Ruddy Tuneeko is not your ordinary site worker. Underneath his worn coveralls and dirty gloves there is a talented artist. Strongly rooted in his Namibian culture, Ruddy proudly represents his African country through his beautiful works of art.
Ruddy is one of four artists recently accepted into the 2015 Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Artist in Residency Program.
The Wood Buffalo Artist in Residency program provides opportunities for a blend of emergent and mid-career artists, to create, explore, learn, and exchange ideas and insights within a multi-disciplinary environment. The residency provides artists with short-term working space, $500 in materials, a $2,000 honourarium, and the opportunity to participate in a group exhibition.
This year, the Artist in Residency studio is at the Keyano Theatre and Arts Centre. During the program, artists will host Open Houses, Artist Talks, and Community Engagement opportunities for citizens and visitors of Wood Buffalo. Upon completion of the program, the artists’ final works will be showcased in a group exhibition within the MacDonald Island
Community Art Gallery presented by Kirschner Family Corporation, opening August 27th to October 2nd.
Community Strategies Coordinator, Michael Beamish, recently had the opportunity to interview, Ruddy, about his art, life and inspirations.
Michael Beamish: Thank you for meeting with me today Ruddy.
Ruddy Tuneeko: My pleasure.
Michael Beamish: So how long have you lived in Canada?
Ruddy Tuneeko: In October it will be five years. I lived in Toronto for three years then moved to Timmins, Ontario to work as a labourer in a Detour mine (gold mine). After the contract ended I moved to Calgary where I worked as a painter doing renovations. Then I moved to Fort McMurray last August to work at CNRL. I call it home here.
MB: What made you come up to Fort McMurray, was it just for the work or do you have friends up here?
RT: I had a friend here, working in camp, and he said “Hey man move up” so I did. I was in McMurray for two months till I got this job. I love it.
MB: You work with a good group of people?
RT: Oh yeah. I meet different people from different countries, different cultures. We come together as family, it’s nice.
MB: So you are originally from Namibia, Africa?
RT: Yes, it is in the south part of Africa.
MB: What is life like in Namibia?
RT: Life in Namibia is good if you have money. It’s a good country, peaceful, nice people, different cultures, nice weather.
RT: Half, half. I was in a village then the city.
MB: What is life like in the village?
RT: Village life is okay. You don’t have electricity but you get used to it. Life there is about the natural environment and it’s nice there because you are surrounded by nature. The woods are there, you get water from the well. In the village we would make sculptures out of recycled wire and clay. Back home we do not have a lot so we have to be creative and find our materials. Back home I was the best and tourists would buy my work. In the village there is not a lot to do but look after the cows so in my free time I would create art.
MB: So you would create a lot of wire sculptures, did you do paintings as well?
RT: Yeah, yeah.
MB: What kind of paints did you work with?
RT: I used acrylics, spray paint, oils, and mix media. I love mixing materials. I love creativity and they say you cannot do art without creativity. So everyone should support creativity. I love to mix stuff my own way. They use to call me back home the “crazy boy” because I use to do my own thing. One day I wanted to charge my car battery so I created a windmill and connected it to the alternator. When the windmill was blowing it turned the alternator and gave power to the battery. Everyone thought that I was crazy but it worked.
MB: Who inspired you or taught you to do art? Or were you just always creative?
RT: I do not know how art came to me. It’s something that I was born with. Whenever I was around somebody who was creating art or even just working with their hands I would stop and watch them and it would inspire me. Also people would tell me that I had talent and that would motivate me. Most of the time I was drawing but if you can draw you can paint too. My family and friends supported me and encourage me to go to school for art so I went. I studied for three years and graduated with a diploma. My family supported me in many ways, they would come and buy some of my pieces. Whether they liked it or not I do not know but it encouraged me to keep doing it. After school I wanted to give back to the children of my community, plus I love kids, so in my free time I would show children how to draw and paint. Often we would draw using charcoal because we didn’t have much in materials. Sometimes we would collect wood or boxes then we would paint or draw on them or create sculptures, it was nice.
MB: Is your father artistic as well?
RT: No my father was a builder, he built houses. He used to be a house painter too. I use to work with him and I would mix his paints.
MB: Do you have a favourite piece that you have created?
RT: Oh yeah, which one now… My painting, How Much Can I Pay to Live Life, I love that one.
MB: Does each painting you create have a story attached to them?
RT: Yeah, because most of the paintings I do are inspired from my background. The thing is I know where I come from but I don’t know where I am going, but no matter what happens I always want to keep my culture and my heritage.
MB: What is the story behind How Much Can I Pay to Live Life?
RT: That painting represents me. No matter where you go you have to pay to live. I support my family back home and that painting gives me the courage to work hard to provide for my family. When I work hard I pay for the life of my family. So that is why it’s called How Much Do I Have to Pay to Live.
RT: Exactly. The thing is when I was growing up I did not have that much in life. So when I had my son he inspired me to work hard. I changed my friends and I changed my life. At that time my money was my money and I did not care about anybody else but when my son was born I had to buy milk and diapers. One day I said, “Come on Ruddy, you have to take responsibility for your son”. He is the reason I wake up every morning and go to work, to support him, and my family. I have to pay for my life and his life too.
MB: With each painting does the story come first then the painting follows?
MB: So every painting is an expression of something you have experienced in your life?
RT: Yes exactly. Sometimes you can draw anything you want but then you come to a point where you want to create something that makes you happy so I paint a story or anything that had happened to me. Also I love nature, it makes me feel at home which is why I like to depict nature in my work.
MB: Besides your family what else do you miss about home?
RT: The community. I miss the children I use to give classes to. My friends. The animals.
MB: What is your goal for the Residency?
RT: I want to bring something different.
MB: Like showcasing a piece of Namibia
RT: Exactly. I was looking for this opportunity for so long. I want to expose myself. I am not only going to represent myself but I also want to represent my country as well. I want to do something different, it is going to be a surprise. I want to say thank you to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and the AIR Program for giving me this opportunity to show myself and my country to the Fort McMurray community. I want to make a connection between Africa and Wood Buffalo.
MB: What do you enjoy most about life in Canada?
RT: Especially here in Fort McMurray I enjoy the opportunity to make a living. For me I have two lives: my life here and my life back home. Life is what you make it, you can make a good life here.
MB: Do you want to bring your son here?
MB: Thank very much for the interview and I am excited to see your work.
RT: Thank you.
If you would like to meet Ruddy and see his work please visit the AIR Open Houses:
June 20th, July 4th, 25th, August 8th and 22nd, 2pm-6pm, at Keyano Theatre and Art Centre, Studio AC132.
For a schedule of AIR events please visit the AIR Webpage. To view or order any of Ruddy’s artistic works please like his Facebook Page, The Crazy Ruddy’s Art.