Jordan Bennett is showing me the tattoo of his status card that he got inked on the underside of his right bicep as part of a piece of performance art.
Like so much of Bennett’s work, including scarves he designed for a new collaboration with eBay Canada, it is a comment on both the past and present for indigenous peoples in Canada.
“All of my artwork, even this collaboration, is about awareness of our communities and our traditions,” Bennett says.
Bennett, a multidisciplinary artist of Mi’kmaq heritage who grew up in Newfoundland, and fellow indigenous artist Patrick Hunter, have each created two scarves that will go on sale this week as part of a special collaboration with the e-commerce company.
“It’s really to highlight Canadian talent,” an eBay Canada spokesperson says of the collaboration.
Only 20 of each scarf will go on sale Tuesday, at a retail price of $75, although they will be available on a made-to-order basis afterward.
Proceeds from the sales will benefit two charities of the artist’s choice.
Hunter, who grew up in Red Lake, Ont., and considers himself the “love child” of the Group of Seven and Woodland style legends Norval Morrisseau and Daphne Odjig, adapted two of his paintings for the project.
One features a tree in the centre, surrounded by a circular and a square pattern of leaves.
“It’s the tree of life,” Hunter explains. “It represents [that] you need this tree for every single aspect of your life.”
His other scarf takes his painting Crown Feather and recreates it as a patterned print.
Both reflect the vibrancy of the Woodlands style, a genre founded by Morrisseau, an Ojibwa artist known as the “Picasso of the North.”
At first glance, Bennett’s scarves may look like opposites.
One features a bright shade of reddish pink.
“The Mi’kmaq were using hot pink – I’m talking hot, hot pink – as early as the 1800s,” he says.
The other is a finely detailed black-and-white symmetrical pattern. Based on porcupine quill designs, it riffs on the traditional double-curve motif, in which patterns are mirrored back and forth.
Embedded in the pattern are mountains, shorelines, buildings – stories of travel and trade, Bennett explains.
You may not even notice them. But even if you don’t, they are still telling their tale.
“This can be worn by an indigenous person or a non-indigenous person, but you’re carrying the stories,” Bennett says.