BIG CHICKEN ~ ARTIST STATEMENT
Mel Bartel, who studied Visual Art at Claude Watson School of the Arts and briefly at, Ontario College of Art & Design, first began exploring her Indigenous roots when she discovered she was adopted as a baby from an Ojibwe Mother from Sioux Lookout, Ontario and a member of Lac Seul First Nation. Her birth father is unknown. Mel grew up in the Manitoba prairies and was raised by a Mennonite family. She loved being in nature, staring into the big open skies and was always drawn to water. As a teenager, her family moved to Toronto, Ontario. It was a life changing experience for her. She met people from around the world, tasted food from different countries and finally felt like in this rainbow of urban beings, she was home.
In the last few years, Mel has realized that connecting to her Ojibwe Culture and being involved in Community is the key to her healing and wellbeing. She is committed to walking in a good way. As she learned more about the horrific and devastating murders of Indigenous women, she was angered and felt called to do something. She saw and sat with the reality that she too could be written off, murdered or forgotten just like so many of her sisters, just for being a Woman & Indigenous. She had a vision to use her talents and skills to bring awareness to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Trans and Two-Spirit people through her Art. She began to get involved with different Indigenous organizations in Toronto, started reading and learning and talking to people in her community, took part in rallies, spoke up on social media and became determined to rise up, educate and raise money.
Mel has created a Series of paintings that are the beginning of The Big Chicken Project. Each painting is part of her healing and is titled by just a first name. She will donate 25% of each sale to No more Silence - who among other things, organize an annual Strawberry Ceremony with Elder Wanda Whitebird - where they honour the MMIWG and their families who are left dealing with the loss and heartbreak. Their grief is not contained to the loss of their daughter, cousin or mother... but amplified by dealing with a system that continually fails to produce results and convictions. Often, the women themselves are dragged through the mud and characterized as someone who contributed to their own demise. Mel's goal of eventually donating 100% evenly to a few more charities doing good work in the community hopefully will happen by 2020. Mel is offering Big Chicken Painting Workshops as part of the Project where people are educated on MMIWG, given a safe space to digest the knowledge and encouraged to paint their personal vision of a Big Chicken. It's an incredibly healing process for all involved.
The first question always is, why Chickens? Mel could have chosen a non-domesticated animal or one that has traditional meaning in Indigenous cultures. However, she chose a Chicken. Since she was a child, they have captured her eye as a source of beauty and she loved watching them run freely and noticed they could be calm, poised but also crazy spirited and fierce. She began drawing and painting them on her walls of her room as a teenager. They were huge, majestic and comforted her. Another interesting tidbit is that her parents tried desperately to teach her a children's rhyme when she was a child called "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" where one line is "A big fat Hen" - However, Mel would always yell out "Big Chicken" with a gleeful smile and smirk. The Chicken may not be a natural choice for an Indigenous Artist - but it sure makes sense for Mel. She loves how her interpretation of a Big Chicken is almost a mythical being - because her Big Chickens don't really look like Chickens, do they?
The original Chickens painted on Mel's bedroom walls.