Community, People

Artist shares local love for the community

January 11, 2022

Mike Cywink is a storyteller who is using his artwork to share the United Way’s ‘local love’ for the community.

The non-profit organization selected the Ojibway artist’s digital artwork to celebrate the holiday and winter season. As part of this celebration, his artwork appears on the organization’s letterhead and marketing materials, including the Local Love campaign, which keeps 100 per cent of donations to the United Way in the community.

Describing himself as a representational artist, Cywink used home and family as his inspiration. The artwork’s main focal point is a turtle shell with four individuals standing on top of it.

“The turtle shell represents home,” said Cywink. “I draw those warm colours on the inside because that's what a home should feel like. People should feel that warmth and the safety that a home should provide.”

In addition, family and home are significant for Cywink because the holidays can be a difficult time for some people who are facing financial hardship or who are having strained relationships with their family.

Equally important, two eagle feathers are also central to the work. They reinforce the importance of family for Cywink because he remembers receiving feathers as a sentimental gift from his brother.

“Even though it doesn't have any monetary value to anybody else, I was thinking about the spirit of the holidays and the eagle feathers symbolize what's actually important and valuable to you – and it's not just a new PlayStation,” he said.

Cywink, who is also a Student Mentor and Program Liaison for the Centre for School Mental Health at the Faculty of Education, is proud of his association with the United Way because they provide excellent services in the community. He also hopes his artwork breaks down stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples.

“You hear a lot of negative things about the Indigenous community and I try to show people that there's a lot more to Indigenous People than what you may see, hear or read,” he said. “I try to create these big, beautiful pieces that showcase how beautiful our culture is and how beautiful the people are.”

Cywink was commissioned through ‘word of mouth.’ In fact, he came to prominence when one of his art pieces went viral on Twitter in 2021. As a result, the United Way used Instagram to approach him about a commission.

Besides his work for the United Way, Cywink has created a mural for N’Amerind Friendship Centre in London, Ontario and he’s working on submitting artwork for consideration to Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario, the London Arts Council as well as for Laurier and Beal Secondary Schools.

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