By Penelope Smart, Curator, Thunder Bay Art Gallery
Artist: Quinn Hopkins and Blake Angeconeb Title: Bakwene Makwa Date: 2022 Medium: Digital animation/NFT Collection of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery This image is an animation still from Bakwene Makwa, which translates to “a smoky bear” in Anishinaabemowin. Among the evergreens and blueberries, Makwa has discarded his hat and jeans. He rises to sniff the wind. This animation is a new commission by artists Quinn Hopkins and Blake Angeconeb for the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. The work is on display now as part of the exhibition Woodland POP! and will be minted as an NFT this fall to become part of our permanent collection. It is the first NFT commissioned and collected by a public gallery in Canada. NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, which is a digital asset (or file) that represents real-world objects or creations such as art, music, comics, videos, and, for the gamers out there, in-game assets. They are bought and sold online, most often with cryptocurrency. Bakwene Makwa riffs on Smokey the Bear—a pop culture icon (who is yet to be cancelled). Smokey the Bear dates back to the 50s, and many generations know his conservationist message, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” As climate change brings new intensity to forest fires, what is Makwa’s warning? This animation’s pop culture references venture deep into the beginnings of Woodland style. While high-end fashion motifs dot the landscape, powerlines and thunderbirds point to the bear’s sacred teachings and stories. Morrisseau wrote about an early vision with Makwa. “The Ojibways have great respect for the Bear. According to their legends, in the distant past the Bear had a human form and was in fact an ancestor,” he says. Sometimes collabs are a lightning strike. Blake and Quinn made their first collab NFT in 2021, and it sparked a new friendship. In 2022, their shared and individual Woodland visions burn bright across the landscape of contemporary art. Woodland POP! runs until September 25.