Kassandra Simon is a Mi’kmaq artist from southwestern Newfoundland (Ktaqmkuk). She is a member of Benoit First Nation in Cape St. George and lives in the Codroy Valley. She has always dreamed of creating cultural spaces to share her love of art and to inspire the importance of art to our youth. Painting is her passion, drawing inspiration from nature that surrounds her, reconnecting to her Mi’kmaq roots here on the island. She has three young children that inspire her to lead by example. She is currently working with Benoit First Nation and St. Georges Band to create murals that represent their Mi’kmaq identity. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from NSCAD University and a Fine Arts diploma from College of the North Atlantic.
We came together to paint a mural for this new sacred space of the Benoit First Nation. It is a space that brings the circle of people closer together—closer to their community and to their culture. Art Mawoi’mi is an event held on the date of the summer solstice, which is National Indigenous Peoples Day. It represents a new season of life for the Benoit First Nation. On July 22 and 23, the first official Benoit First Nation Mawoi’mi was held in Cape St. George. A Mawoi’mi is a ceremonial gathering, similar to a powwow, where the dancers dance around a sacred fire. It is a gathering of kinfolk and a place for people to come together and feel good about themselves and their culture.
School workshops were held in May along the Port au Port Peninsula, including at the St. Thomas Aquinas, Our Lady of the Cape, Notre Dame du Cap and Lourdes elementary schools. The objective of the workshops was to generate community interest in and promote an understanding of Art Mawoi’mi within the Riopelle Dialogues program, and the 100th anniversary and legacy of Jean Paul Riopelle. They were also intended to inspire young people to explore painting in various styles modelled on Riopelle’s work and to discover the unconscious realm of abstraction and the importance of art within Mi’kmaq culture. The workshops included a talk given by an artist and a painting session with the students.
The role of the community is vitally important for the completion of our project. Imagining a 56-foot mural can be overwhelming for one person, but working together as one community, we created an artwork expressing movement through the medium of paint. It was an event celebrating the elimination of boundaries and an opportunity to rediscover our cultural identity as Canadians and as Mi’kmaq of the Benoit First Nation.
Like Riopelle’s work, our creation of a mural will be a mosaic of colour, a sculptural piece. Children and elders will have messy hands-on fun, will have immersive contact with the materials and apply thick splashes of paint with their palette knives. By allowing the finished mural to be experimental and seeing the community’s joint creative work, Kassandra Simon will feel the essence of things within the work, give them clarity, and overlay figurative forms that represent Indigenous identity and significance for Riopelle. The completed mural will be permanently installed on the Mawoi’mi grounds behind the Benoit First Nation Mi’kmaq Centre, facing the ocean and the dancers. A grand unveiling and celebration of the project will attract attention during the Benoit First Nation Mawoi’mi in July. The Benoit First Nation and the community are very excited to be part of this sea-to-sea Riopelle Dialogues project, which fulfils Riopelle’s dream to create space where artists can meet and teach art techniques.
Realized within the framework of the centenary
The creation of the Foundation was inspired by the dream of Jean Paul Riopelle, who wished to pass on his passion for art, his vision and inspire the next generation of artists to explore, innovate and surpass their creative potential.