The core of this powerful assemblage is an exploration of the extraordinary achievement of Haida art, asart. Interwoven throughout the text and the finely reproduced images is a skillful intermingling of key themes: the defining myths of origins; the structures of ownership and privilege; the relationship of the people to the land; the influence of the early master-carvers; the monumental achievements of Charles Edenshaw, Bill Reid, Robert Davidson, and many others; the Haida and colonialism; and hybrid tendencies in contemporary Haida art.
From oral histories and genealogies to the breakout aesthetics of contemporary Haida work in many media, this book celebrates a great art in a contemporary context.
Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art was published to coincide with the exhibition presented at the Vancouver Art Gallery June 10 to September 17, 2006.
The relationship between Haida artists and Haida Gwaii is rather like the formline of Haida art, – the black line may thicken or thin but it always remains connected.
Well, you know, I look at the art as basically the trimmings of a culture. It’s not really the culture itself as a lot of people view it. You know some people come and say okay, here’s a totem pole, this is Haida culture, here’s a mask or here’s another thing. The culture actually is our relationship with the land, and the art tries to manifest that relationship by portraying other things that live here, to bring it into our ceremonies, bring it into our dally life. I guess it’s a way of expressing respect for the things around us
Today the Haida relationship to Haida Gwaii still runs through the clans, from root to leaf or from clam to salmon, depending on what you are gathering that day. It pervades us, in our elders’ constant remarks on the weather and predictions for what will happen later that afternoon, in the exhilaration in a fisher’s face after a good catch and in the cook’s pride at having prepared a meal from the catch. It’s in the strength of a pole carved from a beautiful massive cedar tree and in the prayers of thanks offered up by the weaver for her bundles of spruce root. Quite simply, it is tangible for us.
See, art and culture is the same to us, – it’s not separated. It’s our history, our stories, our clans, who we are as a people …so it’s all that history that goes with it and where it comes from, to where it comes through, – comes through me and makes me something, comes through another artist and makes something. So it is a lot of fun to be part of it.
For all artists, one of the first steps in the creative process is finding and sustaining a supply of materials. For most contemporary artists, this entails going to an art supply house to purchase a canvas, a sketch pad, some paint, or a few brushes. While Haida artists use all of these things, some projects require materials that can only be obtained out on the land or sea. Weavers may spend weeks gathering roots or bark; a carver may search for the perfect tree for a memorial or mask, or gather shells for inlay in a box or bowl. Several artist have to work together to quarry argillite, planning and making the arduous trip and cutting stone by hand from the mountain; then they face the daunting task of carrying an eighty or ninety pound piece back down the steep and treacherous path. I have gone on gathering journeys with several artists and must say that many collectors of contemporary pieces do not truly appreciate the dedication traditional gathering of materials requires.
On my quest to understand Haida history, I feel almost disjointed because I’m going into myth time. I’m going into that place where my ancestors understood and believed. They believed in the origin of our people, where we originated from. And that knowledge is only now starting to surface. My grandparents’ generation, they were the last generation to understand and know the origins of our clans. And so we have this generation gap that we need to reconnect with. In order for us to understand where our grandparents left off, the work that they were carrying and doing for us, we need to bridge that gap. That’s my life journey right now, to bridge that gap.
Commercial interests and government policy have attempted to distance the Haida from their traditional territories, but the link has never been broken. Though many artistic forms have survived the last two centuries of societal upheaval, some came dangerously close to being lost altogether. Many are now in the process of being reclaimed, and access to suitable ares and the sustainability of traditional materials have become overriding concerns. These two issues could define the future of traditional Haida arts, especially for artists living away from the islands.
Ravens and Eagles
Haida filmmaker Marianne Jones returns to her roots and continues the exploration of Haida culture and art from an inside perspective in this series that she has written and directed with Jeff Bear. This second series of Ravens and Eagles: Haida Art includes two longer works that combine two episodes-one of them celebrates the genius of Charles Edenshaw, the most prolific Haida artist to have ever lived; the other follows the historic blockade of logging on Lyell Island by Haida elders from the perspective of those who participated. Repatriation is explored in two separate episodes, and the final episode seeks to further define Haida art in form, process and in its connection to spirituality, land and culture.