New Riverside mural will be a message from Anishinaabe artist

A new public art project is just about ready to get underway in Riverside.
On the evening of June 21, artist Isaac Weber—along with the Riverside BIA—held an information session at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre at 765 Queen St. E. 
Weber is a member of the Anishinaabe community via his mother, who was adopted by Dutch family. He also goes by his indigenous name Odinamaad, which means “Turning Wind.” Weber himself was born in Holland. His father is of Moorish descent: with such a varied ethnic mix Weber, or Odinamaad, is a true embodiment of modern Toronto’s multicultural identity.

The mural is to be painted on the lower half of The Edwin at 650 Queen St. E. on the northeast corner of Queen and Caroll, directly across from the Dark Horse Espresso Bar. Its production is to take place between July 3 and 21 with a reveal slated to occur on Aug. 5.

When speaking about his upcoming project Odinamaad said that “a lot of history has been untold,” and that he feels very blessed to be able to educate the youth through art. Through his art Webber wishes to “draw other people in to really try to emphasize the importance of our connection to the land.”

His collaborative design includes images of a family situation in traditional dress, water and humming birds, who are the bringers of good medicine. The mural will also contain an eagle feather—a sacred item within the indigenous community because the eagle is the one able to carry messages and praise between the two worlds.

Weber told of his experiences working on the project with Philip Cote, a veteran indigenous artist, and said that Cote “has opened my eyes a couple of times.” He went over the difficulties he had in first gathering youth to help with the project. “It was very hard to get the numbers in,” he said. Then he explained how the first meeting was held on the first of the month and after the poor turnout he realized that it was also Cheque Day.  

Odinamaad had been out of the community for a long time and was unfamiliar with what presented itself as he walked to the council fire. Weber told of “tons of people with half-litres” and “everyone drinking,” even parents who were waiting to pick up their children from school. Weber was shocked and it spurred him on to try to guide the youth through art. He said, “We have a lot of bright minds especially within the younger generation but we are just trying to heal.”

Referring to Canada’s 150th birthday Weber said that the indigenous youth had something interesting things to say.  “What are you talking about, they said, 150? Our stories go past the last ice age.” Odinamaad feels that art could really help the youth and with such a rich history, “we should be out there.” 

“These conversations contain the healing”, Weber said. “We are doing this to create a dialogue, expressing our take on the situation.” He is very passionate about the power of art and he feels that one should “look outside to our natural surroundings to guide us through our decision making and interactions with each other.” Hopefully his upcoming mural will start the process of better indigenous/immigrant relations through education and dialogue, but this could perhaps be more difficult that it already seems. 

Just down the street from where the mural is to be painted is Joel Weeks Park. This green space contains public art sculptures created by Ontario artist Mary Anne Barkhouse, a well-known first nations artist. These sculptures represent various animals important to both indigenous and contemporary Canadians alike, and being only a short distance away from Odinamaad’s future mural the thought is, why not more?

This reporter raised the question of the possibility of a cohesive indigenous theme to the public art in Riverside referencing a Waterfront Town Hall meeting held on June 6. In this town hall meeting it was stated that the new waterfront development will boast the country’s first neighborhood art project, and this reporter asked if there were any chance of this idea carrying over to Riverside. 

Riverside BIA representative Anjuli Solanki said, “One of the hardest things for doing these types of projects is getting the property owners’ permission.” She referred to the three-year battle she had trying to initiate the Riverside Pollinator Mural located directly across from the RTCC (Ralph Thornton Community Centre).

With art projects like that of Weber and residents like Solanki championing future development perhaps we could see more cohesive public art projects in future. And, if in Riverside that theme continues to be Canada’s native story perhaps Odinamaad’s wishes of educating the youth through art could also come true, with education extending further to the rest of Canada starting in this, the 150th anniversary of the colonization of this great, northern land.

 

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