Alex Janvier (born 1935), a Canadian artist of Dene and Saulteaux descent, was only 8 years old when he was separated from his family and sent to the Blue Quills Indian Residential School. Blue Quills was part of a network of boarding schools, set by the Canadian government and run by Christian churches, with the purpose to assimilate Indigenous children by depriving them of their families, language, traditions and beliefs.
The year was 1943, and while he dressed like they wanted, spoke like they wanted and learned what they wanted, Janvier never lost touch with his indigenous roots. It was art that ultimately provided him with a liaison to his cultural heritage, giving him an outlet to express his identity:
“I think the government thought, if they took away our language, our culture, that we would eventually forget. So it became a passion for me to bring it all to light. To never forget”, explained Alex Janvier in an interview for Toronto Star in 2017.
With a career now spanning over 65 years, Alex Janvier has made a name for himself by combining Indigenous folklore with Western art, influenced in particular by Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. The result is a style known for its fluid, abstract shapes, calligraphic lines and vivid colors.
Lubicon (1988) is one of Janvier’s most political paintings, completed when the Lubicon Lake Nation in Alberta was in conflict with the federal government and the oil sector about resource extraction on their territory. The artist expressed his anger over the issue by deciding to change the serene, white background, typical of his works, to a blood-red shade. Looking at the abstract painting, its shapes morphing, expanding and contracting at the same time in continual regeneration, we get a sense of the resilience of the Lubicon Lake Nation, withstanding time and oppression through their cultural heritage.