In Practice: Jessica Winters

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For our fifth installment of In Practice, Darryn Doull (Curator of Canadian Art) checked-in with Jessica Winters in early May.

“I first had the pleasure of meeting Jessica as her curatorial mentor in the context of the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq Project. I was fortunate enough to work with Jessica as she curated the exhibition Billy Gauthier: Saunituinnaulungitotluni / Beyond Bone – the first major exhibition of Billy’s work in a public art gallery. I learned so much through that process and kept in touch with Jessica afterwards. Now, she is one of the featured artists in our current exhibition Of Myths and Mountains. Read about Jessica’s difficult journey home and how she feels community despite physical distancing.”


I understand that you had quite an experience trying to get home in order to meet the stay-at-home requirements. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?

When social distancing began in mid-March, I was living in Halifax. I thought if I’m working from home in Halifax, I can probably do the same in Makkovik. My roommate was going home because the semester was done, and my boyfriend was going home because he likes to be home for the spring (hunting season), which meant I would have been left at my apartment alone for however long this social distancing will last… which sounded like a terrible, borderline dangerous situation for me.

We decided on March 25th that we would go home and went to book flights. The direct flight to Goose Bay from Halifax was cancelled for the rest of March and April. We ended up booking a route from Halifax to St. John’s, St. John’s to Goose instead. The journey turned out to be much worse than anticipated.

I packed an entire pizza and protein bars for us to eat during the 12 hour trip from Halifax to Goose Bay because we didn’t want to touch anything we didn’t absolutely have to in the airports. I even packed a sheet for us to put on top of the chairs and floors. Our flight ended up getting cancelled due to weather for the next three days. So we spent three nights in a hotel in St. John's at our own expense. Thankfully, I had two friends deliver us some food and home cooked meals during this time. We finally left St. John’s for Goose Bay and had to stay at a hotel for another four nights waiting for the weather to clear enough for my boyfriend's dad and brother to get to Goose Bay from Makkovik to pick us up on snowmobile.

They arrived on a Saturday but the going was very rough and they had broken their sleigh. Their trip ended up taking 12 hours and they needed to rest before doing the trip back to Makkovik. Sunday morning we left at 7 am for Makkovik. The skidoo trip took 10 hours. One week after this all began, we finally made it to Makkovik, to start 14 more days of self-isolation. 

Me and my partner isolated at my mother’s house with her and my auntie. There’s no option here to rent short term or get a hotel. We weren’t allowed to leave our property. We set up a Labrador tent in our yard and spent a few nights in that to switch things up a bit lol. We fundraised to get the money back from hotels. On April 19th, we were finally free from isolation and the next morning I got a call from the RCMP questioning my isolation. I told them what we did and they were amazed by the extra precautions we took. It's been a crazy journey, but we made it through haha. 

Now that you are at home, what has your experience of quarantine been? Have you been able to produce any new artworks, textiles or other creative pursuits?

Quarantine has been tough - but it’s a little nicer up here in the North because you can leave your house and do activities outside without contacting anyone or passing through public spaces, so we still have quite a bit of freedom. I am still working from home, and I am struggling with that a lot because I'm not as productive and it’s hard to stay focused in my home setting.

I recently completed a painting of some Snow Buntings. Snow buntings (we call them Snowbirds) are plentiful in Nunatsiavut in April. They fly from yard to yard – literally by the hundreds – eating bird food. I have been trying to spend any free time I have outside in the beautiful weather and not doing much artistically as I feel like I really need that recharge that I get from being outside. 

Jessica Winters, Snowbirds (2020), acrylic on canvas, 38.1 x 76.2 cm (15 x 30 in). Courtesy of the artist.

You are currently based in a comparatively small and relatively remote community. What sort of advantages or disadvantages to you think that specific context provides in this evolving situation, and what ways have you been able to still ‘feel’ community amidst physical distancing?

Being in Makkovik, it’s both scary and comforting at the same time. We know that the virus isn't here which is great, but if it gets here, it could be catastrophic. The whole community uses two stores. We are all touching the same door handles, so I feel it would be almost impossible to stop the spread.

But besides not being able to visit friends and family, play sports and all that, it still feels the same, especially during really nice days when everyone has left the community to go fishing or to their cabins. Spring does that to our communities anyway so it still feels very normal in that way. 

For feeling community in a slightly different way, me and my mom hosted an embroidery workshop with Inuit Futures. You can check it out here: 

Any good books, favourite albums, or go-to recipes that you think we should know about?

I've been obsessed with orange cranberry scones, and I just made maple oatmeal muffins with spring partridgeberries that me and my mom picked yesterday… so good!

Who is a Canadian artist that you want to shine some light on?

I'd like to shed light on Bronson Jacque, because he's always been so modest, and he has recently made the move to Halifax to attend NSCAD this fall. I'm so proud of him for pursuing his dream (he's my 2nd cousin). His instagram is @BronsonJacqueArt and the CBC just featured him in a video that you can watch here:

Thank you, Jess!


Header image: Jessica Winters cooking beans and making toast while taking a break from fishing. Photo by Blanche Winters, courtesy of the artist.