RTA Media grad student claims space as an Indigenous creative
Karly Cywink, RTA Media alumna, first-year Masters of Media Production graduate student, and design and website lead for this year’s Pow Wow (external link, opens in new window) , is reclaiming her narrative. A multidisciplinary Ojibwe artist from Whitefish River, Cywink is exploring her identity through creative expression and claiming space as an Indigenous artist.
This was Cywink’s third year with the student-run event hosted by Saagajiwe (external link, opens in new window) , a transdisciplinary Indigenous centre for research and creation based in The Creative School. The annual Pow Wow was one of the recommendations in Ryerson’s community consultation report (opens in new window) , created in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
A renewed sense of purpose defined Cywink’s design mission for Pow Wow.
“This year going into it, I had a chat with Laura Heidenheim, Manager of Saagajiwe and Pow Wow support staff, about planning and programming,” says Cywink. “This was right around the time the Yellowhead Institute (opens in new window) (a First Nation-led research centre based in the Faculty of Arts) had released their statement about ‘X University’, and we talked about how we could honour this work and also make a statement. For me, this translated into creating impactful branding.”
For Cywink and the team, Pow Wow is a celebration of Indigenous culture and provides space for important conversations. The modern designs with traditional elements reflect a fresh brand identity in line with Pow Wow’s tagline: ‘honoring the past, reaching for the future’.
A personal and academic journey of self-discovery
I feel that my program definitely gave me an outlet and the opportunity, and I am quite grateful for that
As part of her final thesis project in the RTA Media program, Cywink created "You're Here Now (external link, opens in new window) ", a 12 min documentary exploring issues of self-identity and self-determination as a young Indigenous woman living in Toronto.
The project was pitched as part of RTA Media assistant professor Dr. Kristopher Alexander’s Project Development course and received support from RTA Media instructor and filmmaker Christene Browne. But when it came down to creating her executive team, no one initially signed up for the production.
“It was very difficult in the first month and a half,” says Cywink. “I remember emailing Prof. Alexander, panicking, saying ‘I don't have anybody on my side, I can't do a documentary on my own’.”
Dr. Alexander encouraged Cywink to forge on with the project and tell her story. Eventually, fellow classmate Diana Hotka came on board as producer.
The film illuminates her relationship with her father and explains her confusion about her identity growing up in Strathroy, ON, saying she was ‘too native for the white kids and too white for the native kids’. She comes to realize that no one can deny another's heritage and to never allow other people to define who you are.
Cywink feels her university experience helped broaden her self-awareness.
“I feel that my program definitely gave me an outlet and the opportunity, and I am quite grateful for that.”
Dr. Alexander held faith in the project and in his student.
“Karly was reminded that the new process for highlighting and green lighting final projects starts with a strong idea, compelling story and, most importantly, a demonstrated drive to complete the project,” says Dr. Alexander. “Karly had these, and as someone who has made it through to third year, she was more than capable of bringing this idea to life.”
Designing for Indigenous communities
Cywink was selected to design a unique PRESTO card (external link, opens in new window) this year which was distributed via two Toronto-based urban Indigenous services and employment organizations. Her design pays homage to traditional Indigenous culture, beadwork and Toronto’s iconic skyline.
Not only am I sharing something personal and artistic but I'm also helping the community at the same time, which is really important to me
The initiative, sponsored by construction company Aecon in partnership with Metrolinx, distributed 500 preloaded PRESTO cards as a means to provide access to transit for urban Indigenous peoples.
Connecting to Indigenous roots for creative design inspiration
The PRESTO initiative, created to help eliminate barriers to transit, was a special one for Cywink.
“Not only am I sharing something personal and artistic but I'm also helping the community at the same time, which is really important to me,” says Cywink. “It comes down to a sense of representation. I personally want to see more Indigenous art, and this is an example of representation that comes in an unexpected way.”
There is a moment in the documentary when Cywink’s father advises his daughter and others similarly disconnected from their roots to ‘find your people’. Cywink has found her community and created a strong foundation as an emerging professional artist and creative leader.
The Creative School
The Creative School is a dynamic faculty that is making a difference in new, unexplored ways. Made up of Canada’s top professional schools and transdisciplinary hubs in media, communication, design and cultural industries, The Creative School offers students an unparalleled global experience in the heart of downtown Toronto.