SFYou: Ashley Jones’ art signifies connection and understanding

Jones’ organ paintings represent science and community

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Photo of Ashley Jones and their art
PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer

Ashley Jones is an Indigenous artist whose body organ paintings are an ode to her love for science, and her Haida and Cree Métis roots. The Peak interviewed Jones to know more about her artistic journey, the meaning behind her art, and perspectives to the future. Jones is predominantly a self-taught artist, aside from learning to make dreamcatchers from her aunt. She said she had no guidance on how to draw, and rather, “just picked it up one day.” Her family was a source of support and inspiration to begin her artistic endeavours. “I started drawing different animals and I kind of found my very own unique patterns,” Jones stated. Traditionally, Haida paintings use a technique called formline — “the continuous swelling and tapering lines that unite design units” — to draw the animal outline. However, Jones opted for using the animal itself as a base for the outline. 

Art has become a way for Jones to connect with her heritage: “I fell in love with my culture. I’ve learned how to do every other thing pretty much.” Besides weaving, Jones has also learned how to make rattles, traditionally used in dance rituals. Jones stated that learning these arts got her into “the Indigenous side” of her artwork and brought her back to her roots.

Talking about her painting “Heart of a Nation,” Jones recalls doing a supply run on Valentine’s Day where, after seeing various hearts, she was inspired and ran back home to get her new idea on paper. The painting carries a deep meaning, and she “did what felt right for the heart.” The painting has a wolf’s head and an orca’s tail, and the veins in it “represent the Tree of Life.” 

Since then, Jones has stayed fascinated with organs and expanded her painting portfolio. Her “Ovaries” painting was inspired by the Me Too movement. “It very much represents the birth, and creation, and the sacred feminine.” Jones explained that in many Indigenous cultures, women “were the ones that brought the information and they were regarded as sacred.” 

“No matter who we are, no matter what we look like, no matter what, we are all exactly the same on the inside and that is what is important.” — Ashley Jones

Jones’ artwork has touched individuals who have had heart transplants, hysterectomies, and infertility struggles. “I was bringing new artforms, new feelings out.” In her painting, “Eye,” the eyeball “represents the being able to see beauty and that we’re all the same, which is why the iris — the colour of the eye — is actually grey,” she said. “No matter who we are, no matter what we look like, no matter what, we are all exactly the same on the inside and that is what is important,” and that’s the message she hopes people get from her artwork. Jones wants her audience to look at the eye as if it represents their own, regardless of colour, or how we see the world. Her most recent piece, “The Breasts” is meant for awareness of breast cancer. She’s also done paintings of kidneys, eyeballs, lungs, the brain, and liver, among others.

It was during a Powwow where someone noticed her work was a form of Haida art. “I had no clue,” Jones said, learning more about her Indigenous roots. “It was at the Powwows where I really met my community,” she said. “I’ve never felt more connected to my culture.” Jones notes that everyone is welcomed “with open arms.” These events helped Jones reconnect with her community, since her grandmother was forced to hide to protect her family from residential schools. As a result they lost almost all of their family connections. Jones and her mother continue learning more about their cultural traditions, which ties into her artwork. Jones says it was her father who convinced her to take up art in the first place. 

At her first Powwow in 2018, she was invited to join SFU by a member of the Indigenous University Preparation Pathway program. She’s currently pursuing a degree in Indigenous Studies. Now, with about only five terms left, Jones said she fell in love with the program, which allowed her to connect with her community. She aims to apply the knowledge gained in medicine to advocate for Indigenous Peoples in healthcare. Jones mentioned how her mother, as well as other Indigenous Peoples, suffer from discrimination in the healthcare system. These experiences made her realise not only the need for doctors, but for allies in the system. “I do want to be a doctor once I graduate SFU,” having always been fascinated by medicine, she said, adding she hopes to create murals in hospitals one day.

Her art has influenced her love of science and medicine, and vice versa. “It’s really important that people see my art the way it is, and feel what it makes them feel,” she said. “I really would like to have my art in galleries, so I can have as many people see it as they want.

“If it brings even the smallest smile on a bad day, that gives me such joy that I was able to create that happiness.” 

Aside from her paintings, Jones sells her work as prints for $20.

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