For The Love of Landscapes: Judy Alaku Makes Paintings and Her Own Inner Peace
“I've always wanted to paint,” declares Judy Alaku. She is from Quebec and recently moved to Montreal to study visual arts. Alaku joined her first painting workshop at the age of ten and has been practicing with paint ever since. She’s even done a mural at a nearby high school and when she joined the Northern Lights street show back in February she realized she wanted it to be her career.
As part of the show, she had the opportunity to sell her paintings alongside other artists selling their handicrafts. She heard about it on Facebook, applied and got in. The first day of the show she was nervous and she tried to calm her nerves by smiling. Having people come talk to her about her art was a fun experience and she loved sharing the inspiration behind her works.
Alaku’s paintings are mostly abstract landscapes of the North that represent where she is from. The scenery mirrors what people see when they go out on the land in her community. At first, she was painting for fun, inspired by the work of her sister who is also a painter. When she would paint her own creations, her sister would provide feedback and guidance about things she could improve next time. Her sister was her first painting teacher and since then she has been experimenting and attending workshops.
At one point, Alaku attended John Abbott College for a semester but went back home because she was homesick, missing family. She went back home and worked while continuing trying new things. She also watched more videos of people painting and tried out a new technique. The paintings that came from that experience were exhibited at the Northern Lights art show, to the delight of those who saw her paintings. She had fun being home with family but she missed being at school. Feeling more sure of the path she wants to take, she’s back at John Abbott College.
If she could give advice to Indigenous students across Canada who want to pursue their careers, in the arts or otherwise, she recommends trying out schools until you find a fit. “You never know unless you try… Sometimes it’s better to have options and try them out,” she explains.
Leaving home can be a challenge, adjusting to a new, faster pace and so many new faces, but she says that ultimately it’s a fun experience once you get used to it. In the beginning, it was hard for Alaku to meet new people but after introducing herself so many times, it got easier. She would meet new people at activities for Indigenous people, connecting with friends of friends.
Now when she feels homesick, she FaceTimes her family members to feel better. When she found herself yearning for the land, she would paint the area she was missing, creating inland landscapes or seascapes until the feeling passed. Seeing the paintings of home hanging in her room made her feel closer to home and it was a lot like art therapy. If she could give a message to her younger self it would be, “Just try out anything that's available. Even if it's terrifying to go, it's gonna be worth it to try and see how it is."
To cope with difficult things, Alaku rides her bike in the summer to the airport, cycling the community’s longest road. In the winter, she cleans her house, paints or sews to stay busy. She makes her own mittens, parkas and snow pants. She learned how to sew in a culture class at home where she was taught to make different articles of winter clothing. Keeping herself occupied is the strategy she draws on the most.
When it comes to inspiration for her work, Alaku is motivated by her sister’s paintings. She saw how many paintings her sister produced and all the variety in them and she wanted to do the same thing herself. As she painted, she realized she had an affinity for landscapes. “Whenever I was on the land, I would watch the landscape and see how the light is hitting it, see how the sunset is, see how bright it is and see how the clouds are. That would make me want to try and paint exactly like that,” she recalls.
She always wanted to paint and now as she studies visual arts at John Abbott College, that’s exactly what she’s doing. Inspired by her sister and encouraged by her own experiences selling her art at a show, Judy Alaku is sharing what she loves about the land with everyone who experiences her work. Visually vanquishing her homesickness with every canvas she covers, she’s making paintings and inner peace with each brushstroke.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.