A Toronto-born member of the Michipicoten First Nation, Rolande will give students support and guidance aimed at producing artwork for the upcoming Indigenous exhibition and increasing visual analysis within their practices.
“It’s good for emerging Indigenous artists to meet each other and develop friendships and networks,” Rolande remarks from her studio in North Vancouver where she is currently an artist-in-residence at Griffin Art Projects.
“It’s important to connect and share stories. The AGP has a lot of interesting materials that are also very traditional. It’ll be good to abstract those materials with students and see what they come up with.”
While Rolande has earned an international reputation for her experimental, multi-disciplinary practice, she came to art later in life. Having worked as a computer programmer in Canada, she moved to Sydney, Australia in the late 1990s. As a mother to two young children, she began looking for another career path.
“My mother said, ‘Why don’t you do an art degree?’” Rolande remembers. “I had never painted anything in my life. I did traditional regalia, but very badly. My mother said, ‘You’re always talking about art. You’re looking at art. Just give it a go.’”
Rolande began painting and assembling a portfolio, earning her admission to the BFA program at the Sydney College of the Arts. With tuition and childcare assistance from her First Nation, Rolande threw herself into her practice.
She entered the art school as a painter with a particular love for abstraction. Soon after, instructor and artist Mikala Dwyer introduced Rolande to installation art.
“I’ve never looked back,” she says. Working with industrial materials led to public artworks, and eventually to what she calls ‘socially engaged’ or ‘community art’.
Rolande has since earned a Master of Visual Arts degree, a PhD and a presence in galleries in Canada, Australia and beyond. She notes her cross-continental career was built on hard work in the community as much as in the studio.
“I was always sending out proposals, going to openings and meeting people, going to conferences, symposiums — those are all part of the bigger picture as a practicing artist. And people started to become familiar with my work,” she says. “And I mean, it’s still a lot of work. You have to network and keep in contact with people, keep those relationships going.”
Early opportunities were achieved this way, including her participation in a group show at Artspace curated by Gary Pearson, Rolande notes. Likewise, she forged longtime professional and personal relationships like the one she shares with curator Daina Warren, who is ECU’s Executive Director of Indigenous Initiatives and curated Rolande’s work in a 2008 show at Grunt Gallery.
“That’s part of professional practice,” she adds. “And people are interested. They’re always looking for new practices, new people.”
Rolande’s residency at Griffin Art Projects runs until Feb. 11, 2024. A series of large-scale paintings produced during the residency highlight the Thunderbird as their subject. The theme, which continues to run through Rolande’s practice, has personal resonance for the artist and broader significance within Anishinaabe cosmology. The works are framed through the lens of Rolande’s longtime engagement with hard-edge, geometric abstraction.
Rolande’s workshops for ECU Indigenous students will take place at the AGP at ECU from Jan. 29 through Jan. 31. Works produced during the workshop will be included in Frybread as Fok, the upcoming AGP exhibition opening Feb. 1, 2024.