Debajehmujig’s Six Foot Festival offers building blocks for art

Debajehmujig visual-artist-in-residence Ray Fox created his untitled piece using a form from the costume shop and assorted fall levels.

MANITOWANING – An impressive contingent of artists displayed the best of their abilities and a desire to think outside the box (while also thinking inside the box) at this year’s Six Foot Festival, held recently at Debajehmujig Creation Centre in Manitowaning.

“This festival is a continued effort to reach out to local artists and community members about the idea of creating art in a six by six cube. It doesn’t have to be high-end, it’s free and open,” said Debajehmujig Storytellers artistic director Bruce Naokwegijig. “The six by six area to create in, that’s the challenge for artists to work in. It’s all self-initiated, so they bring their own take on what the theme is.”

The first installation in the main lobby of the centre was made by visual-artist-in-residence Ray Fox. It depicts a dress that is made of leaves and connected to a form he found in the costume shop upstairs.

“I got inspiration from my natural surroundings, with the fall and the changing colours,” he said, adding that the piece represents entering a barren environment and leaving the richly coloured leaves in tow.

“The form is walking into an environment without leaves and bringing them with it,” he said.

Further along the hallway is an eagle created by Sheila Trudeau.

“I saw it in a tree at a festival in Sudbury last fall,” she said. 

Ms. Trudeau made use of willow, leaves and grape vines to assemble the piece, saying she wanted to use only natural materials for the project.

“I could always add more, like every artist, but I’m happy with the way it is now,” she said.

Inside the theatre space, Veronica Johnny created a meditation space with her cube. She described her inspiration from her mentor Duke Redbird, a friend of Norval Morisseau.

Michael Oshkabewisens was the first performer to sign up for the open mic on opening night.

“The art I share with people is basically art with the intention of healing. We can become our own healers,” she said.

She included a small bench at which to sit, as well as bowls containing tobacco and sage to make offerings. The main feature at the back of the cube was called ‘Buffalo Medicine,’ a depiction of an array of rocks and fossils. The name comes from the centre fossil’s resemblance to a buffalo head, according to Ms. Johnny.

She described her creative process of making an offering before gathering stones for her art, and later passing the stones on to others so they can use them for their own healing.

Also in the theatre space was ‘Dreamcatching’ by Tabitha Peltier. She said she was aiming to create a sort of home that could offer shelter from a world of bad dreams.

“I want people to feel what it’s like to be surrounded by dreamcatchers. My thought was to keep it open so people can come inside,” said Ms. Peltier. “I hope they feel a freedom when they sit in it; a sense of control.”

Finally, at the rear of the building, Mr. Naokwegijig’s cuboid creation ‘Ode to Rick’ brought together elements from the first-ever Six Foot Festival and new elements. The centre features the old “accumulator” that is coloured to look like a massive grape, and the surrounding cube, perched on one of its points and on an elevated stand, is covered in grape vines. 

The vines came from an area grape grower named Rick who has supported these events in the past.

Veronica Johnny created ‘Buffalo Medicine,’ a place to pause and foster one’s own healing journey. photos by Warren Schlote

The rest of the weekend included workshops on drawing, brain tanning, the Planked fun-draiser, eco-art, a video premiere, food sovereignty, growing from seeds and traditional medicines. There were also several open mic events and community feasts that brought all together for, in most cases, no cost of admission.

“This year’s theme was ‘From the Sky to the Earth;’ last year’s was ‘From the Earth to the Sky,’” said Sam Brennan, Debajehmujig community arts animator and Six Foot Festival activity co-ordinator. “That seems really similar, but so much changes from switching those two words.”

While last year focused heavily on the cosmos above, this year focused more on the earthly realm and the many things under the sun.

Ms. Brennan thanked the many volunteers who help out at Debajehmujig throughout the year and especially at this festival, and encouraged anyone interested in donating their time to contact the centre for more information.