By: Andrew Mrozowski
From a very young age, Annette Paiement felt connected to the land she played on. It was this connection that would eventually lead her on a road to Hamilton, then on a solo drive to Northern Winnipeg and back home to share her experiences through the Where the Soul is Never Frozen exhibit.
“As a kid, I would leave the house first thing in the morning and wouldn’t come home until dusk… I loved to play in the forest, but always had a really strong connection to the water,” said Paiement.
Paiement grew up just west of Toronto and while nature was her calling, she pursued a degree in sculpture installation at the Ontario College of Arts and Design. On the side, she would take pictures and use them to influence whatever medium she was working with at the time.
She later moved to Hamilton in the early 2000s and became very involved with the arts and culture scene that the city had to offer, so much so that she hung up her camera as she started to pursue other opportunities.
“When I came to Hamilton, I really needed to reconnect to an environment that could allow me access to greenspace and water. It was for my peace of mind. I felt as if my soul yearned to be here,” said Paiement.
Paiement also found serenity hundreds of kilometers away in Northern Winnipeg, a place she has been travelling to for nearly twenty years.
“Every time I go, it is always about healing and through that time, I’ve been welcomed into the communities [in Sagkeeng, First Nation] and gratefully so. I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a number of different sacred ceremonies,” explained Paiement.
Following the passing of her mother and grandmother in 2016, Paiement went through a difficult time coming to terms with loss.
“At this particular time in my life, I helped to launch the Cotton Factory launch and didn’t take any time off. The Elders [in Sagkeeng, First Nation] invited me to [a climate change] summit, and I had just gotten my drivers license so I said I’d go. Without any intention of returning to Ontario I packed whatever I could fit into my Fiat and left,” explained Paiement.
Upon her arrival, she realized that the Elders cancelled the summit but invited her to stay with them.
While participating in various meetings and ceremonies with the Manitoba government and the Elders, Paiement would take time to drive around by herself in -50℃ weather. She would pick destinations and drove out to take pictures.
“There was just something about it that made me feel like I was suspended in this altered [reality]. The prairies are something so different. The expansion of the sky, the horizon and all of it flat and frozen? It’s something I can’t even express in words,” said Paiement.
It was only when the artist returned to Ontario that she decided to turn her photographs into an exhibit for all to experience. Where the Soul is Never Frozen is comprised of approximately ten photographs from Paiement’s journey.
“I see them more as a way to speak about a feeling or a land-based spiritual practice and an appreciation for nature,” explained Paiement.
Paiement utilized photography to capture, communicate and take viewers along with her on a healing journey through the frozen prairies. Each work of art has an energy that it gives off, easily transporting the viewer to Northern Winnipeg.
As Paiement’s art hangs on the Member’s Gallery walls of Centre for Print and Media Arts, she hopes that it’s legacy has a lasting effect on Hamiltonians and encourages others to connect with the land around them.
“It is my hope that people will say ‘let’s try hiking this weekend’ and they will take out their cameras and fall in love with nature. Hopefully they will say ‘why don’t I do this all the time?’,” said Paiement.
Where the Soul is Never Frozen is on display at Centre for Print and Media Arts at 173 James Street North until Feb. 2, 2019.