Local Cree artist Niki Watts is among 150 accomplished Indigenous performers from across Canada to receive the Hnatyshyn Foundation’s REVEAL Indigenous Art Award.
“Growing up in a remote wilderness community on the central coast of British Columbia, my work references my experiences with the people, wildlife, and First Nations Cree and Nuxalk cultures,” said Watts. “My art speaks to my experiences in this remote and pristine wilderness. I use my art as a way to speak out about issues Indigenous people encounter in Canada or as a way to address stereotypes around our culture.”
Niki Watts is a Cree artist born and raised in Bella Coola. Watts’ remote upbringing and her Plains Cree heritage continues to inspire her work. Being born and raised in a rural community she developed a close connection to nature and wildlife. Niki has done wildlife rehabilitation with some of the injured or orphaned wildlife in her valley; the most memorable of her patients a Northern Saw-Whet owlet named Odette who was successfully released back into the wild.
Watts uses traditional mediums to create her illustrative works and she often uses mixed media techniques with her drawing and paintings. She is constantly experimenting with new mediums and techniques in hopes of bettering herself as an artist.
“In Bella Coola I was the little girl that everyone knew in my community who would save stray animals and rescue injured wildlife. I formed an interest in conservation and I knew I also wanted to include my passion for the conservation of wildlife into my works,” said Watts. “My drawings and mixed media works often have merging figures of animals or people. It’s important for me to include wildlife in my art since we share the land with them.”
Watts has displayed work at the prestigious National Art Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and was in the top three in an art contest open to youth artists across Canada. Watts has graduated with a Bachelors degree at Emily Carr University of Art and Design and is excited for the challenges and opportunities that come with being a visual artist.
The Hnatyshyn Foundation launched REVEAL Indigenous Art Awards to honour Indigenous Canadian artists working in all artistic disciplines. The comprehensive program of awards and promotional activities, including 150 cash awards of $10,000 each to be awarded in 2017, will fuel the creation of new artistic works and leave a lasting cultural legacy.
The Awards are intended to recognize emerging and established Indigenous artists working in traditional or contemporary practices. The awards will be given in six artistic categories including dance, music, theatre, literature, film/video (media arts), and visual arts/fine craft.
Long-time residents of the Bella Coola Valley, Watts and her family (sister Caley and father Dan) are well-known in the community for their artistic endeavours.
“I work in a wide array of mediums and art forms ranging from drawing, painting, paper cutting, collage, sculpture, and felting,” said Watts. “My process involves me sketching down ideas as a way of researching ways to carry out my vision. My environmentalist and activist roots are apparent in the themes and imagery I explore in my work.”
Watts receives the award alongside well-known Indigenous artists such as Susan Aglukark, Drew Hayden-Taylor, Eden Robinson and Tanya Tagaq. She believes that art can be a catalyst for change and can be a voice for issues that need to be heard. Watts hopes to keep creating art and expressing herself with art for many years to come.