Mique Michelle’s Franco-Ontarian colours

The NAC Kipnes Lantern featuring artwork by Franco-Ontarian graffiti artist Mique Michelle. © David Ramalho
The NAC Kipnes Lantern featuring artwork by Franco-Ontarian graffiti artist Mique Michelle. © David Ramalho

For the third consecutive year, the work of Franco-Ontarian graffiti artist Mique Michelle will shine brightly on the Kipnes Lantern for Franco-Ontarian Day, September 25. Be sure to look up and admire her original creation, commissioned by the National Arts Centre, which proudly reflects the spirit of Ontario’s Francophonie.

She leaves her colours on the walls of the various cities she visits, and delivers her messages using a can of paint. But Mique Michelle also shares her art with young people from Ontario’s Francophone communities in a new program on TFO. Here’s our conversation with the “graffitist” from Field, near Lake Nipissing.

Q: Your work will be illuminated by the NAC’s Kipnes Lantern for the last time on September 25. Does its message still ring true?

Yes! And it’s all about the Ottawa community. When we talk about languages, we often forget that culture, or gathering places, come along with them. Some people consider interrupting rude; for us, it’s exciting! That’s what being Francophone is all about, and we’ve integrated that into the mural. It’s a joint project with Francophones from Lowertown: they shared photos, traditional fabrics and patterns, which we used to create all the colours and shapes.

Q: You’re currently filming season 2 of Couleurs du Nord, produced by Lopii Productions, the first season of which has been airing Sundays at 7 p.m. on TFO since September 11. What’s it about?

We visit Francophone communities that are diverse, and we give young people not only the microphone, but also the can [of paint], the wall and the camera so that they can show us their reality. Based on these exchanges, we create a mural in three days. And that’s an episode. Everything happens in French, in our Franco-Ontarian community and with the regionalisms. We also went to Miramichi and Victoria for one episode per season.

Q: You’re an artist, host and co-producer of Couleurs du Nord. What’s your role on the show?

I do what the youth can’t do, but otherwise the murals are all theirs! Everything comes from them. They choose the theme, we do some research. And then they have activities with guests. Like the time I swam to find fish and see what they looked like before I painted them, or the time in Miramichi when I learned to sew with porcupine quills. I spent a lot on Band-Aids!

Q: Besides filming season 2 of Couleurs du Nord, what other projects are you working on?

During the filming, [I also attended] the Paint Louis Graffiti Festival in St. Louis, Missouri at the end of August. Before that, I was in the Maritimes for the Halifax Mural Festival. I’m always on the go! And what’s cool is that on Flag Day I’ll be in Penetanguishene, shooting at the École secondaire de la Huronie, the school of resistance.

Q: Is graffiti a way for you to express your activism and your identity?

Absolutely! Hip hop is a way for visible and invisible minorities to experience their democracy in a safe environment. As a graffiti artist, you can bring up a subject, put it on a wall and it stays there, as a reminder. The conversation can continue and the message is accessible to anyone, no matter what language they speak.

More and more, Francophone graffiti and mural artists from minority backgrounds are joining forces to get their message across. All over Ottawa, there are murals portraying a more accurate and current image of the Francophonie.

Nous sommes, nous serons… aujourd’hui pour demain.

Happy Franco-Ontarian Day!


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