Allison Tunis, Artist – Edmonton

Allison Tunis is an intermedia artist based in Treaty 6 territory/Edmonton. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Alberta, and a graduate diploma in Art Therapy from the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute. Working mainly in hand embroidery, Allison is interested in combining fine craft and contemporary art techniques to create works that address her interests in cultural conditioning and the societal implications of restrictive standards of beauty, as well as the discrimination and violence experienced by people living in marginalized bodies, with a particular focus on the experience of fat and queer people. Allison just finished up a term as the artist in residence at Harcourt House artist-run centre in Downtown Edmonton, and her final exhibition, An Anthology of Sticks & Stones, is running from now until November 23rd.

  1. Fat/queer representation in art

Allison Tunis, Sam (detail), 2017, hand embroidery on aida cloth

I LIVE for the growing fat and queer representation in our everyday art and media, and listened to artists like Lizzo and Beth Ditto throughout my residency to keep my head on straight. A few years back I published a fat positive colouring book, as positive or even neutral representation of fat folks was so rare in media, and I’m so happy to see that a few years later there is SO much fat and queer-focused content out there to delve into now – podcasts, social media and local meet up groups, music, TV, everywhere. Even in Canada, artists like Jess Murwin and their Fat Tuesday series are killing it and providing inspiration and representation all round. I love it.

  1. Building community

YESS & TYAP community murals, Gateway Blvd and Whyte Avenue Public Washrooms, 2017 (photo: Allison Tunis)

One of the things I can never shut up about is how much I love building community – and how important it is. I try to include community in my art practice in various ways, such as creating interactive pieces, hiring or commissioning folks to collaborate, and working with individuals to share their stories in authentic ways. I also run a free local art group for 2STLGBQIA+ youths twice a month in partnership with a local nonprofit to try to build community further and sort of offer to be the person I really could have used as a teenager myself.

  1. Glitter (non-traditional mediums)

 Allison Tunis, Excuses Don’t Cut Calories, 2019, mixed media on fabric

Doing my BFA in university, I was constantly critiqued and criticized for being too kitsch and having absolutely zero restraint on using materials that I liked or that were shiny. Now, as an artist doing my own thing, I am reclaiming all the materials I thought I wasn’t “allowed” to use – mainly GLITTER. I do try to edit myself, but I feel like anything can be used in art, and am super into exploring new mediums and tools to use in my practice. I used glitter, gold leaf, iridescents, glow-in-the-dark paint, holographic powder-coating, and more in this residency and I had a blast.

  1. A giant effing armchair

(photo: Jesse Robbins)

I have vowed to never do my work without a giant armchair nearby. I bought this one for $20 off the internet, and it has served me well over the last year. I do a lot of embroidery, so I tend to use an armchair more than a desk, and even when I’m doing a more structured studio practice such as this residency, a giant armchair is always good to have around in case you need to take a comfortable look at your work, or have a nap.

  1. Therapy

Allison Tunis, Garbage Person, 2013, collage

I attend therapy about twice a month, and I’m not at all ashamed to admit it. During my training at the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute, I was taught the importance of working through your own issues before and while you are working to heal issues on a larger social and community scale. My work will never be done, and going to see a therapist has actually inspired a lot of the work I’ve done to heal and overcome old wounds – which is really the theme of my current exhibition.