IndigeneArts to Immerse Buyers in the World of Indigenous Cultures The vision is to create the world’s largest and most impactful destination market and community for authentic Indigenous art and cultures. I met co-founder Marina Korneeva to learn more about her inspiring journey.

Afdhel Aziz: Marine, welcome. Tell us about your journey to launch

Marina Korneeva: Prior to launching the site, we had worked hard to resolve issues of authenticity and cultural relevance. So we held a series of consultations with aboriginal artists at the Native Canadian Center in Toronto. Many of these artists were the first artists to join when it launched last year. Currently, we work with around 25 artists and have over 500 unique Indigenous products available for sale on the site.

The site celebrates Indigenous artists from around the world and helps potential buyers immerse themselves in the depth and richness of Indigenous peoples’ cultures and creations. It will be an increasingly conducive place and space for storytelling and discovery for all through the prism of Indigenous artists.

Our goal is to work collaboratively with Indigenous leaders and non-profit organizations to widely promote Indigenous cultures and include everything from jewelry, clothing, books and music to events and tourism, making it the must-see market for “everything indigenous”. A portion of the proceeds from the market will go to Indigenous partner organizations to support their programs and activities aimed at advancing Indigenous cultures.

Aziz: Why do you think the world needs an indigenous art market?

Korneeva: Indigenous products are absolutely breathtaking, intricate, colorful, and they all have a story, but unfortunately most of them are not known to the world. Ordinary buyers have very little knowledge of native products or what is special. Having a single market will allow indigenous and non-indigenous peoples to discover and experience these rich cultures from around the world.

As buyers, we are conditioned by the big brands to buy cheap and mass-produced items. Platforms, like Amazon, want us to believe that we can’t even wait a day to get our purchases at the door. All of this leads to unsustainable business practices and a culture of convenience that really harms our environment. It’s important to promote a different message that we need to shop responsibly, shop for purpose, and make it easier for people.

Many products indigenous to different parts of the world weren’t even sold online, certainly not before Covid. Many of them were sold at powwows and in remote areas, making them inaccessible to the general population. We need to make it easier for indigenous artists to get their products online, to get the support they need to enable them to build sustainable online businesses. Artists could take advantage of the marketing effectiveness of the Marketplace rather than having to fund, create and promote their own websites individually. For many it is too hard and too expensive.

A niche market for Indigenous arts could also become the biggest catalyst for creating new economic opportunities that will help Indigenous communities thrive. According to The World Bank: “Indigenous peoples are culturally distinct societies and communities. Although they represent 5% of the world’s population, they represent around 15% of the extremely poor. From UN report: “Indigenous cultures threatened with extinction … 90% of all languages ​​will disappear within 100 years.”

Aziz: What are some of your favorite artists featured on the site?

Korneeva: All of the artists featured on the site are incredibly talented. I know them all personally and appreciate the diversity of their works. Here are some of the great artists we work with. Cree artist Sam Bighetty has lived on the streets of Calgary for over 11 years and his art has saved him on several occasions. Sam has a distinguished style which presents elements of nature linked by spiritual unity; bright colors, elegant lines and tiny details that can fill any room with deep spiritual meaning behind every room.

Hayden Haynes is an incredible wood and stone sculptor from Perrysburg, New York. He belongs to the Seneca Deer clan and lives in the Cattaraugus reserve. Hayden aims to create works different from what has already been done by Indigenous sculptors, both past and present.

The story behind his sculpture, “Tadodaho”, concerns the establishment of peace among the Iroquois. The Peacekeepers had to convince an evil and very powerful man “Tadodaho” to ally themselves for this cause. The end result was that they were able to establish what is known today as the “Iroquois Confederacy” or the “Five Nations”.

Gueganne Doucet is an 83 year old Aboriginal painter and sculptor from New Brunswick who has also lived with the Inuit of Nunavut before. She has won many awards and enjoys experimenting with different artistic styles.

Ricky Martin from Guatemala creates intricate Mayan style jewelry that can transform a simple dress into a glamorous evening gown.

Aziz: What is the potential for collaboration with other Indigenous artist communities around the world?

Korneeva: From conversations we’ve had with native organizations in Canada, the United States, Russia, and other places, it seems everyone is in the same situation. With the pandemic disrupting many tourism dependent events and industries, we are increasingly seeing indigenous e-commerce pop-up initiatives that lack the major structure, expertise and funding to be successful in the long term. We are often asked, “Will you be there next year?” We know where it came from. Over the past year, many indigenous organizations embezzled funds earmarked for offline events to build websites for their members, and then ran out of money. Many of these efforts survive solely on government grants, which is like living paycheck to paycheck and is not sustainable.

The situation is quite dramatic at the moment. Indigenous sellers lost considerable income during the pandemic, which also supported their extended families. I think many people recognize the need and urgency for a long-term sustainable e-commerce solution for Indigenous sellers that nurtures many small initiatives that separately struggle to survive.

As the market grows, we envision it helping all Indigenous artist communities by showcasing their work to the world through our partner organizations. In addition, it will educate buyers about Indigenous cultures and traditions by becoming the largest destination site for all things Indigenous. During our initial consultations with Canadian and Russian Indigenous artists, we heard that both sides welcome the opportunity to forge closer ties with other Indigenous groups.

The size of the native arts and crafts market in the United States alone is approximately US $ 1 billion. A marketplace can more effectively access more of these buyers and customers around the world.

Aziz: Which brands would you like to collaborate with?

Korneeva: I’m not sure “brands” is the right term. We are currently working on a joint venture agreement with some Indigenous non-profit organizations, such as Indigenous Tourism Ontario. We are seeking partnerships and collaborations with other Indigenous organizations, educational organizations and art galleries around the world, especially those who wish to take a leadership role.

Investors are also welcome, as are prominent community leaders, advisers and collectors of Indigenous art.

The model and approach to building our market is original and innovative, as this is where Indigenous artists will get the support they need to be successful online and feel comfortable selling their creations. This is also where shoppers would immerse themselves in Indigenous cultures and learn about unique Indigenous products, stories and experiences from around the world.

I am sure the world is missing out on the cultural richness represented by indigenous products. Let’s change that now, while we still have a chance.

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