THUNDER BAY -- Cynthia Nault, a two spirit Anishnaabekwe from Lake Helen First Nation in Red Rock practices art in Thunder Bay that showcases the journey and spirituality of the creation.
“Painting as a Spiritual Practice is painting but it’s not about the production of a product. It’s about the insights gained in an inward journey. It’s about the process. It’s about learning to listen to that inner voice and learning to hear our own innate wisdom. It operates under the belief that these paintings are coming from something beyond ourselves, some greater power. For some it’s the universe, the spirit, or God. For me it is Creator.”
Nault says this with a passion that stems from her upbringing and into her education.
She lives in Thunder Bay and studied Multimedia Production at Confederation College and painting as a spiritual practice with fellow artist and activist Angela Gollat.
She was a multimedia designer at Korkola Design Communications and then worked at Blue Sky Community Healing Centre where she helped people find self-healing and self-discovery.
Her artistic style showcases dreamlike qualities and incorporates her traditional spirituality and fascination with the natural world.
Nault is a two-spirited Anishnaabekwe and says she has worked to reclaim parts of her identity that were taken as a result of colonialism.
“It is so much a part of my identity that it is not possible to separate from my art.”
Her two-spirit self and the styling of her artistic creation, she says, were gifts that came together and are now inseparable.
Throughout Nault’s life and practice, she mentions the setback of not belonging anywhere due to her mixed heritage.
She is English, French, Ojibwe and Cree and has felt the tug and pull between “not Native enough” or “too Native”.
“In ceremony, I often heard comments like, ‘why are there white people here?’ just loud enough for me to hear. In mainstream circles I often got many different reactions ranging from, “Ew, you’re Native?” to “Oh, you’re one of the good ones.” Both of which are awful because it clearly illuminates the racism that my cousins are dealing with on a daily basis.
Although the setbacks exist, Nault does acknowledge the connectivity of her different worlds being into her artistic practice. It allows her to incorporate things from all aspects of her personal experience.
Nault’s practice in Northwestern Ontario has been accepted with a warm reception but the struggle between comfortability and artistic freedom is always a hard.
“People say if you don’t want to starve, don’t be an artist. But what would life be like without art?”
She says it’s especially apparent during this global pandemic how pertinent art is to the community during times of trouble.
“Movies, music and art have been instrumental for so many people coping during these strange times.”
As Nault continues her artistic growth within Thunder Bay she does not shy away from the realities.
When asked if she believes Thunder Bay is a safe and nurturing place for an Indigenous artist she doesn’t hesitate when saying it’s not.
“I see Indigenous artists out there going from business to business trying to sell their art and getting reactions that demonstrate people’s prejudice... Indigenous artists are Indigenous people first and until we grow as a community I’m afraid these prejudices will continue causing more harm.”
In her future, Nault sees a place of inclusivity and collectivism within the community. She hopes more collectives and group creation spaces are created for individuals creating art and wanting to share it with the population without overhead fees or racial setbacks.
She praises spaces like Neechee Studio for being that starting point in our community for Indigenous artists and hopes to see more growth in the future.
As for her own art, Nault is striving for more discipline in her practice to create a theme or series.
But as she grows she will always be practicing with her spirit, regardless of where that takes her.