Creating Visual Identities and Public Art Installations from an Indigenous Perspective
Photo: The unveiling of the stɑl̓əw̓ mural installed in the Township of Langley’s Fraser River Presentation Theatre as a Canada 150 Legacy Project.
For Pictographic’s Peter Arkell, his work is never work. It’s art. He and his team give businesses a visual personality and an engaging brand, with a special focus on helping artists bring their vision to life.
Pictographic is a subsidiary of Səýeḿ,the economic arm of the Kwantlen First Nation. We learned about them when they attended their first ABM event 3 years ago (Səýeḿ and the Kwantlen First Nation are co-hosts of ABM Indigenous: Lower Mainland) and were impressed by the quality of the work they do.
When you visit their website you’ll think they manage two billboards along the highway in Maple Ridge. Yes, they do, but they do far more than that (and are in the middle of redesigning their site). They are experts in graphic design, branding, website design, marketing and photography.
Peter Arkell is the team manager, and he says that outside of supporting and marketing the Səýeḿ group of companies, which include The Lelem Arts & Cultural Café, Sxwimele Boutique, Səýeḿ Qwantlen Security, Səýeḿ hospitality, Səýeḿ Qwantlen Construction, IT services, commercial janitorial and traffic management, they really enjoy working with Indigenous artists, helping them digitize, enlarge and transform their creative expression into amazing public art installations and exhibitions.
One of the projects he’s most proud of is a mural his team installed this year. The Community of Communities Photo Mosaic Initiative was a Township of Langley “Legacy Project” recognizing the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of Canada in 2017. The completed mural was created by Artist q̓ ʷɑt̓ ic̓ ɑ (Phyllis Atkins), of the Kwantlen First Nation.
The mural, appropriately named stɑl̓əw̓ which means “big river” and is the hən̓ q̓ əmin̓ əm name for the Fraser River, was funded by the Government of Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage through a grant from the Canada 150 Fund. The mural panels include more than 1100 portrait photographs repeated several times over and include residents from the seven distinct communities that comprise the Township of Langley and residents of Kwantlen First Nation from McMillan Island in Fort Langley. q̓ ʷɑt̓ ic̓ ɑ used her designs of salmon and sturgeon and layered them atop those photographs and her own photograph of the Fraser River.
This is the kind of meaningful project Pictographic thrives on. Says Peter: “we focus our approach to clients from a place of support and connection with the individual or organization so we can determine what they need. That really is the recipe to success, taking that time to understand where that person is coming from. We meet people where they’re at, drilling down to what their values are so that can come through in the work we do.
“What we love about working with Səýeḿ clients is that the work has so much meaning because you know you’re supporting and helping build capacity for the Nation you’re working for, and the one thing that is so unique is that there’s a direct line of communication between you and the community or artist. There’s a tangible benefit and impact.”
Peter comes to ABM events because he loves connecting with people. “On the most basic level and – especially for those who go more than once – you develop that familiarity with each other and that fosters a sense of trust, and so from my personal experience I’ve felt that. I get to learn more and share our work. It’s really successful just for that reason.”
For those who are intimidated about approaching Indigenous communities to foster business relationships, he has this advice: “don’t be afraid to reach out, make a connection, follow up. Sometimes non-Indigenous people are overly cautious but say what you need to say, and as long as you come in with the right mindset and with humility, people will relate to your sincerity.”