Scott Benesiinaabandan (Anishinaabe, born in Winnipeg, Canada; lives in Winnipeg and in Tiohtià:ke / Mooniyang / Montreal, Canada) is interested in technologies and in the exchanges that they make possible between tradition and contemporaneity. Employing photography, sound art, video, and virtual reality, he creates works that are poetic and committed to bringing forth Indigenous cultures and knowledge while debunking the legacies of colonialism. His most recent projects explore the intersections between artificial intelligence and Anishinaabemowin, one of the oldest Indigenous languages in North America.
- Winnipeg, Canada
- Countries / Nations
- Anishinaabe, Canada
- Winnipeg and Tiohtià:ke / Mooniyang / Montreal, Canada
In the project sun.cedar.sky.sage, Benesiinaabandan converses with history through a critical staging of the symbolic power of commemorative monuments. The installation is deployed in the centre of Place d’Armes in Old Montreal, around the Maisonneuve Monument. This colonial statue, erected in memory of the “founder” of Montreal, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, is littered with problematic references to Indigenous people and their history. Borrowing the graphic style of ancient Anishinaabemowin symbols used for the memorization of complex stories, each of four gigantic sculptures evokes a brightly coloured bird. Initially inspired by the words giizis, giishik, and giishig—sun, cedar, and sky in Anishinaabemowin—the monochrome colours chosen by Benesiinaabandan, combined with the monumental scale of the birds, open up a polysemic counter-reading of the site. Benesiinaabandan drew the inspiration for these sculptures from his own Anishinaabe identity—the word binesi meaning “thunderbird.” Here, the virtual icons transcend the meaning of the words to become custodians of narratives that had been crushed under the weight of the colonial monuments. By adding Indigenous motifs to the site that are even more imposing than the monument itself, Benesiinaabandan rehabilitates this site of memory and subverts the mechanism of colonial display. Each icon acts as a mnemonic container, carrying stories that connect human beings to the place, simultaneously inscribed within broader collective histories and imaginaries. By persisting beyond a linear space-time and a colonial rhetoric, these virtual beings become the manifestations of presences still very real and that have always been there. From Anishinaabe ontology, sun.cedar.sky.sage reinvests the public square with lives, narratives, and voices otherwise subsumed in the Maisonneuve Monument.