Anishinaabe photographer Nadya Kwandibens amplifies Indigenous stories and faces with photos

Nadya Kwandibens says she has always been an artistic and creative person but it wasn’t until she was in college that she fell in love with photography.

What started as a hobby has now taken Kwandibens across Turtle Island.

“I have to pinch myself sometimes that I’ve lived the life that I’ve lived, so far, and that choices that I’ve made have led me here,” says Kwandibens on the latest episode of Face to Face.

Kwandibens, who is from the Animakee Wa Zhing #37 First Nation in northwestern Ontario, grew up in the foster care system. She can’t remember how many different homes she lived in between the ages of two and 17.

She has used her creativity as a means of expression to cope with some of the difficult things she has lived through.

Nadya Kwandibens
A photo of Autumn Peltier from the Red Chair Sessions, a series that places importance on the reclamation of Indigenous spaces, places and languages. Photo courtesy: Nadya Kwandibens

Whenever she feels like giving up, Kwandibens returns to a vision statement she came up with many years ago that says, Indigenous people, are often portrayed in history books as Nations once great; in museums as Nations frozen stoic; in the media as Nations forever troubled. These images can be despairing; however, my goal seeks to steer the positive course.”

She says she sticks by it.

“There’s been many times where I almost gave up, it was the struggling artists years, there were a number of times where I almost gave up and when I go back to that artist statement, that reinvigorates and rejuvenates my creative spirit,” says Kwandibens.

“Any sort of facet of my creativity is always to amplify our voices and let our faces and Nations, our experiences, our gatherings, our powwows, everything, let it all be seen in a more positive light.”

Kwandibens has a number of ongoing bodies of work, including Concrete Indians and the Red Chair Sessions. She is also a Canon Ambassador.

A photo from Concrete Indians, a series on contemporary urban Indigenous identity and representation of decolonial assertions of resistance and resurgence. Photo courtesy: Nadya Kwandibens

In March, Kwandibens was named as the photo laureate for the city of Toronto, a position that “honours a photographer who is recognized by their peers for artistic excellence and for making a major contribution to photography through their work.”

It’s a role that she will hold until the end of 2026. Kwandibens will also create a legacy project, unique to herself for the city of Toronto.

Kwandibens says she feels a great responsibility over her archive which includes 20 years of photos of people and events, pictures that people will look back on hundreds of years from now.

She says one photo can invoke so many emotions.

“Joy, happiness, pride. That’s the main reason I do what I do. I want to share because our people are so vibrant, so beautiful and there’s so many Nations,” says Kwandibens.

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