Tania Willard
Tania Willard
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Medio Ambiente

Decolonial art and ecology with Tania Willard

Por Elizabeth Liotta
October 2023
"Where we come from is not just a geographical point. Rather, our territory symbolizes how we feel about our surroundings and how we connect to the land. Our land represents what we carry within us and how our essence is reflected in it," declares the extraordinary artist, Tania Willard.
Hailing from the Secwépemc indigenous community, Tania's art brings to life the deep meaning her people give to the land. Combining topics of ecology and decolonial messages, her work represents an act of indigenous resurgence. Through collaborative projects like the BUSH Gallery, Tania's art reaffirms the vibrant spirit of her community. During her lecture at Bard College, the artist explained the artistic and academic dimensions of her work, as well as her efforts to represent the Secwépemc community in the United States.

To give some context, the Secwépemc are part of the “First Nations” (indigenous communities) who reside in the interior of the Canadian province of British Columbia. Its national territory is called “Secwepemculecw” and extends for 180,000 square kilometers. Born into an interracial family (white mother and Secwépemc father), Tania wishes to highlight the beauty of Aboriginal culture in her works.

The artist moved to her homeland ten years ago to learn more deeply about her culture. During that time, she learned other forms of indigenous teaching and education that historically have not been valued in the same way as the dominant Western white culture has.

“Articulating where we come from and how our identity connects with our art are two important points for us indigenous artists. For us, there is always the danger of being trapped in the typical academic ethnographic framework, which portrays us in very specific times and places and does not allow us to be seen as contemporary people. My practice has evolved over time to be less focused on art galleries and more concentrated on spaces I have a more meaningful relationship with. This does not mean that I reject traditional galleries, but it does signify that in the last decade of practicing as an artist, I have gone from feeling that I do not belong, or that I am the only one of my people in certain spaces, to focusing on the cultural value of what I contribute with my work. All these feelings are internal layers resulting from colonization,” Tania explains.
The mural we can see here is located on the road that leads to the Secwepemculecw territory, and it lets travelers know that they have already arrived in the region. Before this wall existed, there was no type of entrance signage. In this project, Tania assisted the Latin American artist Gillermo Aranda, who directed the creation of the mural.

According to the artist, “This road was not built with our permission or consent, and it does not seem to comply with basic safety rules that apply in the United States, for example, the lack of pedestrian crossings. This road really divides our space, which has also made it easier for other people to extract resources from our territory. This is an undeniable colonial scenario. The piece is placed within the context of many other commercial advertisements across the street, making for a very unexpected encounter when you see it. This mural disrupts this commercialized, colonized, and anonymized landscape.”

The second image and work refer to an oil pipeline that was originally installed to serve the Secwepemculecw territory. Its original name was “Kinder Morgan,'' but Canada recently took over it and called it the “TMX Transmountain Pipeline.” This means that the colonial history of extraction, instead of being in the past, is rather very prominent and present in the lives of the Secwepemc community. This is a sociopolitical landscape that disrupts its territory and presents constant danger. The image comes from the “Tiny House Warriors” movement which is currently protesting against TMX. To assert Secwepemc jurisdiction, these Tiny Warriors are building houses along the 518 km pipeline route to block access to the TMX.

Tania also expressed that her work “points out that learning not only comes from books but also from the earth and our environment. In fact, learning from mountains, valleys, forests, and meadows existed long before the knowledge we learn from books.”

In addition, here we share a very special quote that conveys the knowledge Tania wishes to emphasize:
“Learning not only comes from books but also from the earth and our environment. In fact, learning from mountains, valleys, forests, and meadows preceded knowledge from books. What our people know about life and living, good and evil, and the laws and purposes of insects, birds, animals, and fish come from the earth, the climate, the seasons, the plants, and other beings. The earth is our book; the days, its pages; the seasons, paragraphs; the years, chapters…” – Basil Johnson, Anishinaabe, Aboriginal writer, and educator.

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