The research was undertaken at the Institute of Canadian Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada, for three months. As part of the UNESCO/Keizo Obuchi Research Fellowship, it focused on the role of indigenous culture, primarily visual arts, in promoting intercultural dialogue. The purpose was to investigate how indigenous artists who have benefited from funds and initiatives for aboriginal culture have considered visual culture as a platform for self-expression and a way to provide a better understanding of aboriginal issues for non-indigenous audiences. The study also assessed how cultural products highlight sociohistorical issues from an indigenous perspective whilst simultaneously challenging misconceptions and stereotypes, and thus provide insights into how indigenous people perceive themselves. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with indigenous people (First Nations) working in different parts of the cultural sector in Canada, such as museum curators and filmmakers.
The findings that emerged from the qualitative analysis of interviews and body of work include: (a) indigenous people working in the cultural sector tend to feel like “mediators” and “interpreters” of one culture to another; (b) the need to provide explanations shapes the aesthetics of their work and the way they showcase their culture to non-indigenous audiences; (c) attempts are made to communicate simultaneously with both indigenous and non-indigenous audiences; (d) attempts are also made to empower and educate through visual arts, especially through mechanisms of self-identification; (e) visual art, understood as a platform of self-expression, helps to negotiate feelings of anger and injustice, highlighting an indigenous person’s “voice”.
These findings draw attention to the importance of initiatives and policies that encourage and safeguard indigenous visual culture as well as efforts to promote media literacy in indigenous communities, contributing to the diversity of cultural expressions in Canada.