Featured Wellness

Meet Que Rock: the Anishinaabe artist behind Sunnybrook’s new Indigenous Wellness Space mural

Que Rock is an Anishinaabe multidisciplinary artist and professional muralist from Nipissing First Nation. His traditional name is Manitou Neeman – Spirit Dancing. Que is currently based in Toronto.

Que recently designed and painted a wall-to-wall mural in Sunnybrook’s new Indigenous Wellness Space, with the help of assistant Sadie Marshall.

The Indigenous Wellness Space is a room within the hospital’s Bayview Campus that is now available for Indigenous patients and families for meeting and ceremony, and for Indigenous care partners who are on site to have a space to work or meet with clients. Medicine bundles, a ceremonial drum and a rattle are available as well for use within the room and around the hospital.

Here, Que talks a little bit about the mural, the meaning behind it, and why it’s important to have an Indigenous Wellness Space – and Indigenous art – in a hospital.

What goes into designing and creating a mural like the one you’ve done in the Indigenous Wellness Space?

When creating a piece, I always take into consideration the environment that I’m in. Because we’re in a hospital setting, I just automatically thought of the visual healing arts that I was raised into — my Anishinaabe culture — and that it was a perfect marriage for the environment. Our medicines are all based off of the earth elements and how we pick our medicines. I decided to do a floral pattern and include a few layers of Anishinaabe teachings and our value system, including our medicine wheel. I tried to create a visual healing experience for the viewer by using geometry patterns.

I was taught through ceremony — that is our Anishinaabe education system. So for us, it was being part of ceremonies growing up and then learning how to channel those ceremonies, learning how to communicate them, and then eventually becoming an artist. I learned about the geometry patterns that are in nature, and then how to recreate that in my paintings. This is sacred geometry, essentially, the laws of nature. And it’s showing us and teaching us the repetitive things that are constantly happening. I use these foundations of my Anishinaabe culture in my work.

Que Rock with his paints

How important do you think having this space — and having art within this space — is to healing?

Oh, this is huge. It’s really important to have space for Indigenous people, considering that we feel that we’re not really welcomed in a lot of places. I think when people see imagery that they can identify with, that they can recognize, that they’ve been raised with, it creates a sense of comfort and a sense of welcoming.

Can you tell us a little bit about the mural and its elements?

I love these opportunities because it challenges me to create something unique for the space. I challenge myself to recreate some of the teachings that I’ve been taught and embed the sacred geometry that’s in everything in life and in nature, while also creating a nice balance overall within the room. I want to like feel like it’s always been here.

It’s really important to me that people understand the meaning behind everything, for non-Indigenous people, and Indigenous people too, who are learning their culture. For that reason, there’s a consistency throughout the entire design.

My culture is based off of the laws of nature and so we really are paying attention to a lot of numbers, and those numbers have multiple meanings to them. You’ll see lots of groups of two, four and seven.

I repeated duality teachings, which is the balance of the polarity, the balance of all life. So there’s a consistency and patterns of two that you’ll see.

There’s also a consistency and balance of four. The four is based off of the Medicine Wheel teachings. And the Medicine Wheel is a guiding principle. It’s a tool that we use to help us understand and navigate our own natures and also the natures that are from our environments that we live in. The Medicine Wheel is a strong symbol for healing in most Indigenous communities. Although there are various types of medicine wheels, I chose to use the Anishinaabe Medicine Wheel from Ontario so that it would be accurate to this area. The Medicine Wheel starts off with the four directions: north, south, east and west. And then each direction is allocated different layers of nature. So, after you have your four directions, you have the four elements: earth, wind, water and fire. Then you have the four seasons: summer, spring, winter, fall. Then you also have the four natures of humanity. Every human has a spirit. They have emotions. They have a body. They have a mind. And the layers continue to keep growing and growing and growing. In the south, where you have the earth nation, I did it resembling a turtle based off of our creation stories with Turtle Island.

Another value incorporated into the artwork is the seven grandfather teachings. The seven grandfather teachings are layered with a value system of how you treat yourself and how you treat other people. And so I’ve included that. So you’ll see a lot of patterns that have seven in them and those are references to the seven grandfather teachings.

Que Rock working on the mural

What else will people see in this work?

You will also see some of the medicines. We have four sacred medicines. Tobacco is our most popular medicine that we use when we’re doing a lot of our ceremonies. It’s pretty much part of every ceremony. There’s an old saying “Tobacco first.” And that’s what I was trying to show here. I depicted the tobacco that actually I grow. I’ve been given seeds that have been in my family for more than 2,000 years. It’s a special tobacco; it doesn’t really grow often. It’s really old and very unique because this tobacco flowers. It has a very nice beautiful yellow flower that comes out of it. Most tobacco plants don’t do that.

You will also see Spider Woman. She wove the first human being and then we were lowered down from the Big Dipper, from our umbilical cords to Turtle Island.

You will see a butterfly, representing the story of the first grass dancer Rocky Boy, who could not walk until he was at a gathering and heard the beat of the drum. A butterfly landed upon his forehead and helped him dance.

You will see a heart, representing the care that went into creating us.

Que Rock working on the butterfly portion of the mural

What do you hope staff, patients or visitors take away from experiencing your art in this space?

I would love for people to feel really safe and really comfortable. Welcomed. This style of art is a visual healing art. It’s very layered; it has a different effect on the viewer, depending on what they see. My goal is to create a healing experience, or at least something that resonates within the DNA, where they’re feeling really good overall after being in the space.

About the author

Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.