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Perspectives | Issue 12

Navigator’s folio of ideas, insights and new ways of thinking

When Proust met Bonnie Devine

November 30, 2023

French author Marcel Proust is known for his gentle remembrance of things past and his love of madeleine cookies. But he is perhaps best known for his eponymous character-revealing questionnaire. In this edition of Perspectives, we put Proust’s famous survey to installation artist, curator, writer and educator Bonnie Devine


In a 2014 interview with the CBC, Indigenous artist and professor Bonnie Devine stated, “I think that art has always had a role in pointing a finger at social injustices, and I think that right now, as a people and as a collective as Canadians, we are examining the history we’ve been presented with and are searching it for truths and untruths.” Nearly a decade later, her words have proved more than prescient. As Canada continues to struggle with its colonial past and present, it is vital that the voices and works of Indigenous peoples be elevated.

Bonnie Devine has dedicated her career to doing just that. As a member of the Serpent River First Nation of Northern Ontario (Anishinaabe/Ojibwa) and the founding chair of OCAD U’s Indigenous Visual Culture program, she is dedicated to supporting Indigenous students and ensuring that their voices are heard within the academy. Outside the academy, Devine’s own works have inspired artists both in Canada and across the globe. Her exhibit the Odjig retrospective, which toured North America from 2007-2010, was the first solo event by a female Aboriginal artist hosted at the National Gallery, and a short video of hers, A Grim Fairy Tale, was screened at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.

What talent would you most like to have?

There are so many. I’d love to play a musical instrument. I’d love to speak a second language, especially Anishinaabemowin, but French or Spanish would also do. I’d love to know how to tap dance.

What is your most treasured possession?

My fountain pen, notebook and collection of inks.

What is your favourite journey?

Driving north on Highway 69, turning west on Highway 17, tracing the southern rim of the Canadian Shield to Serpent River First Nation.

When and where were you the happiest?

I’m happiest every time I open my paint box.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Those who stand for justice. I admire anyone who takes action to right a wrong.

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

The first novel I was given to read was by Anna Sewell. Black Beauty was and remains my hero.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Actually, exactly and absolutely.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I buy way too many art supplies.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I take things personally and am too easily offended.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?


On what occasions do you lie?

When I’m ashamed.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A cat, I hope.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

If I could be two or three inches taller and twenty years younger, that would be nice. No really, I’d like to be stronger.

What is your current state of mind?

I’m grateful and amazed that my path has seemingly continuously connected me to a group of very dear, very brilliant people. I’m also cautiously curious about what lies ahead.

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