Ursula Johnson holds a BFA (2006) from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where she studied photography, drawing and textiles. She also studied Theatre at Cape Breton University. Johnson descends from a long line of Mi’kmaw Artists, including her late Great-Grandmother, Caroline Gould, from whom she learned basket making. In 2010 she curated Klokowej: A 30-Year Retrospective commemorating Gould’s contribution to the evolution of Mi’kmaw basketry.
Ursula Johnson’s approach to basketry is typical of her transformational practice. Rather than simply imitating traditional Mi’kmaw basket forms she uses traditional techniques to build subtly non-functional forms—objects that are clearly traditionally based yet raised to a metaphorical level of signification, as works of art. Several of her performances, including Elmiet (2010) and Basket Weaving (2011) incorporate basketry as a key element.
Her background in theatre is evident in her public performances. People who attend Johnson’s performances are often surprised to find themselves no longer spectators, but actors in a social situation. Instead of the private, contemplative response we usually expect from the encounter with a work of art, we become participants in collective interpretations and collaborative actions.