Connie Watts

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Visitor Info

2023 Hommage of the 2022 Łimaqsti Installation in the Libby Leshgold Gallery

Award Recipient

Renée Van Halm + Pietro Widmer Graduation Award for Visual Arts – Honourable Mention


łimaqsti 2022 MFA Final Installation

My practice is centred on the genius and innovativeness of First Nations’ culture and knowledge. I express this through a use of bold colours, traditional and contemporary materials, symbols, elements, and gestures that are balanced into intricate compositions. I believe that before we were smashed by colonialism, we felt-through the oneness of our universe and shared this knowledge orally. This way of sharing kept the knowledge whole. With respect imbedded in our ways, you were held to a greater responsibility to fully understanding what was being passed to you with all the depth of connectedness: everything is one. Knowledge was learnt with your whole being. With every project, I feel-through the work, before it is even conceptualized. Time is not linear and this feeling-through, lets the work exist even before it is made. This creates a balance between the need for things to be completed and the practicality of the tools I have. In my process, I continually feel through my work at different stages to ensure that the wholeness of the work is as intact to what I felt in the beginning of the creative process. I learnt how to feel-through by growing up with oral knowledge at the core of my teachings. This whole being learning translates directly to the practice of feeling-through my beings (artwork).

My work utilizes Northwest Coast symbological language to honour my First Nations’ roots while using modern fabrication and design techniques as respect to the innovative ways of our people. I use the elemental, plant, and animal iconography as a way of expressing identity. This complex symbology emerged from the traditional family crests, totem poles and potlatching curtains. The traits of the family, person, place or story were expressed through this language of iconographic expression into a feeling held in the life of the cultural object. Depending on what I am creating, I will often tell a story of a person, place or feeling with these symbols. The stories told by my artwork are meant to be witnessed by the viewers, so they can continue to share the knowledge held in my work.

My work is rooted in the incredible historic First Nations’ community systems that sustained as close to a 0% environmental footprint and sickness rate pre-European contact. Our historic First Nations’ governance systems can make way for a colonial system to exist, but the reverse is not possible. Consequently, my work often takes space; space for our First Nations’ ways to exist unencumbered. I hope all my work shares the respect and honour I feel for our historical First Nations’ ways and knowledge. 

The Creative

The Creative is always looking, defining, and creating what they are seeing (given) in objects, people, and environments. They hold the responsibility of bring our knowledge into the world in a good way with an open heart and mind. The Creative has a connection to the sky, atmosphere and mountains that moves the red, white, and yellow ochre colours in patterns from a central energy that connects to the curiosity of the ravens. The creative strength is held in the strong red undulating braid.

The Explorer

The Explorer has layered, flowing blue and greens wave patterns from the top to bottom of the work. When I was creating this work, I felt this beings connections to the land, water, and earth (metal) and that the strength of these connections were held in the orcas and the dark blue wave like braid. This Explorer is not one that only goes into the world but is the one that explores the depth and connections of our culture and people. They are driven by an immense curiosity and love of our cultural wisdoms and languages. 

The Leader

I could feel the Leader’s connection to the sun and the shifting of the days to nights as the yellow and white pigment curved concentrically from two points. This movement’s energy connect to the strong composition and design of the thunderbird. The Leader has great strength and fortitude to uphold our ways and knowledge in everyday life and through ceremony. They are our ḥaw̓ił (hereditary chiefs) that continually earned the title of our Leaders; it historically was not a given, guaranteed position. They are deep, rich, vast knowledge holders and the strength of this skill is held in the long white undulating braid.

The Healer

I felt The Healer’s connection from the earth to the light and dark. The green and blues move in a curving pattern from the dark green, blue base, with the bear at the centre. The healer has incredible connections to mass, all living objects and the universe. It is the strength of their energy held in the strong composition and design of the bear, and the abstracted green braid tree that give them the gift to heal.

The Inventor

The Inventor’s connection to the moon, Ancestors, and the universe move the burnt umber and black colours in a circular motion around the centre of the work with a deep earthiness connecting to the otters. They have a close connection to the universe and the microcosms. This is represented by the star system, and group of particles overlayed on the background of the scrims. The sea otters through our stories are the connection to the Ancestors and the past knowledges. The Inventor’s orange, or burnt sienna colour is the connection to the fire. Fire is a cleanser and a symbol of renewal and is reinforced by the central ovoid shaped, brown/red/orange braids.

Every layer of design for these beings that comes through as a symbol, element, colour, gesture is a way to honour the depth and knowledge of our cultural ways. Like the deep rich meaning held in our words of our languages, I strive to portray our cultural complexities through the laying of the different aspects of our culture’s governance systems, cultural ways and oral knowledge sharing traditions through the expression of shape, colour, symbology, Northwest coast design iconography, composition, and materials expressed in the installation, łimaqsti (loosely translated to ultimate visionary knowledge).

2022 Łimaqsti Process

I am so honoured by my amazing and talented Family and Friends who helped in the making and installation process. A huge shout out to Monica, Kathy, Jerith, Noah, Rena, Lyra, Jill and Cecil. Also the the Emily Carr team for all of their great technical skills and knowledge.

2023 Hommage of the 2022 Łimaqsti Installation

Hommage to Łimaqsti 2022’s Installation is composed of digitally printed photographs of the 2022 summer’s MFA installation of Łimaqsti (loosely translated from Nuu-chah-nulth to ultimate visionary knowledge). The images are cropped into ovoid shapes and surrounded by the large red fabric braid that was part of the original installation. The braid’s envelopes the images to give the energy and movement of the original five beings: the Creative (red ravens); the Explorer (blue orcas); the Leader (yellow thunderbird); the Healer (green bear); and the Inventor (orange/brown otters). In the original installation, the five beings grew from their tiičmisʔuqin (loosely translated from Nuu-chah-nulth to life force) into a composition that reflected our cultural Big House. This installation creates space for the images and braid to capture the original tiičmisʔuqin. This is a contemporary construct of my envisioning of our healthy, strong, thriving communities that lived with the land/universe from time immemorial.

Libby Leshgold Gallery from May 11th to the 25th, 2023

Prelude to łimaqsti, 2021

2021 Prelude to łimaqsti, was the seeds of the larger 2022 łimaqsti installation. I gifted these paintings in our ways, like the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art teaches to gift the firsts. You gift your first mask, spoon, bowl, or creation. For me these paintings were the first for this bigger installation, so I gifted them to my nephews, niece, and mom.

In the creation of this paintings, I felt through the choice of the ground colour of each of the beings. I felt yellow for the Leader, blue for the Explorer, red for the Creative, green for the Healer, and orange to burnt sienna for the Inventor. I used the summer installation 2021 paintings’ background and Northwest coast iconography for the scrim designs. When I was painting these backgrounds, I let each of the beings’ energies guide my brushstrokes. The colours, background composition and brushstrokes are the beginning of the beings’ existence and with the energies held in the paintings. 

Other Works

Connie Watts

Connie Watts is the Associate Director, Aboriginal Programs at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, curator, educator and designer of Nuu-chah-nulth, Gitxsan and Kwakwaka’wakw ancestry. Born and raised in Campbell River, Connie has a Bachelor of Interior Design from the University of Manitoba, and a MFA from Emily Carr.

Her award-winning work is often rooted in forms and knowledge rooted in her First Nations cultures, while her sculptural objects incorporate modern fabrication and design techniques. She has shown nationally and internationally, and her work is included in numerous corporate and civic collections. Some highlights include Vereinigung installation at the Harborview Medical Centre in Seattle, her thunderbird installation, Hetux, at the Vancouver International Airport, and Strength from Within created to commemorate the children of the Alberni Indian Residential School for the Tseshaht Nation.

In more recent years, Connie completed the interior design for the Songhees Wellness Centre — a 48,000 square foot contemporary commercial building that fuses art, architecture, and design with the Songhees culture — and was the project manager for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee’s Aboriginal Art Program. As curator on that project, she was responsible for the procurement, commissioning, execution and installation of over 50 artworks in the 16 official Olympic venues — an accomplishment marked by the publication of “O Siyam,” a book celebrating the Aboriginal Olympic artworks.

Connie previously sat on the Emily Carr Board of Governors for six years. She has also been affiliated with the British Columbia Arts Council, the First Peoples Cultural Council, the Vancouver Foundation and the Contemporary Art Gallery, among other institutions

Profile image of Connie Watts