Traverse City Artist Asks For Stories About Deceased Anishinaabe For Exhibit

Jamie John is a young artist who has been using grief as a tool for creating art. 

“Art has been one of the ways that I was able to grieve over my grandfather after his passing,” he said. “My grandfather was an Anishinaabe man who carried a lot of teachings and traditions.”

John has started drawing and sculpting art for a new project, but he needs help. 

On Fourth of July weekend, he received an email that his proposal for an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art had been accepted. The proposal calls for stories of deceased Anishinaabe and other tribal nations due to mass genocide, murder and epidemics. DIA’s exhibit – Ofrenda – requires artists to develop an altar design to be on display starting in September. He’s already started working on the altar, but is requesting more people share their stories. 

“I have a series under the working title of “ The Invisible” surrounding the epidemic of the Missing, Murdered and Indigenous Women, Girls, Transgenders and Femmes and Transgender Folks,” he said. “When we lose those people, we lose the stories they carried.”

One of Jamie’s pieces uses small clay bowls, painted orange, to depict the individual lives of children who were recovered from the former indigenous boarding schools. The bowls – circles – represent the cycle of pain the Native communities deal with from historical oppression. The color orange is specific to one child’s story – a girl who’s orange shirt was taken from her by a nun running one of the boarding schools. 

“And this orange shirt was very important to her because a lot of times when children were sent to school, especially in those earlier years, it was an occasion to get dressed up,” he said. 

Jamie has been told these stories which are handed down through generations, like from his grandfather. He understands the responsibility he is taking on, being entrusted with telling these stories to a larger audience through art.

“It is a lot to carry, especially having personal experiences with this epidemic,” he said. “Grieving is part of being indigenous, unfortunately, because there is always that ongoing cycle of violence that you deal with.”

Jamie John will be accepting stories of MMIWGT2S members until the end of August. The altar will be installed at the DIA the first week of September. 

For updates on the Ofrenda exhibit, visit the Detroit Institute of Art website

To send Jamie a story, email and visit his website for more on his work.