Melissa Tremblett, Artist – Elmastukwek

Melissa Tremblett (she/her) is a visual artist of Innu and English heritage from the community of Sheshatshiu, Labrador. Currently based in Elmastukwek, Ktaqmkuk territory (Bay of Islands, western Newfoundland), she works within and across photography, installation, and performance, as well as traditional techniques of doll making and beading to explore acceptance, forgiveness, resiliency, and self-resurgence. Her photographs are published in Elizabeth Yeoman’s Exactly What I Said: Translating Words and Worlds, Fiona Polack’s Tracing Ochre: Changing Perspectives on the Beothuk, and Tshaukuesh Elizabeth Penashue’s Nitinikiau Innusi: I Keep the Land Alive. Her work has been supported through the Canada Council for the Arts Travel Grant, and two Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Professional Project Grants and The Slaight Family Foundation Scholarship. Her solo exhibition fire creates its own wind is on view at the Grenfell Art Gallery until August 25.

  1. Being on the water 

Water is very important to me. I spent my summers fishing with my dad back home in Labrador, so as soon as my eyes opened, I was headed to the water. It gave me the space to learn skills from my dad and to feel secure and independent in my abilities.

Living in Newfoundland, we are surrounded by water. I’ve grown to respect and appreciate the all-encompassing nature of the ocean. It is powerful, mysterious, unapologetic; it demands respect.

There is a fascinating exchange of energies that occurs when the water is simultaneously rolling onto the shore and hauling back out to the ocean. The water is almost still, the sound is mesmerizing. I’ve never been able to adequately describe it.

  1. Mental health 

I grew up not having words to describe my emotions or experiences, and I’ve never felt safe being vulnerable.

As a teenager struggling with mental illness, art therapy gave me the ability to learn language to describe objects and concepts separate from myself. It was my introduction to the power of art. Through that experience, I started to realize that what I create comes from a need to align my past experiences with where I am now.

I have the privilege of sharing my journey and creating space for authentic and candid conversation. I refuse to feel ashamed for my past and present, and I will always be sincere about what I’ve been through. If no one talks about it, then no one is talking about.

  1. Bobo bars 

I am completely obsessed with Bobo’s Stuff’d chocolate almond butter bars. I’m Celiac and I live in a city with very limited options for anything delicious that is gluten-free. And by very, I mean dismal. This is my absolute favorite snack.

  1. Working with my hands

I’ve always been a very hands-on human. I’m also a person who likes tedious, monotonous things. Doing something repetitive is soothing and gives my mind the space to wander, absorb, and reflect.

I have Innu heritage on my father’s side of the family. My paternal grandmother, Madeline Michelin, was a renowned master Innu tea doll maker. I grew up watching her constantly making things with her hands, and, as a child, I never thought about what she was making.

When she passed away, I began to understand that her hands carried traditions and knowledge.

I am still able to learn from her. I use the tea doll she gave me as a child to study her fabrics, her shapes and lines, and the poetry of her movements. I am always doing things with my hands; she is always with me.

This is a great video of my Grandma making tea dolls.

  1. Innu painted caribou coat motifs

Caribou is a sacred animal to the Innu and, as a form of symbolic exchange, hunters and shamans would wear coats made from caribou. These coats were painted with designs that came to the hunter in his dreams. The motifs on the coats symbolically represent humility, gratitude, and respect for the caribou that were to be provided for the families.

Over time, with the influence of European settler clothing, the shape and style of the coats changed, but the motifs are carried forward. I’ve been drawn to the designs over the last few years, and it keeps evolving in my practice through various mediums. Sketching turned into drawing, which evolved into paintings, beadwork, curtains, tattoos, and, most recently, a mural.