Joi T. Arcand, Here on Future Earth, Amber Motors, 2009. (Image courtesy of the artist).

USask awards ohpinamake Indigenous art prize to Joi T. Arcand

Arcand (BFA’06) is a multimedia artist from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation

Joi T. Arcand is the 2024 recipient of ohpinamake, a $10,000 prize for Indigenous artists presented by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) in collaboration with donors Jim and Marian Knock.

Joi T. Arcand’s artistic practice includes photography and large-scale installations involving Cree syllabics. (Photo: Sweetmoon Photography)

“I’m very honoured to receive the ohpinamake award. It’s a unique award that honours Indigenous artists in a meaningful way. It’s especially meaningful to be awarded by the University of Saskatchewan where I attended and received my BFA in 2006,” said Arcand, an artist from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Sask.

Arcand, who now lives in Ottawa, Ont., is the second recipient of the award, which was created in 2021 through a foundational donation by the Knocks.

“Their vision for reconciliation foregrounded Indigenous art as central to societal reconnection and increased understanding. Jim Knock passed last year, and while we grieve his loss, we are ever grateful for his leadership and generosity. Together with Marian, the University of Saskatchewan Art Galleries and Collection will continue to steward and advance this vision,” said jake moore, director of the USask Art Galleries and Collection in the College of Arts and Science.

The award will be presented on Friday, May 17, at the College Art Galleries at USask during the opening celebration of the Jeff Thomas exhibition I Refuse to be Invisible. The event is open to the public.

Arcand’s artistic practice includes photography and large-scale installations involving nêhiyawêwin (Cree) syllabics. The artist was chosen for ohpinamake in a unanimous decision by a jury composed of Ruth Cuthand (BFA’83, MFA’92), Lori Blondeau (MFA’03) and the prize’s inaugural recipient, KC Adams.

Ohpinamake is a nêhiyawêwin term meaning “to lift others.” In their written commendation, the jurors praised Arcand for uplifting her people through her inspirational work that brings syllabics into galleries, public spaces and printed works.

“While many contemporary artists are attracted to syllabics and their graphic potential, Arcand’s engagement with language is both sincere and deep. She has dedicated six years to its study and now sees her artistic practice expanding into language revitalization,” the jurors wrote.

"I think about the ways that my language uplifts me and I want to share that with others through art,” said Arcand. “It’s an opportunity for conversation and education. People need to at the very least be aware of Indigenous languages and it’s my hope to bring that awareness of the beauty of our languages.”

Joi T. Arcand, Here on Future Earth, Northern Pawn, South Vietnam, 2009. (Image courtesy of the artist).

In 2018, Arcand was shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award, Canada’s largest prize for young artists. She has had recent solo exhibitions at Ottawa’s Central Art Garage, USask’s College Art Galleries, ODD Gallery in the Yukon, and elsewhere. She was recently artist-in-residence at Wanuskewin Heritage Park (Saskatoon); OCAD University (Toronto, Ont.); the Plug-In Institute of Contemporary Art (Winnipeg, Man.); the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (Banff, Alta.); the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (Dawson City, Yukon); and Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, Ont.).

Arcand was the co-founder of Red Shift Gallery, a Saskatoon presentation space for contemporary Indigenous art. She was founder and editor from 2012–14 of the Indigenous art magazine kimiwan. Today, she is a member of the Ottawa-based art and curatorial collective Wolf Babe.

The ohpinamake award is administered by the USask Art Galleries and Collection. The award, which is open to Indigenous artists whose territories intersect with Canada, recognizes artists who empower others through active social practice or by creating art that builds community.

The gift that created the award was “visionary” and well-aligned with the mission and mandate of the USask Art Galleries and Collection, said moore.

“The Knocks wanted their gift to be an introduction to a better future made possible through increased exposure and support for Indigenous artists and creatives. They understood well that art is one of the social determinants of health. Importantly, it also aids in the development of critical thinking and social structure through non-verbal means and shared experience. This award is about honouring those that create generative and generous shared experiences.”

USask invites donations to the ohpinamake fund. Contributions can be made online.

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