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Tonya Sam’Gwan Paris
courtesy of the artist
800 Rue du Square-Victoria, Montréal, QC H4Z 1C3


Sam’Gwan Paris is a Nova Scotian artist (Halifax) who defines herself as “Afro-Indegenous” with Mi’kmaq and Cree ancestry.

She is an autodidact artist with a unique background. She joined the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 17, became a Halifax police officer at 19 and began her artistic practice at 43.

In the year of her first solo exhibition (2018), she received the Bronze Medal for Halifax Visual Artist of the Year from Coast Magazine. Her name meaning “water”, it articulates both her practice and her way of living.

Approach and works on display

Her approach is that of an activist who seeks to restore dignity to what have been erased from the memory of her communities. Thus, her work is rooted in her family history, which has been scarred by multiple colonial violences.

As in her sewing work, she seeks to stitch a narrative in which the different parts of her complex identity trace an in-between narrative that refuses to be obliged by dominant and colonial aesthetic values. She invites us into an inner dialogue between Afrodescendant and indigenous.

Just as the original waters of Native mythologies generate the mud with which the North American territory is shaped, she attempts to reshape her own kind of personal mythology, made out of mud and light.

Ribbons of identity (2021), Sam’Gwan Modern Regalia (2021) and Power & Unity (2018)

These 3 dresses are made according to specific Mi’kmaq and Cree regalias rules. Consequently, they must communicate the identity of the individual who wears them (beliefs, status, age, sex). The artist thus inserts their own narrative. Indeed, in the folds of the central dress, Sam’Gwan inserts a ceremonial Kenté cloth once used by the Ashanti tribes and the Ewe of Ghana during royal ceremonies. Today Kenté is used (almost all over Africa) for graduation ceremonies as well as for everyday clothing. In doing so, these dresses, intended to tell the story of the self, are not only ceremonial objects, but tools that allow Sam’Gwan Paris to perform her multiple identities during her daily movements. Expressing her identities in this way allows for a fluid continuity between art, life and resistance.

Works by the artist

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