Who is Sawftsea? The artist behind vibrant murals in Marquette

North Central UP

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Three murals have now been done around Marquette with the potential for another to pop up soon from one particular artist.

Sawftsea, the artist of the works, started last year with art on the side of LoyalTees on Baraga Street.

“I was kind of like feeling overwhelmed I guess, there was a lot of police brutality happening and a lot of social justice issues in general and I just kind of felt called to do something to like bring our community together,” said Sawftsea. “So I reached out to Brandon and I was like I have this idea would you ever want a mural on your building?”

Mural on Loyaltees on Baraga St.

She says she became interested in art as a child.

“Even as a kid I just loved everything that had to do with art or paint and then kind of being in the Detroit area there was a lot of street art that I was always just kind of obsessed with going and looking at and finding new pieces the DIA is also very cool and I’d spend lots of time there too,” said SawftSea

Painting murals became an interest because of Sawftsea’s interest in street art.

“Just seeing all the cool art in Detroit, I just kind of like filed away that idea that someday I want to do that you know I think it’d be really fun,” said SawftSea. “I like the idea of transforming a space it’s more fun than just painting on a canvas or a piece of wood it’s like you have this building that’s kind of a strange texture, shape and you kind of get to just transform it into something cool.”

Challenges with painting murals can come from outside influences according to SawftSea. She says sometimes when she was working on the Anishinaabe mural for the side of the Peter White Public Library’s maintenance shed sometimes it would be snowing and she would have to tarp it and be done working for the day.

Sawftsea working on the Mino Bimaadiziwin mural. Photo courtesy of Sawftsea.

“For the one on Baraga Street that was right in public so that was kind of challenging just like interruptions whether its noises or traffic or people or whatever that was a little bit challenging because normally if I work on something at home I kind of get into the zone and you know I finish it,” said … “But distractions can be kind of challenging, sometimes weather I wouldn’t say it’s super challenging but it’s unpredictable you kind of have unpredictable elements where you might get rain all of a sudden or it might be really really hot and those working conditions are a little bit challenging.”

The mural on Baraga St. and the Mino Bimaadiziwin murals both have Anishinaabe syllabics in them. In the Evolve and Be Involved mural there are both Anishinaabe syllabics and some constellations that are symbolic in the mural.

“After that we were like why don’t we do another one and it’s kind of honoring the Anishinaabe heritage and culture,” said Sawftsea. “That’s kind of where the other concept came around is we just wanted to do another one, and I called around to random buildings and was like ‘hey would you ever want a mural on your wall,’ and I couldn’t find any place and I reached out to Marquette Arts and Culture and talked with them and they were like ‘well, we’ve always wanted a mural on the library’s storage building facing Third St.'”

The mural depicts Josephine Mandamin according to Jud Sojourn, assistant professor at the Center for Native American Studies at NMU.

“She was the original water walker, who walked around Lake Superior to bring awareness to the importance of water universally, and without Josephine Mandamin there wouldn’t have been the same oneness of mind that occurred during Standing Rock around the importance of water.”

Sojourn says representation through things like the syllabics matters because Marquette was originally Anishinaabe and is still considered part of the Three Fires Council stewardship area traditional homeland.

“The Three Fires are the Ojibway, Potawatomi who keeps the fire and the Odawa, and those three nations are part of the Anishinaabe people all the same language just kind of means the human beings,” said Sojourn. “That governance structure which is primarily elders they’ve been stewarding the area kind of keeping an eye on things, plants and animals and people since, no one knows for sure, but it’s about 750 A.D. is the number I’ve heard so they’ve been around for quite a while and that’s the original language of the region, and that representation creates a kind of a continuity that might not be present otherwise.”

Sojourn says it shows that Anishinaabe people are still here, that the governance structure is still present and that things are kind of being looked after.

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