Ursula Johnson


Ursula Johnson has exhibited work nationally and internationally since graduating from NSCAD in 2006. Johnson describes her work as “changing mediums based on who I am talking to and what conversation I am trying to have.” A major focus of her practice is based in performance and installation. Much of her work employs cooperative didactic intervention and is place-based while incorporating various mediums and often collaborations with others. She also works in a collaborative duo with her spouse, Angella Parsons, under the name KINUK, exploring settler colonial interrelations. Johnson was awarded the 2016 NS Masterworks Award, and the 2017 Sobey Art Award.


Installation title: Lukwaqn/Elukwet/Amalukwet/Nata’lukwet/Elukwek/Amalukwek/Nata’lukwek (Work/they are working/they work for fun/they are innovative workers/we are working/we work for fun/we are innovative workers)

* Mi’kmaq language translation: “they” singular replacement of he/she.

He had a shed. Wafting of gasoline, freshly cut spruce, sawn lumber. An old table saw, a grinding wheel, rusty handsaws and a te’sipowji’j, a little horse.

Marks from decades of axes, draw knives, hammers and crooked knives left echoes of labour. Any given day he could be found in the shed, creating pieces of furniture for Nanny: shelves, desks, chairs, mantles. Throughout my childhood I spent many days with my grandfather in the shed. I would ask what materials he was working with and what steps needed to take place next. I remember sitting on pieces of lumber while he would saw through them. The familiar sounds of a hand saw, the pounding of shiny common nails. I was always curious. Always interested.

The spectacle of having an “Indian” on display in museums demonstrating knowledge holds a long-standing history and played an important role in the generation of my grandparents. They were not called upon to take part in education systems or museums unless it was curriculum mandated. When asked, they would attend as “educators.” Often times demonstrating dying knowledge systems to non-indigenous audiences. A colonial guise of the side-show. This premise of demonstrator/exhibition of culture has become the detriment of knowledge systems. Today many of my generation are seeking ways in which to process this grief of cultural loss, while grasping for customary ways of knowing to try to regain our cultural practices.

Like so many, during the years of this pandemic, I have been unpacking the boxes of the stuff saved. Reinvestigating contexts of nostalgia and sitting with the remnants. Loss. Grief. Labour. Honouring. With curiosity and interest. Always.

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