It isn’t easy to sum up everything that Seraph-Eden Boroditsky does in one word or phrase – she seemingly does it all. She is a visual artist, activist, mother, poet, dancer, singer, choreographer, writer, and educator. She is not only one of the first recipients of the Indigenous Arts Leaders Fellowship, but was selected to participate in the Cultural Human Resource Council‘s national Talent to Lead program, where she is working to develop her writing, artistic, and educational practise. On top of that, she still finds time to produce artwork, which is currently shown in two galleries, a curated boutique in Winnipeg, and an international online arts publication. She is, simply put, a powerhouse.
The Indigenous Arts Leadership Fellows program was developed in consultation with Indigenous artists, administrators, and community organizations and was funded by the Winnipeg Arts Council. Seraph’s position is full time with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, where she has been brought on in part to develop, write, and facilitate workshops that she calls “guided conversations” centred around reconciliation and the theatre arts. As a pilot project, this program allows Seraph the freedom to create workshops from scratch “for people to go off into the world and have more knowledge and be better equipped to seek out knowledge for themselves,” she explained. Her goal as a facilitator and educator is to give participants – which include directors, producers, actors, administrators, and artists – a foundational knowledge on both reconciliation and allyship; no easy feat.
"meaningful allyship ... includes being aware of how [you] utilize the spaces [you] occupy"
Developed in two parts, the first covers the history of the Indian Act and the barriers that Indigenous peoples face, whether they fall under the Indian Act or not. She’s had to write this workshop in a concise, digestible, accessible, inclusive, and engaging way to “spark conversation so it’s not just me talking at a group of people,” she explained. The second part of her workshop focuses the ways in which “non-BIPOC people can engage in meaningful allyship, which includes being aware of how they utilize the spaces they occupy.” While her Indigenous heritage, education in Native Studies, her experience as the co-president of the University of Manitoba Aboriginal Students Association, her background in grassroots organizing and youth programming, and her role as an artist inform her position as facilitator, she told me that these issues “are hard things to talk about and write about, because I feel that I’m not an authority and there is a lot of scrutiny – deservedly so.” The spaces in which she is educating people are, while quite supportive, decidedly very “white spaces and … I was uncomfortable with that part of it,” she explained. “But that’s what I’m there for – to give people a little more awareness of history to be more inclusive and add it to the culture of their organization.”
Seraph’s background is interesting and multifaceted. While she describes herself not as an artist but as “someone who makes art, because I have lots to learn,” Seraph has worked with a variety of mediums, including paint, ceramics, interior design, and poetry. She also has a background in dance, specifically in ballet, tap, jazz, and traditional Métis step dancing, which she performed from her youth until four years ago, when a back injury required her to step down. However, Seraph remains involved in the community, and she has worked as a choreographer, technical consultant, and assistant stage manager. Additionally, Seraph was involved in musical theatre from a child up until age 20, although, “I still sing in the shower, if that counts,” she laughed. In the last few years she has focused on visual art – particularly abstract fluid art.
Writing has always found its way into Seraph’s life, and it’s perhaps no wonder as both her mother and grandmother are writers – her grandmother was a published poet and watercolour artist. Seraph’s sister also inherited the writer’s gene, and is currently a filmmaker, writer, and worked for the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop. This family of artists are “all totally dramatic and theatrical,” Seraph laughed. When she was younger, Seraph’s writing took the form of poetry, using it to explore her feelings. However, she explains “I never took it seriously and I never thought I was good enough to have it be anything.” That is, until she got to university and started getting positive feedback on her writing. There, she developed a keen love for language and became adept at academic writing. Exploring and understanding different formats has been a challenge, however, as she explained “it’s been a real learning journey about different styles of writing and how I express myself through them.”
However, through both her Royal MTC fellowship and her selection as a participant in the Talent to Lead program, in which a select number of mid-career cultural workers across Canada are chosen for training and mentorship opportunities by senior-level culture-sector professionals, Seraph is able to work one-on-one with her mentor – director, playwright, actor, producer, storyteller, and Banff Centre Director of Indigenous Arts Reneltta Arluk – to develop her voice and express her personal experiences in a short story or play. “I find that although using simple language makes ideas and writing accessible to all people,” Seraph said, “I have a very flowery and drawn-out way of expressing myself, because using expressive, poetic language comes naturally to me.” The challenge she’s had is moving from the very particular style of academic writing to learning how to best speak to her audience. “I’ve learned how to simplify and shorten my language and writing so that it can be accessible and approachable and make people feel good when they’re reading it,” she told me.
Poetry, however, has always been something that’s come natural to Seraph: “When I write poetry, it almost always rhymes, no matter what I do: I’m a rhymer!” Poetry has been a way to explore her thoughts and feelings, which is the topic she feels most comfortable with “because it’s the only experience I know.” She explained that while she is drawn to writing about her experiences with colonization and her own struggles with identity, writing in a format other than poetry is often too overwhelming for her: “when I start to write about those universal things that other people feel, I feel like I’m taking up space I don’t [deserve] to take.” In poetry, she finds comfort and perhaps safety, explaining “it can’t be scrutinized – it’s a personal thing and nobody can tell me what my personal experience is.”
As with so many writers, Seraph’s challenge is one of self-doubt: “is it good enough? Who’s going to want to read this?” While she was comfortable sharing personal writing on a medium like Facebook, her audience there consisted of people who know her. It’s writing for an audience she doesn’t know that she finds far more daunting, particularly when that writing is personal. However, the dilemma remains that to practice her skills, she needs to share her writing in order to get feedback, so she is actively working on “condensing my language, being able to convey feeling with less words, and having the confidence to put it out there and receive feedback on it so I can improve.”
“it’s been a real learning journey about different styles of writing and how I express myself through them.”
Despite her impressive list of accomplishments and experiences, Seraph remains humble: “I have my art in three galleries but when someone refers to me as an artist I say ‘oh, well I make art.’ And that’s about not wanting to be arrogant.” Balancing feelings of humility, shame, pride, and arrogance are not easy, but she’s starting to make sense of how she can accept the challenges she faces and grow from them. “My humility, learned through hard lessons, even up to the last year, is a combination of my physical injuries and recently diagnosed mental issues – there’s a name for what I have and it’s not my fault, and that instantly takes a load off and makes a mental illness better, to have it validated and to know that there are nuances to everything and nobody is the same in those challenges,” she explained. Using writing to work through these challenges has been a benefit, despite the underlying fear that no one else will be able to relate. Her focus now is “learning how to work through those things for myself, write about them, make them palatable, and have the courage to share it.”
The catharsis that comes from writing through difficult experiences and complicated emotions isn’t easily obtained, however, because while many people create art just for themselves, Seraph ultimately wants to share her work. She explained “I want people to see it, but I want people to like it and that’s the challenge. If I could get over that next hurdle, then I think I could get even more out of the experience.” It’s perhaps for this reason that she describes herself not as a writer, but “a writer in practice.”
Seraph’s advice for new writers is advice that she admits she doesn’t take for herself: don’t let other people shake your confidence. Having felt unworthy according to others’ standards in the past, she’s made it a point to remain encouraging of other people coming to her for advice: “I always tell people, whether it’s in the realm of reconciliation, politics, dance, or visual art, don’t be afraid to express who you really are. And if you need to try on a bunch of different hats to find out who you really are, don’t pay any mind to what other people are saying to you about it.” While she admits this is easier said than done, she noted, “if somebody is giving you negative feedback, you have to ask yourself some questions: who is that person to me, where are they coming from, what is their actual level of expertise, and do I have to walk with this for the rest of my life or can I just leave it here?”
"if you need to try on a bunch of different hats to find out who you really are, don’t pay any mind to what other people are saying to you about it.”
You can find more of Seraph’s artwork on her Instagram.
Seraph is a member of the Métis nation with roots from Red River and actively engaged with her community and Elders.