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SFU student from Coquitlam paints organs with Indigenous designs

Centennial Secondary graduate Ashley Jones is getting attention for her organ art that uses Haida and Metis elements.

A year or two after Ashley Jones graduated from Centennial Secondary in 2017, the Coquitlam resident was shopping in Michael’s when she saw a heart.

It was around Valentine’s Day, so there were a lot of craft hearts in the store but, for some reason, this one — or at least its meaning — struck her deeply.

Already dabbling in art, Jones went home and started to draw the organ using Indigenous elements in and around its chambers; its veins also became a Tree of Life, a symbol used by Indigenous people to represent protection and ceremony.

Once completed, “Heart of a Nation” became Jones’ launchpad as she not only branched out as an artist but also learned about her Haida and Métis roots.

It was at a pow wow in 2019, where Jones was exhibiting and sell her art, when an educator suggested she apply to the Indigenous University Preparation Pathway (IUPP) at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

Her first year in the program was online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but her curiosity blossomed.

The next year, Jones took more classes “and I just fell in love with Indigenous Studies. There was so much I didn’t know about my Indigenous background.”

As she continued to attend pow wows and sell art, Jones felt a strong connection with the First Nations community, which encouraged her with her artistic craft.

She also sold T-shirts, rattles, drums, dream catchers and prints of her designs at markets around Metro Vancouver and, this past summer, at the Fair at the PNE.

During her retail downtime, she pulled out her sketch book and drew more organs with Indigenous elements and geometric shapes, based on anatomy photos found on the internet: ovaries, an eyeball, a pancreas, a stomach, to name a few.

Her acrylic paintings of the organs gained both compliments and criticism from viewers: Some people cried, telling Jones how meaningful they were as a relative or friend had had issues with their organ, while others frowned and walked away.

The reaction to her Native ovaries piece, which came out during the #MeToo movement, drew the strongest opposition, the 24-year-old artist remembered.

Last year, buoyed by the support, Jones started a business called AMJ Art to sell her work.

Now a third-year undergraduate in SFU’s Indigenous Studies program, leading to a bachelor of arts degree, Jones said she’s eager to share her art with the world because “it brings so much joy. I want to see my work on gallery walls.”

Still, she has other ambitions, too: Her aim is to become a doctor and take up a residency in internal medicine, eventually specializing in rare and infectious diseases.

Specifically, Jones wants to use her talents to help with Indigenous communities.

But for now, though, her goal is to get her sketches onto canvasses to create more organ art.

During the winter break, she drew a breast with milk drops, a thyroid gland and lymph nodes while listening to Elvis, the Beatles and U2 cranked.

“The work gives me a lot of joy and I want others to feel the same way,” she said. 

Ashley Jones’ art can be viewed on her website and her social media channels. You can also email her at [email protected].