Thursday, January 8, 2015

Zhaawano Giizhik about the Anishinaabeg, Simone McLeod, Norval Morrisseau & Woodland School of Art

 "Untitled," 45"x96", © 1980s Norval Morrisseau

Boozhoo. Zhaawanogiizhik n'd'anishinaabewinikaazowin. Waabizheshi niin nindoodem, Baawitigong indoonjibaa. Hello! My Native name is Zhaawano Giizhik (Southern Cedar). My Ojibwe ancestors came from Baawiting- Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and my doodem/clan is Marten.

I am a jeweler, a graphic artist, and a writer of blogs about the arts and culture of my People, the Gichigami Ojibwe Anishinaabeg from the Great Lakes area in Canada and the United States. Over the last two years i have been working in close collaboration with my fellow artist/Storyteller and good friend
Simone McLeod. For six centuries or more, Gichigamiin, the Great Lakes basin, whose abundant waters, continually ebbing and flowing with the seasons, feed into the Turtle Island continent and the Atlantic Ocean, has been the home of our ancestors, who for generations have lived close to the water’s edge to survive.

The Anishinaabeg who inhabited the shores and islands of gichigamiin have always sensed and appreciated the powerful majesty of the lakes and their omnipresence in their daily lives; to them, the scarlike slopes and the pretty beaches of colored sand, the isolated caves and countless coves and caverns - as well as the animals and the big and little spirits that resided there - embodied an aadizookaan: a sacred story. They knew the rocks and natural surroundings of the lakes had always been filled with many mysterious beings and lessons and songs and teaching stories, magically and rhythmically washing ashore by the tidal waves since the beginning of times.

However awesome and dynamic their spirit and grandeur, the gichigamiin have always been regarded as only a part of the MUCH GREATER WEB OF LIFE. My ancestors knew that the celestial bodies, the mountains and the lakes and the rivers, the fires, the thunders and the lightnings, the rains and the winds and a myriad of other living things that make up the physical world, were – as if all part of a Great Council - presided by a force called Gichi-manidoo (Great Mystery).

I believe these things to be true and do not like at all the Western tradition that encourages us to structure our relationships to the natural world in a merely technical and rationalistic way – are we not being taught in school to draw neat categorical distinctions between living organisms and so-called dead matter, between the animate and the inanimate, between the natural and the supernatural, between the human and the nonhuman, and between linear time and circular time? That is why I am becoming more and more aware that the fundamental key to an understanding of the core and expressiveness of my art, and perhaps even my observational abilities as both an artist and a person, lie in the ancient worldview of my Anishinaabe ancestors - rather than in the classical paradigms of Western thought.

Why am I telling you these things? As a teenager, I was told about this mysterious painter from the area around Lake Nipigon, Ontario. I was told this Ojibwe man was a masterful aadizookewinini (storyteller) who created a visual language that was completely new and who drew upon personal dreams and visions with an intense, unsurpassed level of dedication and commitment. It was only later on in my life that I learned that it had also been the formal Midewiwin teachings of his grandfather, as well as the oral and pictographic history passed on to him in his youth, that provided subject matter for this man’s paintings; and that his artistic legacy and lineage included the mazinaajimowin, the spirit writings (rock paintings) and petroglyphs of Agawa Bay and Peterborough and the ancient artists of the Midewiwin scrolls.

I was born in 1959*, the same year Norval Morrisseau (or Miskwaabik Animikii, Copper Thunderbird, which was his true name) started drawing and when I was in my teens it was he and the untamed imagination that radiated from his paintings that opened my eyes to a separate reality - and made me aware of a lot of powerful stuff that was at first hidden inside -, and eventually inspired me into creating jewelry and graphic designs in - what would become known as - the Native Woodland style. The intriguing discrepancy between drawing from ancestral tradition and working on the edge of contemporary art that I discovered in his work has greatly inspired me ever since and I am humbled to be part of a truly unique art form that since Copper Thunderbird drew his first paintings in the beach sand of the shores of Lake Nipigon, openly defies the narrow classification systems of Western thought.

For this, I will always be greatly indebted to him, and I know the same goes for my friend
Simone and many other artists, as well as countless artists in generations to come...


Source /Facebook post/: ~ Republished with permission ~

* -  Norval Morrisseau started creating the art as early as 1952.

>>> Reference posts:
- Spiritually Inspired Jewellery by Zhaawano Giizhik (Part VIII),
- Great Anishinaabe/Woodland Artists (Part XXIV),
  /Ref.: Simone McLeod/ &
- Norval Morrisseau a.k.a. Copper Thunderbird.

* An original acrylic painting on moose gut in this post: "Untitled," 45"x96", © 1980s Norval Morrisseau; Currently available for purchase at Bearclaw Gallery, Edmonton, Alberta.

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