Apprehensive about the future of the spirit-healer’s fragile stone

Jonathan Oore is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at Dalhousie University

 

Artist’s Statement for Milgwija'sit Puoin An'stawe'g Wuguntew or Apprehensive about the future of the spirit-healer's fragile stone

This artist’s statement accompanies my artwork featured on the cover. Broadly, it is a comment on indigenous health.

Mi’kmaq art and craft is laden with straight lines, sometimes by necessity of the tools or materials used to produce them. The rays of the sun in the branching of a tree; the geodesics of a turtle’s shell within the modal phenomena of the ocean or tessellated through the moon; recursive, tortuous animal-in-animals; cross-hatched petroglyphs on (cylindrical) trees. A stark contrast between curved and straight is pitted and married over and over. The confluence and absence of the straightness, curvedness, and “curvilinearity” is the point—a point—the top of a wigwam, the poles of a canoe, the countless barbed tips of quillwork.

Curvature is a matter of scale. It can be implied with infinitesimal straight lines. Mi’kmaq art appears to find strength in this duality, implying the cycles and spectra (births, rebirths, and deaths), ebb-flows, and coexistences of and within the natural world.

Fragility is not apparent. But the point, while sharp and capable of cutting, is a fragile thing. It is physically weak in compressive strength. Mi’kmaq art is not only circles; it contains these points.

I am not a Mi’kmaq person. And my work is not Mi’kmaq art. It is a reflection on and acknowledgement of Mi’kmaq art, revolving around upsetting issues that perhaps ought not be addressed using Mi’kmaq traditions. The very fact that I am not indigenous is an important aspect, as the vulnerability of indigenous culture to unbeknownst dilutions is insidious.

The balancing of point heaps with cut curves is a consciously un-Mi’kmaq artistic choice. It seeks to address the precarious balance in which indigenous Canada sits surrounded by… everything else. The large, frayed arrowhead—made of sheet polystyrene foam using a number 10 blade—is topographically rugged. Crosshatched and fractal networks are bespattered with paint, a calling to the techniques and stylisms used in Mi’kmaq painting, carving, and weaving. The literal thickness of the work is a reflection on the woven animal products, instead—and disturbingly—making use of the synthetic polystyrene. Shadows adjacent to the cubic overlays, as well as the diagonal-to-diagonal-point-to-points, harken quadrants of the earthly medicine wheel. The spirit healer, Puoin, is not seen: it is an entity that is summoned for. The shadow along the arrowhead (dis)illuminates its topography. And at this scale, it is neither curved nor linear, but something altogether new. This conveys an apprehension about the future, with the past, (in the form of rawly dug-out petroglyphic figures) exposing the colourful viscera of history.