The FEELed Lab was delighted to welcome artist Coralee Miller as our first Artist-in-Residence in 2022. This program, which we plan to convene once a year, is intended to support dedicated local artists to further their artistic practice.
Coralee joined us in May 2022 over two weekends at the Woodhaven Ecoculture Centre, which allowed her dedicated time and space to work on her latest painting.
As a Syilx/Okanagan woman and a member of the Westbank First Nation, Coralee Miller works as a guide at the Sncewips Heritage Museum, where she is able to further her passion for storytelling, culture and art. Coralee was also part of part of the convening committee of our Fire + Water event, which took place at Woodhaven on May 13. Coralee led a sketchbook journaling workshop as part of this gathering, and shared knowledge about syilx fishing technologies and other stories. We caught up with Coralee recently and asked her to tell us more about her passions:
Can you please introduce yourself?
Way’ My name is Coralee and I am a member of Westbank First Nation and I belong to the syilx/Okanagan Nation. Although I am of mixed heritage on my dad’s side, I grew up with my community on
the IR#9 reserve in Westbank BC.
Have you always expressed yourself through art?
Art has always been a part of my identity; I was the kid who drew a lot and I never really needed to put my name on anything because my teachers knew me from the slew of doodles that overwhelmed my school work. I love art, I love making art and art allows me to express my feelings and perspectives through a veil of humor and a tongue-in-cheek use of symbolism.
I chose to pursue art more seriously when it came to secondary education. I originally looked to social work, but when I came to the crossroad of going to NVIT for social work or staying with the sncewips heritage museum, I chose to stay at the museum and focus on where my passions truly are (culture and art) and I felt no regrets. I began the BFA program at UBCO and graduated in 2021, but it wasn’t easy! I am not the academic type at all, but I was able to hone my abilities and gain a better understanding of what art is and what I interpret art to be.
What’s next for you and your art work?
I plan to continue my journey in bettering my skills and to further develop my identity as an artist. By that I mean that I want to be effective in illustrating the philosophy that humans and nature are one and the same, and the syilx perspective and values toward land stewardship and the way in which we must look after each other are not a new trend, but a responsibility ingrained in us since time immemorial. The oral stories, the ceremonies, practices and even our art is not entertainment or something that can be cherry-picked, it is ancestral instructions on how we are going to not only survive but thrive in actual symbiotic harmony with the land the animals the plants and with each other.
I am still learning and want to be able to interpret my culture and our teachings in a way that others who have not grown up within our society to have that better understanding of why we push for land stewardship. Colonization hurts everyone when it is a society built upon the oppression of others.
I believe that all social movements begin with art: light travels faster than sound. Where loud protests fail, we have symbolism; we always have imagery. It is so strong because it is a reminder that in the beginning, we all communicated in symbols in strong lines, in bodily movements, gestures, dance and song. I truly believe that art finds its way to the heart faster than a suit-clad meeting.
Where else can we find or view your work, Coralee?
My work can be found at the Rotary center for the arts, where I made a mural next to the pottery shop in 2019. I also completed a mural with the kids at sensisyusten in 2021 and it was unveiled in 2022 at the Beecroft Gas Station. I have a painting that was accepted at the Rogers building in Kelowna within the Downey Wenjack Legacy space (2021). Other examples include: an ONA syilx nation rising poster (2019); work at the Emergence art show at Vernon Public Art Gallery (2021); a Solo Exhibit “hidden spirits” at Vernon Public Art Gallery (2021); work for Sexual assault awareness month ( SAAM) (2022); and the FEELed Lab Fire and Water Symposium (2022). And many more soon to come!
We hope the Artist-in-Residence program will contribute to the FEELed Lab’s overall objectives of supporting creative approaches as a means for deepening understanding and appreciation of environmental issues in the Okanagan watershed, and strengthening feminist, anticolonial, queer and disability justice perspectives on environmental crisis. Support to emerging and youth artists is prioritized.
If you would like to find out more about the 2022-2023 program, please get in touch!