Q&A With April Cover Artist Aiyana Beaulieu

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“Mirror Image” by Aiyana Beaulieu

What inspired you to create the piece “Mirror Image”?

We were given two assignments [at school]: a narrative piece and a perspective piece. I decided to combine those because I didn’t feel inspired to do them separately. I wanted to create something really colorful with a dramatic angle. I channeled an almost flat perspective — there is dimension to it, but it’s flat at the same time, and I thought that was really cool.

The piece gave me some challenges. I thought, “Okay, where am I going with this?” Then I started drawing flowers because I love drawing flowers, and that created this doorway to the meaning behind the piece. I decided I wanted it to be about breaking out of beauty standards, finding your inner beauty, and self-acceptance. Adding the flowers created this idea of growth and growing that love for who you are.

To be honest, what really sparked the piece was when I saw this tube of green paint and thought, “I want to make a green character.” A lot of it was experimentation. When I added the mirror, I had to decide what colors were going where, and the character slowly developed through that.

People can take different meanings from why the figure in the mirror is blue. When I hadn’t finished painting, people said, “The piece seems sad; she doesn’t see herself as herself.” But the figure is smiling; she’s happy about how she looks, and the figure in the mirror is more about the idea of who she thought she was before, based on what society told her to be. We the viewer can see that blue image as somber, but that’s maybe not what she sees.

How long have you been creating art?

Since I was a little kid. It has always been a part of my life. Many of my family members are artists and musicians, so I grew up in that environment, which I’m really grateful for because it helped me develop confidence in my art skills and [encouraged me to] think that art can be a career. That has never left me.

Tell me about your experience making public art and what you like about doing that. 

I painted a sea lion statue at Como Zoo and one of the Babe the Blue Ox statues in the Brainerd Lakes area. Both of those were contests that I won. When I did those pieces, the artist’s statement came before the design, which tends to be the case with public art. I have an idea, and I’m like, “Okay, this is maybe what people will find interesting.” Then I built off of that.

The sea lion was one in a collection of 20 around the theme of ocean conservation. I wanted to highlight the importance of Indigenous-led conservation so I researched the formline art of tribes in the Pacific Northwest that I found really beautiful. I was talking to my dad about how tribes there, for example, help improve the water flow for salmon. We should highlight how tribes are taking care of the land.

The ox took a whole summer, and the piece is very meaningful to me. I painted Ojibwe floral designs to symbolize new growth and clarity. The presence of historical trauma can make things challenging but recognizing how people are finding beauty and healing, especially through the arts, is very important.  “Babe the Waabigwan Ox” (the name of the statue), is a symbol that adds perspective and reclaims a space that Native people were previously exempt from.

I was really happy that people in the area loved it. I was very grateful for that because, in the past, Native voices weren’t really heard.

I realize that my grandparents may not have been able to do something like this and be accepted for it, so I’m very happy to see how things are changing, which is what the ox represents.

We lived in the Brainerd Lakes area and throughout northern Minnesota when I was growing up. Living in those places influenced me. I noticed how people in different regions view things, which can be very interesting. It’s cool to be able to communicate with people and say, “You have different ideas than I do, but what do we have in common? How can we find the ability to converse and not hate each other?” 

Do you feel like that’s why you like making art as well? 

Absolutely. Art and creativity are very healing things and it is so important for people to find meaning in that — it’s beautiful, it really is.

Aiyana Beaulieu with “Babe the Waabigwan Ox,” a statue she designed in downtown Brainerd. Aiyana is a junior at Perpich Arts High School.

How do you think your life experience and identity have influenced your art?

I want to highlight authentic Indigenous representation because [a lack of that] has been a problem in the past. It is very important to me that people see Native people, really see them. I also want to raise awareness about issues that affect Native communities. Those issues are interconnected, and understanding that is a huge part of solving them.

Do you feel like you have always been creating with that in mind? 

I feel like it’s yes and no. When I was little, I used to draw a lot of hearts and peace signs. I always wrote things like “Peace, Love, Joy” and gave them to family and friends. So that idea of finding beauty, healing, and hope has always been consistent in my art, but it is only now that I’m older that I have really noticed that and am fully building off of that.

What is something you want to change about the world?

Shame. People internalize shame, and they grow up, and they feel unheard and neglected, and that shows in their relationships with other people. That’s exactly why we have issues like racism and prejudice — people don’t feel okay and they don’t love themselves, and therefore they are not willing to show love to others. That idea can be tied to “Mirror Image” — this character is finding love for herself, and no one can take that from her.

Portraying hope in my pieces is important. It can be hard to learn about issues in the world, but it’s important to look at how things are changing for the better, and how people are uniting and loving each other for who they are.

What are you looking forward to?

I am a comic artist and illustrator, so I’m looking forward to current and future creative endeavors in those areas.