Joseph Sagaj, Native Canadian Artist, Toronto (Canada)
Joseph is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) of the Sturgeon Clan, and is from a remote and isolated community of 300 people in *Neskantaga, located 433 km northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Joseph moved to Toronto, attended the Ontario College of Art, as it was called then, and graduated in Fine Arts in 1985. The art world, as it is with most Artists, was at times a struggle and a challenge. Regardless, Joseph pursued his dreams with passion!
In 1992, The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) selected Joseph's logo as a winning design. As a result of this, Joseph received numerous private and public commissions that kept him busy in designing logos, painting murals, illustrating for publications, and designing posters for events and festivals. These projects and commissions were in Ontario as well as other provinces.
Some notable commissions include: Indian & Northern Affairs Canada’s (INAC) 2005/06 Time Planner about the "Thirteen Moons" calendar that featured stories, legends and “a way of life” of Aboriginal people; in 2017, Joseph completed the “Seven Teachings and Seven Stages of Life” for the Ministry of the Attorney General, Aboriginal Justice Division, which are prominently displayed in their office; in 2018, Seneca College commissioned Joseph to design a 9 meter (30-foot) diameter Terrazzo floor installation for their new building: Centre for Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (CITE) at their Newnhan Campus that reflects and emphasizes Indigenous Knowledge of the Inuit, Metis, and First Nations from the Great Lakes and Upper Regions. This beautiful, symbolic, complex assemblage of designs has since won awards in Canada and the United States in the Terrazzo Industry, as well as it being featured in numerous publications and articles.
As for involvement with children and youth in the arts: currently Joseph does on-going presentations in social media on Early On Indigenous Language and Family Program at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT); in 2021, Joseph worked with the Youth at the NCCT, as well as with *ENAGB Youth Program in Toronto; in 2018, painting a mural at the Matawa Educational Centre in Thunder Bay, this project made the Thunder Bay’s Chronicle's front page news which brought pride to the youth for their accomplishment; Joseph has also gone back to Neskantaga to do art with children in mask-making. All these projects were Aboriginal-themed that reflected teachings, stories, and our way of life. In the past five years, Joseph initiated “The Northern Lights Collective,” a donation drive with friends to collect, pack, and ship art supplies, books, sports equipment, as well as camping equipment to remote communities and to the youth in need. This is an accomplishment shared by many donors, artists and friends as well as organizations and businesses. In spite of the ongoing challenges and meeting the realities of the world and overcoming obstacles, for Joseph, it brings strength, a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to share with his communities. As artists, we rise to the occasion and in one way; thrive on our expressions in various forms of art or by way of it. Throughout his 30-year career, Joseph feels honored in rendering, emphasizing and sharing his Anishnaabe ancestry and heritage. Joseph has featured Indigenous knowledge, culture and teachings at the forefront. He credits the Elders, Knowledge Keepers, the Youth, Women and Children, Ceremonies and the “Ways of the People” with great pride that is reflected in his art and in showcasing it to the world!
Coming of the Thunderbird