BIG CHICKEN & SISTER FLOWERS ~ 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 diverse urban beings, she was home.
In the last few years, Mel has connected deeply to her Ojibwe Culture and believes Community and Traditional teachings and medicine are the key to her healing. 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, Two Spirit and Trans people through her Art. She began to connect with 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 herself and others and to raise much needed non-government obtained funds to support local grassroots agencies.
Mel has created a Series of paintings entitled "Sister Flowers" that are part of The Big Chicken Project. Each painting represents and honours all MMIWG2S, their spirits, their loved ones, family and community. Each painting is named after a Flower. So many tears have been shed - may they water and give life to the beauty and memory of each sister. May the families feel comfort and the love that surrounds them.
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 for personal and important reasons. Since she was a child, Chickens 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 provided comfort to her. Another interesting tidbit is that he adoptive 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 Big Chickens are the keepers and guardians of our beautiful "Sister Flowers."
Mel 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 MMIWG2S and their families who are left dealing with the loss and heartbreak. Their grief is not contained to the loss of their daughter, sister, 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 dream is to donate 100% to a few more Indigenous organizations doing good work in the community. She has set up a donation button for art supplies.
Mel offers Big Chicken Painting Workshops as part of the Project where people are educated on MMIWG2S, given a safe space to digest the knowledge and encouraged to paint their personal Sister Flower. It's an incredibly healing process for all involved.
The original Chickens painted on Mel's bedroom walls.