Revisiting traditions with the Kalina people

An interview with Mariah Sockabasin

Featured Artist Series – Mariah Sockabasin

It was with great enthusiasm that Audrée, artsnb Communications Officer, had the opportunity to sit down (virtually!) with Mariah Sockabasin on a snowy February morning. Electric blue lipstick on, Mariah had bright news to share from her time in French Guiana.

Mariah Sockabasin during her online interview.

Mariah, nice to meet you! You went to French Guiana for a cultural exchange with Diasporas Music in the Fall of 2021; what was the purpose of your trip?

I went to French Guiana along with musician Matt Comeau as part of an artist residency thanks to the help of Diasporas Music, artsnb, Music NB, and Canada Council for the Arts. The artist residency was meant to be a cultural exchange between our Indigenous cultures and the culture of the Kalina people in French Guiana.

Every day was so full and busy; Matt and I were giving workshops at the village’s elementary school almost everyday. We would share our songs and dances with the students, I had brought hides, fur, and antlers from the native animal we have in New Brunswick, and the kids really loved it! We also did a couple shows as part of our residency; one was at a Chief Ceremony and the other was a big show we did at the end to showcase what we worked on during our time there.

Matt Comeau (left) and Mariah Sockabasin (right) at the village’s elementary school. Photo credit: courtesy of the artist.

Can you tell me more about your arts practice?

I graduated from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in 2015 with a diploma in Fashion Design. I went to school because I wanted to learn how to make my own clothes and from there my practice really grew. After college, I worked for a bit at artsnb and there, I discovered all sorts of different disciplines and it really inspired me.

I started exploring screen printing and dyeing and it widened my horizons. Since, I have even worked on some installation pieces and sculptures; I have exhibited my work at Nocturne Halifax, where I had a piece that also involved sound. For that piece, I worked with a friend who helped me create a heart component for the garment I created. I guess my work is taking all sorts of directions now…

Photo: Mariah’s piece at 2018 Nocturne Halifax. Photo credit: courtesy of the artist.

Collaboration is important in my practice. I am interested in people, I feed off their energy, and I learn from them. Collaborating expands my art and my knowledge. I never know in which direction a collaboration will bring me and what I will end up creating from it.

As part of this residency in French Guiana, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Matt Comeau. I got to be involved in a couple of his recordings. We are currently collaborating on a project, and we hope to show it during Flourish Festival this summer!

Matt Comeau and Kalina musicians performing. Photo credit: courtesy of the artist.

What would you say was the biggest challenge during your residency in French Guiana?

COVID was the biggest challenge. Initially, we were supposed to be a much bigger cohort of Indigenous artists participating in this opportunity, but many of them were concerned with the risk associated with bringing COVID back to their respective communities. Because we did not have a dancer or a singer, I ended up having to step up and dance and sing! So I guess I am also a dancer and a singer now! (laughs)

At the Chief Ceremony, I shared the butterfly dance. Traditionally the butterfly is all about expressing yourself and your freedom. I had not danced since I was 8 years old… The night before the dance, I went into town and found some cotton fabric, dyed it, and sewed it together, and I sewed some ribbons on it to make a shawl so I could dance with it. Dancing with the shawl was the only dance I had ever known how to do since I was a child.

Do you see dancing and singing as becoming part of your arts practice?

I would love to feel brave enough to dance at powwows in the future. In French Guiana, I did not feel afraid because no one knew what I was doing. No one knew if I was doing it right or wrong, no one could judge. I would like to incorporate dancing into my personal life even, and do more singing when the time comes… Because my spirit needs it. It just felt so natural. I was in a situation where someone needed to do it, we had to improvise. This experience really pushed me out of my comfort zone if you will, but in a good way.

What was the highlight of your time in French Guiana?

One day, I had the privilege to sit down with a woman and she showed me how they do their traditional regalia. We worked on a skirt together. Then, for our exchange of energy, we exchanged gifts. She gave me a traditional skirt and I gave her a purse that I did using leather that I dyed during my time there.

Inspired from that teaching experience, I started a new body of work that will reflect the time I have spent down there. I want to use my traditional knowledge and their traditional knowledge and create something new; something infused with my own creativity.

Mariah Sockabasin learning about traditional Kalina regalia. Photo credit: courtesy of the artist.

Mariah Sockabasin is a Wabanaki Fashion Artist from Neqotkuk, New Brunswick. In 2015, Mariah graduated from the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design with a Diploma in Fashion Design. She creates wearable art that embodies pride and strength, rooted in her cultural teachings. Mariah works towards creating opportunities for Indigenous artists and youth through various committees, boards, and workshops. She is mother of two boys and loves spending time outdoors with them in her free time.

Stay up to date with Mariah’s practice on social media

Instagram: @mkbasin_ 

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