Jay Soule is a multimedia artist from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation in Ontario. He creates art under the name “Chippewar”—a hybrid of “Chippewa” and “warrior”—and devotes his time to painting, tattooing, body piercing, sculpting, installation work, music, as well as his line of CHIPPEWAR brand clothing. A politically engaged artist, Jay works to reclaim Indigenous identity by questioning the portrayal of Indigenous people in art and media, by calling attention to culturally appropriative practices, and by asserting the value of Indigenous stories, art, and perspectives.
Before he became a painter, Jay was a student at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto, a piercer, and a tattoo artist. Music has always been an important part of his life, so the work he did for Hillside taps into a deep love of the mystery and spirit of music. “I know lots of indigenous musicians, and their contribution to the art form is not always recognized. Indigenous people have had a huge hand in shaping the history of rock 'n' roll. We’ve been around a long time!”
Of his painting and artwork, he says “it’s pop art with an Indigenous twist. I like to take an iconic movie poster or some pop art and indigenize it. For me, it is about trying to shift from a European narrative to an Indigenous narrative.” He sees a kind of freedom in pop art because it is known around the world, and “almost universal”: “it doesn’t have ethnic or gender barriers, and it’s immediately recognizable, so it is a great means of delivering an indigenous perspective.”
He cites two pieces of art he did that play on the films, The Terminator and The Outsiders. In his versions, Terminative and Rezsiders, he looks at the struggle of living between two worlds, which is a quintessential struggle for him. As he explains, “Indigenous people live between two worlds, the Western world and the traditional Indigenous one. We struggle to live in both. In Terminative, I show the tension by painting half of the man’s face as a machine and half human. I am also questioning the notion of the ‘Hollywood Indian’ who is portrayed as a savage, monster, rapist, and terrorizer. As recently as yesterday, Indigenous people were being called ‘terrorists’ because they want the right to say what cuts through their territory; they want the right to stop a dangerous pipeline. I am trying to create a conversation around these portrayals of Indigenous people. In Rezsiders (my version of The Outsiders), I show my people looking like they are a gang. Indigenous people are always viewed as being on the wrong side of the tracks. And again, in this image, they are between two worlds—behind them is Western development in a chemical valley.”
By contrast, the sky and the scene in the artwork Jay created for Hillside accents natural beauty. “I worked with the idea of conservation because the festival is set in a conservation area. Places like this are about the natural world and the spirit. The land is protected, not clear-cut, and so the spirit can live. The ospreys’ nest is a home, a true home where the young are raised, and their home is on an iconic stage where the spirit of music lives.”
From spring to fall, you can find Jay on the pow wow trail selling his art, clothing, and other swag. To see his artwork, check out the Merch Tent at the summer festival. Jay has honoured us with a donation of the painting he did for Hillside!