Painting joy

Profile: Sita MacMillan by Julie Bull

Sita MacMillan

Sita MacMillan is a maker of many things and all the things she makes tell a story. Our conversation together was a beautiful weaving of memoir and poetry as she shared stories throughout her adult life that brought her here to this moment as a prolific artist. 

When Sita graduated high school, she wanted to be an artist and art teacher but “I couldn’t afford to be an artist!” Grappling with the tension between her dreamer self and realistic self, Sita pursued post-secondary education. Focusing on history, she was particularly drawn to the context by which writers and artists were creating. “What was happening at the time when such writing and other creations were made?”

Throughout her twenties, Sita traveled and moved around a lot. She earned bachelor’s degrees in arts and education before moving on to a master’s degree in education. With this education and experience in her pocket, Sita spent some time teaching.

“When I was around 30, my partner bought me some art supplies and created an art room for me, but it took me a while to even go into that room.” She focused her attention on her academic career and the artistic expression was left to the side. Though she wasn’t painting much at the time, Sita has always been a writer. “Even when I wasn’t painting, I continued to write. The pen travels well so I continued to connect to my poetic side, regardless of where I was living or what I was doing.” 

Along with her blossoming career, Sita had three children in her 30s (of which two are twins). “I’d say to my kids: this is the first time for me as a mom and this is the first time for you as kids so let’s learn this together.” With all her energy and attention in her family and work, she “wasn’t making art so all the feelings were getting stuck” because her focus was everywhere else.

“I picked up the paintbrush during the pandemic.”

She came across an online painting class with an artist in BC and during the course was reminded to paint what she loved. “I started thinking, ‘how can I make this even more me?’” Sita’s paintings appear three dimensional because of the layers, textures, and colors she uses to create the backgrounds for her signature painting style. “I rarely know what is going to come when I start with the textured background. I just start painting and let it flow out of me.”

“Paintings are my expression and there’s a lot more than paint on that canvas. I like to remind people that each lady is a feeling, not a person.” It was such a gift to hear Sita talk about her paintings in the room where they hang. “Colors are feelings: some of them explore and express softness and some are hard. Regardless, they all they a story.” She uses a lot of gold in her paintings because “gold is warm and wonderful. It feels like a big happy hug of joy.”

As we sat in The Gallery Coffee House & Bistro with Sita’s art on the walls around us, I experienced each piece differently as I heard more about their origin stories. “The paintings are a reminder that we are all beautiful, regardless of circumstance or context. Our experiences are all part of the story that comprise our being, and that being is beautiful.”

Not only did Sita pick up the paintbrush during the pandemic, she also published a book of her poetry and photography. In/out/side is an exploration of the natural beauty of the Island coupled with the human feelings of learning this land. It was an expression of Sita’s experiences as someone who moved to PEI.

Sita’s creative curiosities know no bounds and led her to an idea for a children’s book, based loosely on some of her family’s experiences. With a few twists, turns, and unexpected opportunities, Sita is currently writing a series for early readers published by Annick Press. The first book in the series is called Sarah Ponakey, Storycatcher and Âhâsiw’s Forest Powwow and is available for pre-order now. The books are semi-autobiographical and explore a young urban Cree who is endeavoring to connect with their culture. “I wanted to create books that explored what it’s like to learn about our culture when we live away from home.”

“There are parts of myself and my kids in the book. We’re all on this journey together.” Sita and her kids get curious and creative together. “I remind myself and my kids to do the thing that is uniquely you”. In a world that is hard and heavy, Sita’s paintings bring pops of color, happiness, and joy. “I love beautiful things, so I paint beautiful things.”

Julie Bull, an Inuk (NunatuKavut) researcher and educator, has extensive experience in community-based participatory action research, emphasizing Indigenous perspectives. A champion of social justice, Julie envisions collaborative efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities worldwide. With a focus on research governance and ethics, her work with NunatuKavut has yielded notable publications and presentations.