Indigenous art. Indigenous perspectives.

2018 Ontario Arts Council Honors Nadya Kwandibens and Melissa General


Photographer Nadya Kwandibens is the recipient of the 2018 Ontario Arts Council Indigenous Arts Award. This award, created in 2012, celebrates the work of Indigenous artists and arts leaders who have made significant contributions to the arts in Ontario.

Nadya will receive this $10,000 award on Sunday, June 24, during the Indigenous Arts Festival at Fort York (250 Fort York Boulevard, Toronto). The award presentation will take place at 6:30 p.m., just before a free concert by Juno Award-winning music duo Digging Roots.

About Nadya Kwandibens

Nadya Kwandibens

Nadya Kwandibens. Photo: Sweetmoon Photography

Nadya is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) from the Animakee Wa Zhing #37 First Nation in northwestern Ontario. She is a self-taught photographer with both artistic and commercial practices.

Her photography company, Red Works Photography, aims to empower contemporary Indigenous lifestyles and cultures through photographic essays, features, and portraits.

Her artistic practice centers on three ongoing bodies of work: Concrete IndiansRed Works Outtakes, and emergence. She is currently developing a multimedia series, The Kitchen Table Talks, which will explore diverse perspectives on matrilineal leadership and nationhood. She has also published a photo book called Idle No More.

Nadya’s photography has been exhibited in group and solo shows across Canada and the United States. She is also a member of the Indigenous Laws and The Arts Collective, which paired artists and legal thinkers for Testify, a traveling multimedia exhibition exploring Indigenous law through the arts.

Nadya delivers empowering photography workshops and presentations for youth, universities and community groups.

“Nadya is an intrepid, ground-breaking and influential artist,” said the jury members, who were unanimous in their choice. “She has brought an Indigenous voice to portrait photography that recontextualizes images and shows us our true selves.” They also praised Nadya’s dedication and commitment, noting her reliable presence “in every community and at every event.”

“Nadya’s exceptional work highlights the power of photography as a storytelling medium,” said Peter Caldwell, Director & CEO, Ontario Arts Council. “She is widely respected for her reflective, empowering portraiture, as well as her visionary approach to representation. My sincere congratulations to Nadya on her achievements and this award.”

OAC Indigenous Arts Emerging Leadership Award

The OAC Indigenous Arts Award also honors emerging leadership: each year, the award recipient is invited to nominate a rising Indigenous artist or arts professional to receive a $2,500 prize. Nadya has selected photographer Melissa General as this year’s emerging laureate.

About Melissa General

Melissa General

Melissa General. Image courtesy of the Ontario Arts Council

Melissa is Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, and she currently lives in Toronto.

A multidisciplinary artist, Melissa works in photography, audio, video, and installation. Her practice is focused on her home territory of Six Nations and the concepts of memory, language, and land.

Melissa’s work has been exhibited in galleries and shows in Ontario, Manitoba, and Québec. She is also a contributor to the national billboard project Resilience, curated by Lee-Ann Martin.

Melissa is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU) with a major in photography and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from York University.

About the award

The Ontario Arts Council Indigenous Arts Award is a $12,500 award program: $10,000 is awarded to the laureate, $2,500 to the emerging artist or arts leader.

Jurors for the 2018 award were playwright Falen Johnson (Toronto), curator/visual artist Clayton Windatt (North Bay) and musicologist/journalist/broadcaster Brian Wright-McLeod (Toronto).

Previous laureates include Denise Bolduc (2017), Samuel Thomas (2016) and Daniel David Moses (2015). Click here for a full list of past recipients.


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