Image courtesy of Tannis Nielsen
If you’ve taken a stroll in downtown Toronto through the Lower Simcoe Street underpass in the last two years, you may have noticed the breathtaking mural work of Toronto multidisciplinary artist Tannis Nielsen. Her massive murals, Gchi-twaawendan NIbi/Honour the Water (Water Wall) and N'gekaajig kidowog/My Elders Said (Elder Wall), were completed in collaboration with a number of young Indigenous artists over a two year period. We recently connected with Nielsen for a chat about the concept and significance of these monumental pieces.
Insider: Can you explain the concept and inspiration behind both sides of the mural (The Water Wall and The Elder Wall)?
Nielsen: My intention was for both walls to act as a land acknowledgment. I wanted pedestrians to immediately recognize the mural as being Indigenous and to recognize it as a physical place maker of the Indigenous territory of Tkaronto –home to the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee.
N'gekaajig Kidowog/My Elders Said consists of 28 portraits of local teachers/elders, each portrait is about 10 feet high by 7 feet wide with their names written underneath. This summer I am placing quotes/teachings from each elder upon the wall so that pedestrians will be able to gain access into some of the elders' teachings that are given in relation to the land and water.
Gchi-twaawendan NIbi/Honour the Water was created to honour both Grandma Josephine (who started the Water Walk initiative) and the water, and to also act as means to introduce pedestrians to the importance of the very real concept that “water as life”.Grandma Josephine has walked a total of 17, 000 km in honour and recognition of the importance of water. She is the greatest Earth activist I’ve ever met.