Miziwezi (‘He is whole’, Ojibwe) | An exhibition of photography & short film by Wayne Simpson
October 5 - December 23, 2023
A personal journey of connection to a once forbidden culture | An exhibition of photography and short film by Wayne Simpson
Exhibition in the gallery: October 5 – December 23. 2023
Miziwezi (‘He is Whole’, Ojibwe) | By Wayne Simpson
A Research Project and Photography/Short Film Exhibition
‘Miziwezi’ (pronounced Miz-e-way-zee) is a project and culminating exhibition of photographic works and short film where we accompany Ojibwe artist Wayne Simpson of Aamjiwnaang First Nation on a personal journey of self-discovery as he investigates his Indigenous roots. Simpson has endeavored to capture the importance of culture and heritage through a foundation of openness, in pursuit of connection and belonging. Capturing the teachings of his culture and sharing it with the world in a way that is truly his own, Wayne’s unique perspective and life experience united with his talent for storytelling through film is a powerful combination. The people and stories of this year-long project is now featured in the gallery at the Elora Centre for the Arts, and includes a short film and large-scale photography.
Wayne’s early childhood was spent between the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation and Aamjiwnaang First Nation Reservations. Childhood was not pleasant for a half white child growing up on reserve, so at the age of 7 Wayne was relocated off reserve where he lived with his biological father and step-mother. When his Indigenous mother’s health started to fail in 2022, it became apparent to Wayne just how vital it was to learn about his Indigenous heritage.
Growing up with one foot in the white world and the other in the Indigenous world, it’s not always been easy for Wayne to come to peace with his identity. This exhibition represents the many months of relationship building, ceremony, boundless vulnerability and curiosity and ultimately a sense of inner peace and pride within his Indigenous culture. As the artist learns, explores, and grows, we are offered a view into his personal journey of discovery to learn and be empowered by the rawness of it.
Some emerging themes and stories that became dominant throughout Wayne’s year-long journey are the community impacts of the environment (Aamjiwnaang First Nations is surrounded by power plants), the importance of Elders, the essence and healing nature of ceremony like dance and sweat lodge, the power of art and oral history, and ultimately what it means to feel a sense of belonging. Each photograph within the exhibition tells a story and sheds a spotlight on community members who impacted his journey. The short film (approximately 10 minutes) is presented in Wayne’s own voice, as camera man and storyteller, recapping the journey and what he learned along the way.
“Only a man who knows what he’s missing can appreciate what makes him complete.”
― Reginald L. Russell
School Outreach Program
To support this exhibition and amplify the reach and learning opportunities present in this exhibition, the Elora Centre for the Arts will be hosting school visits to the gallery and classroom. Students will have the opportunity to experience the exhibition and engage in an art project inspired by the collection that has been developed in collaboration with Wayne Simpson and Ojibwe artist John Williams.
Immense gratitude to the Council and community members at Aamjiwnaang First Nation who showed me patience as I observed, listened, and absorbed all that you shared with me. My deep appreciation must be extended to Ryan and Luke Joseph and Alphonse Aquash who took me under their wing during this process. I’d also like to thank my family at Aamjiwnaang for their continued unwavering support. My learning has been deep, my understanding has broadened, but I know this is just the beginning: the beginning of relationships, understanding and knowledge. I am so grateful for all of you who helped me along the way.
I would also like to extend my thanks to the Elora Centre for the Arts, who applied for several grants to support the research, exhibition and school outreach project on my behalf, and who have helped set the foundation for what has been possible throughout this journey. Thank you to Canada Council for the Arts for awarding me the ‘Concept to Realization’ grant, breathing possibility into this whole idea. It was this grant that allowed me to spend the better part of a year on this project.
Special thanks to the Good Foundation, Dalton Associates Mental Wellness and Johansen Larsen Foundation whose generosity and support made elements of the exhibition and school field trips possible.
The image projected on the self-portrait of Wayne Simpson in the exhibition poster is artwork by Aamjiwnaang First Nation artist John Williams.
About the Aamjiwnaang First Nation
The Aamjiwnaang First Nation (formerly known as Chippewas of Sarnia) is a First Nations community of approximately 2500 Chippewa (Ojibwe) Aboriginal peoples (900 of which live on Reserve). Located on the St. Clair River, 3 miles south of the southern tip of Lake Huron in the city limits of Sarnia southwestern Ontario, Canada. Their heritage language is Ojibwa.
The name Aamjiwnaang (pronounced am-JIN-nun) means “at the spawning stream”.
About Wayne Simpson – Artist Bio
Wayne Simpson is a professional photographer based in Elora Ontario, originally from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia Ontario. Simpson specializes in dramatic portraiture and landscape photography with an ultimate goal of creating images that evoke emotion and a sense of mystery. He actively seeks out many of his subjects and builds a rapport with them before a portrait is created. Exceptionally executed, his portraits hold a mythic quality and hint at a deeper story, beckoning the viewer to wonder about the subject’s life and experience. His award-winning landscape photography showcases the mood, drama and extraordinary beauty of the planet’s wilder places and inspires the viewer to appreciate subtle details.
Wayne recently published “Resilient: The Portraiture of Wayne Simpson”; a stunning collection of portrait photography and stories. “Resilient” is currently available for purchase online and in bookshops everywhere. Featuring stories and portraits of remarkable individuals, including several indigenous family members and friends, this book serves as an excellent precursor to the themes present in Wayne’s newest exhibition. Wayne’s photography has been distributed in numerous publications including Outdoor Photography Canada, Outdoor Photography Magazine, Canadian Rockies Annual among many others, as well as in countless books around the world. The success of Wayne’s work speaks volumes to the humanity and connection present in his portraiture and landscape photography.
Wayne Simpson contact info: