he is painting a mural in downtown Sydney.

With eBay Canada, he has created two limited edition scarves, which are available for purchase on eBay from today until the middle of October, both based on designs derived from his master’s thesis work, which deal with the relationship between the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I wanted to retell the history of our people,” Bennett explains, adding that history is generally convoluted and told from the perspective of settlers. “These pieces themselves are little snippets of those stories.”

Both scarves are based on traditional and contemporary quillwork, abstract due to the lens of Bennett’s own interpretation.

“Red Porcupine Quill Mountain (Mekwe’l kawi kmtn)” features a stepped motif, representing a mountain. With bright pink, blue and yellow, the designs also represent the soil horizons, sky and water. “Seasons Through Black and White,” which is simple in palette, as its name suggests, is inspired by the complex geometric patterns found in Mi’kmaq porcupine quillwork and represents the changing of the seasons as well as time and place.

Ojibway artist Patrick Hunter from Ontario is also part of the collaboration, and has designed two scarves reflecting his aboriginal heritage as well.

Bennett’s work in the past has often commented on the way mainstream designers and the public use aboriginal imagery, and he’s hoping his collaboration with eBay will start to change that.

“The good thing about eBay is that they seek out aboriginal artists and designers. It’s a very good first step. A lot of corporations and organizations just steal these designs. These are designs with a long history — they are connected to the land and our belief system — and it goes back long before they were just designs,” he says.

He’s excited by the thought of people showcasing and appreciating a part of aboriginal culture and heritage through the project.

“In terms of early Mi’kmaq culture, it seems that settlers were interested in these designs and they were used for trade,” he explains. “These designs play into the history of a way we were able to sustain our culture and our practices.

“If a Mi’kmaq person wears (these scarves), they are embracing their culture. If a non-aboriginal person wears it, it’s still a part of history as well. It’s exciting to think they could be walking around Newfoundland and all over Canada.”

The scarves are made in Canada, and are selling for $75 each, with free shipping across Canada. All of the sale proceeds will go to charities chosen by the artists; in Bennett’s case, it’s the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre. The money will be used to support youth programming at the centre, Bennett said.

The scarves are available exclusively by visiting ebay.ca/collaborations by Oct. 18.

After a couple days, when eBay wrote again, he realized the message was legitimate. The Canadian branch of the online auction giant was looking to partner with him on a special project with a number of benefits: he’d get to showcase his art and aboriginal culture, and give back to his home province at the same time.

RELATED STORIES:

Artists from this province exhibiting at Venice Biennale

Jordan Bennett’s art based on his Mi’kmaq heritage

eBay’s Canadian team, based in Toronto, often partners with Canadian designers on exclusive projects, but recently realized they had never worked with any aboriginal Canadians and wanted to showcase their work. They set their sights on Bennett, a native of Stephenville Crossing.

“We appreciated his style and aesthetics — contemporary creations informed by his indigenous heritage — and thought his designs would translate well to fashion accessories,” Andrea Stairs, eBay Canada’s managing director, tells The Telegram. “We loved that his pieces told a story of his heritage; every colour, every shape, every line has meaning.”

Bennett has long been making art that was meant to be experienced rather than simply seen. Known for his interactive installations, Bennett incorporates painting, sculpture, beadwork, performance, digital media and other art forms into his pieces, which have always been based on his Mi’kmaq heritage. He challenges stereotypes and explores issues with a goal of opening a discussion, often fusing the traditional and the contemporary.

Bennett, who represented the province during the 2015 Venice Biennale, has shown his work around the world, most recently in Australia. He’s currently in Nova Scotia, where he is painting a mural in downtown Sydney.

With eBay Canada, he has created two limited edition scarves, which are available for purchase on eBay from today until the middle of October, both based on designs derived from his master’s thesis work, which deal with the relationship between the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I wanted to retell the history of our people,” Bennett explains, adding that history is generally convoluted and told from the perspective of settlers. “These pieces themselves are little snippets of those stories.”

Both scarves are based on traditional and contemporary quillwork, abstract due to the lens of Bennett’s own interpretation.

“Red Porcupine Quill Mountain (Mekwe’l kawi kmtn)” features a stepped motif, representing a mountain. With bright pink, blue and yellow, the designs also represent the soil horizons, sky and water. “Seasons Through Black and White,” which is simple in palette, as its name suggests, is inspired by the complex geometric patterns found in Mi’kmaq porcupine quillwork and represents the changing of the seasons as well as time and place.

Ojibway artist Patrick Hunter from Ontario is also part of the collaboration, and has designed two scarves reflecting his aboriginal heritage as well.

Bennett’s work in the past has often commented on the way mainstream designers and the public use aboriginal imagery, and he’s hoping his collaboration with eBay will start to change that.

“The good thing about eBay is that they seek out aboriginal artists and designers. It’s a very good first step. A lot of corporations and organizations just steal these designs. These are designs with a long history — they are connected to the land and our belief system — and it goes back long before they were just designs,” he says.

He’s excited by the thought of people showcasing and appreciating a part of aboriginal culture and heritage through the project.

“In terms of early Mi’kmaq culture, it seems that settlers were interested in these designs and they were used for trade,” he explains. “These designs play into the history of a way we were able to sustain our culture and our practices.

“If a Mi’kmaq person wears (these scarves), they are embracing their culture. If a non-aboriginal person wears it, it’s still a part of history as well. It’s exciting to think they could be walking around Newfoundland and all over Canada.”

The scarves are made in Canada, and are selling for $75 each, with free shipping across Canada. All of the sale proceeds will go to charities chosen by the artists; in Bennett’s case, it’s the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre. The money will be used to support youth programming at the centre, Bennett said.

The scarves are available exclusively by visiting ebay.ca/collaborations by Oct. 18.

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