Q+A with Artist, Musician, Storyteller iskwē
On October 16, 2021, Luminato Festival Toronto will unveil Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress – a fully choreographed blend of photographs and film, including new and never-before-seen works, by world-renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. Featuring an original soundtrack that includes stunning vocals from award-winning musical artist iskwē, In the Wake of Progress presents the powerful imagery of global landscapes devastated by human activity at a moment when the health of our planet is an urgent international priority.
Read below for a Q+A with iskwē as she discusses her collaboration with Edward Burtynsky, and what the audience can expect when experiencing In the Wake of Progress.
As a singer/songwriter, you’ve been described as a “teller of stories that have impacted our past and will inform our future.” How do you use your voice to tell the story of humanity’s impact on the planet in the music for In the Wake of Progress?
This piece is such a stunning work of emotion and imagery, the story being shared is so evident without the need of lyrical description. I was able to simply lose myself in the emotion of sound when adding voice to this work, sharing melody as the additional narrative rather than lyrical content. It was wonderfully liberating!
In the music for In the Wake of Progress, you’re singing the audience in and out of the piece. How does your singing act as a form of land acknowledgement? What does this mean to you?
I was taught that our land acknowledgments come from a deeper place than a few simple words at the start of a speech. They are a part of our spirit when we recognize and honour the blessings of being a part of our environments, and while some might express this respect by use of words (which is also a beautiful thing), I placed myself with the land while I was singing, and sang for spirit of the earth and its inhabitants who came before us and for the ones who will come after – honouring our role in the forever, recognizing the importance of our care for the future of our planet and the generations to come.
Can you share how you and the In the Wake of Progress creative team arrived at the decision to approach the land acknowledgement in song as you’ve done for this project, rather than the traditional spoken acknowledgement we expect now from opening ceremonies, etc?
As this piece is intended to travel beyond a single territory and is a reflection of the relationship between humans and mother earth, it was important to acknowledge our relationship with land, water and air as an entirety and not focus on a specific land base. There is a ceremony taking place through this piece that is global, that is universal, that is eternal. Our role as humans is being examined. The ramifications of our decisions and actions as humans are being documented here. For me, this piece is a collective unity of earth, water, air and spirit – as a whole, so it was important to acknowledge and honour our lands collectively, universally, from my heart and being.
What were some of the emotions that you felt while working on this project, and seeing it yourself for the first time?
This was an extremely emotional project to participate in. When I sat to watch it for the first time, start to finish, I felt such waves of peace and calm to fear, resentment, sadness, and back to a place of hope for the future. It was an incredible journey to experience, and I am so excited for others to be able to experience it for themselves! The visual context of what we are doing to this planet was so powerful, as were the pairing of these visuals with those of the forest and beauty of the waters, hence my feelings of hope.
What do you want the audience to take away from the overall experience of In the Wake of Progress?
The resiliency of the earth and planet is outstanding, and while our role as humans has been extremely volatile and damaging, I don’t doubt that the earth will rid herself of us if and when the time comes. We are meager beings in comparison to the strength and power of mother nature and planet earth. As humans, our destructive abilities are immense and complex, as are our abilities to evolve and consume. But I also believe our understanding and empathy can be equally as powerful, and when put to use for the betterment of our future generations, the possibilities are equally as immense. It is a matter of choice at this point – we will either choose to help heal our beautiful home and host, or we will choose to continue consuming beyond our needs and she will rid herself of us. I am hopeful we will make the right choice!
Learn more about iskwē
iskwē | ᐃᐢᑫᐧᐤ is, among many other things, an artist – a creator and communicator of music and of movement, of pictures, poetry, and prose. And through it all, she’s a teller of stories that have impacted our past and will inform our future. iskwē is Cree Métis from Treaty One Territory. She was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She is an urban Indigenous two-spirited woman from the Red River Valley, the birthplace of the Métis Nation.