Iksokapi Profile: Tracey – Mae Chambers, a visual artist from southern Ontario whose work is receiving international attention which has not only been good for business but a tremendous deed for the numerous causes that Chambers supports. Much of her work is inspired by her own personal experiences and her passion for social activism which addresses some very difficult yet extremely important topics like violence against Indigenous women in Canada which continues its call for support from the larger international community.
She sold her first painting at 11 years old and has since made her love for the arts into a career. 2015 was a very busy year for Chambers. some of her projects from this past year include:
- ‘Walking Together’ a project for Woodland Cultural Centre
- Attended a Programmed international residency at Artscapes’ Gibraltar Island with the Feminist Art Conference
- Created an exhibition for Planet IndigenUS at the Japanese Paper Place entitled ‘Seeds of hope. Seeds of despair.”
- Continued exhibiting ‘about eve’ which addresses negative body image.
- Part one of a three part project titled ‘Mine is but one tear in a river’ which addresses violence against Aboriginal women in Canada.
Chambers is excited for what 2016 will bring including work with the Ontario Arts Council and the Chalmers Art Fellowship to continue her work addressing violence against Aboriginal women.
Iksokapi Magazine: How would you describe yourself?
Tracey-Mae Chambers: “I am pretty intense, which is very problematic as I feel so strongly about social issues that it can be a lot for people to handle. I speak out quite a bit and although I talk quietly I have strong opinions surrounding justice for everyone equally. That being said, I have a social anxiety condition which is very hard to manage given I am an artist. We have to speak with people and engage and I find that almost impossible at times. There have been several occasions where I have gone to an opening where my work is showing and not gone into the venue, I just turned around and drove home. Its embarrassing and frustrating.”
TMC: “My current project involves three separate but related sections all under the title ‘Mine is but a tear in a river’. It addresses missing and murdered Aboriginal women and speaks to violence against all women everywhere.
For the first section I have created flesh with encaustic wax on more that five hundred pieces of clothing. This clothing is then photographed at various politically motivated sites such as parliament hill as well as churches, city streets and malls, forests and fields, abandoned buildings and these photos span six provinces. There are 1181 photos, one for each women or girl. I found this project difficult but necessary. I have been a victim of violence and at the time I felt alone, unheard and insignificant. I want to speak using the only language I feel I am able to convey my feelings with…my artwork. I have found this emotionally draining and physically exhausting. I started to take the photos on June 6 and were completed on September 7 for an opening in M’Chigeeng on September 9. It was an intensive summer to say the least.
Each photo is printed on transparent paper and is suspended from the ceiling of the gallery with various types of red thread. The clothing is pooled on the floor beneath the pictures and the thread touches the clothing. There are also shopping carts suspended from the ceiling with clothing spilling out of them. I was surprised and confused by the number and variety of places I found shopping carts on my summer travels and decided to use them in the exhibit.
The next section which I will soon begin working on, will confront each of the players in the residential school system in Canada. The final section will allow for discussion, healing and reconciliation.”
IM: Who or what inspires your work?
TMC: “I, like most artists, am inspired by everything around me. However in the last couple of years I have found my work has moved entirely to proactive social activism. I want my work to speak to the truths of the social structure here in Canada. I hope to engage with Canadians and raise their awareness about these issues and promote discussion and change. I feel we live in bubbles which protect and shield us from the unpleasantness in the world around us. It is both irresponsible and inhumane to do so.”
IM: When did you realize your talent as an artist?
TMC: “I did my first ‘real’ painting when I was 11 or 12. An Uncle paid me $100 to paint a small grouping of pink roses for his wife, my Aunt. I did this painting in oils and took much longer than should have been required…but I also learnt a valuable lesson. I do not like oil painting or commissions!”
IM: What is a day in your life like?
TMC: “Most days for me start on the computer answering emails and attending to social media advertising and news stories. I then head out to my studio at around 9:30 am. in the summer months I am usually out there by 6:00 am. I really find it hard in the winter as it stays so dark in the mornings and there are not the number of birds to cheerfully wake me in the morning.
I am then in studio much of the day. I spend one full day per week addressing and answering calls to artists as well as residency applications. I also dedicate time on this day to working on grants well in advance of the deadline as I am always fearful of being late!”
IM: Did you find it difficult to pursue art as a professional career?
TMC: “Yes, absolutely. I have been producing for five years now and it is a very tough gig. I work way more hours per week than most people I know. And although I love to create, a great deal of the work of the artist has little or nothing to do with creating. The writing and teaching take up some of my time as well as the book keeping and other office tasks. Its not my strong suit, but I am learning. I also have found it difficult as a women of mixed heritage. It was not so evident at the beginning of my journey but it has steadily increased lately. My mother was of German and English decent and her parents immigrated to Canada shortly before she was born. It is from my father’s side that the Aboriginal heritage can be found.
I am the spitting image of my mother and look nothing like my fathers family with their warm brown skin, dark hair and eyes. I have been very aggressively attacked recently for this very thing. I do not look the way I am expected to by some people and have bore the brunt of their lateral racist attacks. The person in question is a male artist also of Aboriginal descent. He has accused me of lying about my heritage and has gone so far as to call me here at my home as well as contact all of the galleries, art centres and media who have either showed my work or interviewed me. I offered to read my family tree to this individual and he replied that he had seen my picture and that was all he needed. I found this situation discouraging and hurtful and it was simply based on the fact that I am guilty of not being ‘Indian’ enough in my physical appearance.
This has been one of the most difficult hurdles of my professional career.”
IM: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
TMC: “Be true to your artist self. We spend our lives listening to people who tell us what we can’t do instead of listening to the ones who tell us what we can. I have always told my sons that they will have my support and encouragement no matter what field they decide to pursue. If you do not have someone like this in your life listen to your own voice and do not give up!!!”
IM: What are three goals you would like to achieve with your work?
TMC: “1. To use my work as a vehicle for social change. 2. To have Canadians understand the plight of women, both Aboriginal and non. and 3. To help those who feel they have no voice.
IM: If you were stranded on a tropical island, what three items would you need to have?
TMC: 1. A knife. 2. My husband 3. Earplugs (my husband is a horrible snorer !)
For more information check out her website at: http://www.traceymae.com
Images provided by TM Chambers from her project titled ‘Mine is but one tear in a river’