Young B.C. artist uses murals to shed light on Indigenous issues

Athenea Picha may only be 21, but she’s well on her way to becoming an accomplished mural artist.

The Kwantlen artist, who also has Coast Salish ancestry, has a wide body of work, including drawings, carvings and ceramics, but she’s best known for her northwest coast inspired murals.

Picha says her murals are not only depictions of her heritage, they also underline issues like environmentalism and food sovereignty and how these issues affect B.C. First Nations. .

They can be seen at British Columbia Institute of Technology campus in Burnaby, McNair Secondary school in Richmond and even on the side of a house in Vancouver.

“When I was in high school I had no idea (what I wanted to do),” she said. “I just kind of figured that I’d be stagnant for a long time before I started my art career. I’m grateful to be where I am right now. I’m looking forward to expanding and going into different directions in my practise.”

Her latest project in downtown Vancouver and commissioned by the city, will showcase its rivers and streams, as well as the province’s association with salmon.

“(My art is) sort of to do with identity,” she said. “There’s sort of a grounding thing for me. I’m Indigenous Fijian, but I’m not growing up in Fiji. And I’m Czechoslovakian, but I don’t look like it. It’s kind of a combination of where I’m growing up, what I was surrounded with growing up. Northwest Coast art – and Coast Salish art as well – has such a strong energy to it that I really admire.”

A mural painted by Picha during the Vancouver Mural Festival. At the age of 18, she was the youngest artist ever to participate in the festival. Submitted photo.

The mural downtown represents streams and rivers in Vancouver that have since been paved over, as well as the province’s depleting salmon population.

“I want to inspire others to make art and to learn about their culture and learn about where they are,” she said. “There is a certain responsibility that settlers should kind of have to learn about where they are, what significant places are around and how they can be a community member as a whole.”

While she isn’t sure just yet what the future holds, she says for now, she’s happy making art that not only educates, but inspires.

“I have no idea where I want to be. And I’m quite happy to be where I am.”