Monday, March 01, 2010

From the Art Gallery of Alberta's Travelling Exhibit: Halfbreed Mythology

The History of My People (Grandfathers)
Mixed Media
on Canvas

This is another of the works currently traveling throughout Alberta. The show has been going for a bit more than a year and will continue for the next couple.

The works in this show tend to be a little more introspective and this is no exception. I tried to tackle a couple aspects of Canadian history here. The landscape is the coast of Newfoundland as it glides by the Nordic explorers who were searching ever further beyond Iceland, beyond Greenland, braving the oceans and the unknown.

Although L'Anse aux Meadows was a colossal failure as a diplomatic mission, it also marks what we can say is the first Euro settlement on First Nations land and the first contact with the Skrælings who inhabited the place. The birth of a new conflict, or the slow beginning of an eventual cooperation?

This is the reason for the iconic image of the prow of a longship stretching up beyond the upper edge of the canvas. A vessel containing Pandora's mysteries.

Below is a mythic Raven. One large all-seeing eye and two faces, representing both the worship and stories of Odin, the All-Father, and of the Trickster Raven. That there are so many similarities in these very disparate cultures has always been a source of fascination for me.

And below it all, a giant golden orb. The centre of the earth? A rising sun or moon in a starscape also serving as the water's depths, an indication that we are adrift, sailing through an endless ocean of time and space, held safe on a tiny, spinning planet? Or a portal through our limited awareness and understanding of each other?

The sidebars display the decorative, goldworked images of dragons or serpents, physical incarnations of unknown fears and dangers. The myth was that there were monsters beyond our ken, beyond our knowledge, beyond our borders. On ancient maps you find the phrase, "here be dragons". A statement serving as a warning to those who would dare journey out and further than our fears allow.

These dragons seem to stretch down, curling into a rising future: a Metis sash. A symbol of joining and blending together. The interlocking fibers and colours indicating an ability to set aside differences and work for the common good. A sash is awarded these days to people in the community who have offered outstanding service or have achieved something great. A mark of honour and representative of the best in all of us.

Through time and conflict and blood, we stand today together on this land, a vast array of personal and family and cultural histories leading us to this moment, our moment, our children's moments. Who we decide to be, what we decide to honour, what fears we choose to conquer - all these things will determine the world to come. We have inherited our world from our grandfathers with its many opportunities and challenges. How will we honour this?

And what will we leave for our grandchildren?