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Island artist considers art a means to reconnect with his Indigenous identity

Andreatta thought of TOSH as a space of learning and creation
Musqueam and Qualicum First Nations artist, Mathew Andreatta, next to several of his ongoing projects, including carvings and illustrations. (Submitted photo)

Mathew Andreatta, of the Qualicum and Musqueam First Nations, has always sought a connection to his Indigenous identity.

For the past three years, he has looked at different ways of expressing and honouring that part of his identity.

“It comes out throughout my life in various ways. But at some point, a few years ago, I started getting strong images in my head – kind of connected with ideas and feelings. Sometimes music would bring them out, or just being in certain situations. And the ways that I used to express that identity wasn’t really coming out in the way that it needed to. So I realized that I needed to get these images on to paper or wood.”

Andreatta earned a bachelor’s degree from UBC for First Nations and Indigenous Studies, but didn’t start taking his own practice and art more seriously until after graduation.

He considers himself as a mostly a self-taught artist, both in 2D illustration and wood carvings. However, Musqueam elder, Shane Pointe, taught him the basics of wood working and tool care during a workshop several years ago.

As a multi-disciplined artist, Andreatta is always seeking to learn more and looks to branch out into silversmithing.

“I look to really just keep growing and elevating my practice that I’ve been finding my expressions through as a Qualicum person.”

For inspiration, Andreatta looks to his family, specifically his cousin Jesse Recalma and his late great uncle Alec Peters, who was also a Musqueam First Nation carver.

Through his own eyes, Andreatta considers his woodwork as a growing practise, one that grounds him to his culture.

For the first few wood pieces that he intends to finish, he said will be gifted to family members and other members of the community, as is a common practise within Indigenous cultures.

“One of my favourite things to say is that I don’t know what I’m doing. But that can mean a lot of things too, because there’s a lot of strength in not knowing. And especially when providing form to formless things – which is what art is – and also providing meaning to that form.”

Currently, he is working with a milled plank of old growth cedar, aged more then 230 years.

The old growth cedar was gifted to him from a cousin, who was also gifted it from another Vancouver Island artist. Andreatta acknowledges working with such a significant piece of wood as a privilege and honour.

Andreatta also designed the new banners that now adorn The Old School House (TOSH) in Qualicum Beach.

He said when working on the designs, he seriously considered what TOSH was, what it meant to the community, what it offered and how it related to the land.

“Traditionally, we had, to my knowledge, with Musqueam and other Salish communities — it was less totem poles and more house posts. So to think of the design as two dimensional, but carved in. That’s what a traditional house post would have looked like. It would have shown your visitors who’s house you’re visiting, what their lineage is, the strength of your house, and your relations as well.”

Keeping with the house post inspired design, Andreatta thought of TOSH as a space of learning and creation.

“And realistically, within those two things, a space of vulnerability.”

The main front banner depicts a knowledge holder who’s heart is the TOSH logo, as a way to acknowledge the building as a space of knowledge and of learning.

“So I personified the building itself, through the knowledge holder. While also recognizing, as you’re walking in, the knowledge that you’re offering as well. What you’re bringing in because it’s a balance. It’s about reciprocity, between those two things. And to walk into a space of creation and learning, you really have to walk in being balanced. Almost with your cup half full; enough to pour out but also enough to take in.”

Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
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