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Hip hop artist, students, spray the walls at White Pines (6 photos)

Indigenous artist, break dancer Que Rock joins students for indoor spray painted mural project

He paints.

He dances.

Que Rock, a Toronto-based Indigenous mural artist and hip hop performer, joined White Pines Collegiate art students for the creation of a spray-painted mural inside the school, sharing his culture and artistic talent and opening students' eyes to the artistic possibilities large scale mural projects have to offer.  

The Que Rock project with local high school students was facilitated by Future Sault Ste. Marie officials.

“I have a strong passion for sharing my art forms. They aren’t normally something you would learn in a school setting, so it’s a great opportunity to come into the schools here and give the students some new art approaches they may never have considered,” Rock said, speaking to SooToday Tuesday.

The White Pines mural swirls on the walls from the ground floor near a door on the school’s west side to the upper level of a stairwell.

“The school’s been absolutely amazing. It’s been an honour for me to be here. All the students picked it up really fast. Everybody was involved from beginning to end. The mural is a collective of the students' ideas, the theme being harmony, peace and multiculturalism, along with some of my own teachings like the medicine wheel and the lunar calendar Anishinaabe would follow. I coached them on techniques, and after they finished painting I just touched things up. It’s a 50-50 collaboration,” Rock said.           

The artist, who hails from Nipissing First Nation, combined his first name Quentin with his middle name Rockford to become Que Rock.

“Art is part of my Anishinaabe heritage, a way to share our teachings and our approach to life. The way I was taught was to express myself through painting, dancing, storytelling, the ceremonies and pow wows I went to, so it’s part of who I am. It’s a really natural way to express myself, something I’ve done since I was a child.”

Rock has lived and worked as an artist in Toronto for the past 22 years, crediting several mentors for helping him on his artistic journey since 1997.

One of those mentors, Rock said, is Alexander Bacon, who painted a mural in the Sault’s Paul Mall alley this year.

“He inspired me to get into graffiti using aerosol cans for larger-scale murals. I work for StreetARToronto (a City of Toronto initiative) to bring some life into areas which don’t have any art to look at,” Rock said.

Rock left Nipissing First Nation in his childhood, travelling with his mother, a social worker, to live in New York City’s Bronx district.

“That’s where I was groomed into the hip hop art forms. There’s a parallel, there are similarities between hip hop and native culture which resonated really easily with me. Before becoming a muralist I was known as a breakdancer. I’ve been break dancing my whole life. I still dance and tour the world, holding workshops and judge major competitions around the world.”

“At a pow wow, you’ll see pow wow drummers and singers and that would be the equivalent to the hip hop deejay. The actual rapper on a record, that would be the equivalent of a storyteller in my culture. In hip hop culture they have aerosol graffiti or street art, and in my culture art is a predominant way of expressing ourselves, whether it be through painting, beadwork or leatherwork, and the dancing coincides with each other,” Rock said.

Rock said break dancing can trace its roots to pow wow dancing.

“The first two break dancers from New York City named themselves Pow Wow and Sundance. When I discovered that I was extremely proud. Where there were clouds of uncertainty, thinking was I doing the right thing, it all came into place for me. I’m absolutely doing what I was supposed to do, participating in hop hop and sharing my culture at the same time.” 

This week marks the second time Rock has visited the Sault, having previously performed here as a pow wow dancer.

“We’re having fun here today,” said White Pines Grade 10 art student Hannah Grant.

“I haven’t done this type of art before. I’d like to continue with it because I find it very interesting. After high school, I want to make a career in art. It’s interesting and different, the way he (Que Rock) does his art,” Grant said, pleased with the opportunity to combine her own art with that of Que Rock’s.

“It’s been really fun. I’ve learned lots of things because I’ve never worked with this type of medium before. He’s cool to work with,” said Ariana Petainen, another White Pines Grade 10 art student.

“Yesterday and today we’ve had about 15 students working with Que Rock at White Pines, then we’re at Superior Heights tomorrow and Korah Thursday. There won’t be murals at those schools but the students will be working on smaller projects. Que Rock will be providing them with some hints on brush and canvas,” said Sarah Constable, Algoma District School Board (ADSB) experiential learning leader.