A penciled sketch wrapping around the main concrete pillar in the Queen Elizabeth II Library lobby begins to take shape.
Inuit artist and Faculty of Science student Jessica Winters uses black paint and a fine brush to slowly fill in her design. As hours pass, symbols emerge: a tent, evergreen trees and, facing north, an inukshuk.
Painting images on a concrete pillar that represent three very different Indigenous groups in the province is the type of challenge Ms. Winters says she enjoys, and it is the reason she agreed to do the commissioned piece of work.
“The most important thing for me is that for Aboriginal people, when they come here, they will feel like there is a little bit of home here and they will think, ‘I don’t feel so uncomfortable. I belong here,'” said Ms. Winters, who hails from Makkovik on Labrador’s North Coast.
Watch Ms. Winters paint some of the imagery on the pillars in the Queen Elizabeth II Library below.
‘Provide a canvas’
“We are thrilled to provide a canvas for Jessica’s art and voice,” said Louise White, associate university librarian of the Queen Elizabeth II Library. “We want Indigenous students to feel connected in and to this space.”
Above the swirling images is the phrase: “Let’s study.” It is written in Mi’kmaq, Inuktitut, Innu-aimun and English.
Ms. Winters says she is “obsessed” with Inuit lifestyle and nature.
“Of course, they are kind of the same thing,” she said. “My art is trying to get back to the basics and preserve that way of thinking and all things Inuit. I feel like people, especially Inuit people, don’t realize how technologically advanced our traditions actually are . . . like making a kayak out of seal skin. Only we could do that. I am obsessed with it and I think it is cool. I don’t think it is appreciated enough.”
“You have another level of respect for nature because you realize how much people depend on it.”
Last year Ms. Winters was invited to submit a piece for The Wish 150 cod mosaic created by TakingITGlobal in partnership with Fishing for Success. The Mosaic was unveiled at The Rooms Art Gallery in St. John’s last summer.
Her piece involved using intricate pieces of seal skin to create images that depict and celebrate Inuit life and ingenuity. Ms. Winters completed the piece as she worked multiple jobs, including facilitating science camps for children all over Labrador during her summer break from her bachelor of science program.
“I feel like growing up the way I did, you had such a hands-on experience with nature and wildlife and getting your own food,” she said.
“And it is the same thing with my art. I grew up around it and it is always going to be there. And that’s probably how I got interested in biology. You have another level of respect for nature because you realize how much people depend on it. So, you kind of make it your life work to protect it and advocate for conservation.”
Life is taking Ms. Winters down some interesting roads. No matter how scary, she says, she is soaking up all of its opportunities.
“I was freaking out the other day because I am going to Dalhousie University for this program about ocean governance, which is designed for people who already work in ocean governance and that isn’t even the field I am doing in school,” Ms. Winters explained.
“My friend said ‘You don’t even have any idea how much experience you already have.’ And I thought, she was kind of right. I need to start looking forward to what I can do to better myself, or what’s next. I feel like there are so many opportunities — why wouldn’t you do them, do them all?”
‘A different world’
Ms. Winters is a fusion of interests and experiences, navigating many worlds and drawing inspiration from them all.
She says although some of her family members are concerned she’s not home with them, they have faith in her to make the right decisions.
“A lot of my family don’t understand what university is like. It is a different world for them. I go home in February and my Grandma says, ‘Are you coming home this spring or the summer, we will go fishing and go up to the cabin,’ and I have to say I don’t know because I have school. She is kind of disappointed but she also trusts me.”
Home and what that means is never far from her mind.
“I am not doing this art for the library. I am doing it for the people back home or for the people who need it.”