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Winter Solstice 2014

Winter Solstice: celebrating the coming of light

November 22 – December 21, 2014

The annual Winter Solstice arrives on December 21st, and this new group exhibition opens November 22nd at our Gastown gallery to celebrate the coming of light.  An exclusive invitation-only reception will be held with a demonstration of a cultural ceremony to open the exhibition.

Amongst many indigenous cultures, the Winter Solstice is an epic worldwide event when the “sun stands still” and the year begins anew – this is a time of new growth with a focus on the celestial beings of Sun and Moon in harmony with wildlife and mankind.

Traditionally, First Nations peoples perceived time as a continuous annual cycle with the solstice marking a shift in the universe when the ocean water would swell and the earth would reverse.

Although there are variations on the belief system surrounding the solstice amongst differing nations, all refer to the Sun in some way to foretell the upcoming year. The responsibility of watching the Sun rise and set at solstice traditionally fell to Shamans or experts in astronomy; however, individuals also maintained a calendar system and had the capability to roughly determine solstices by the position of the Sun.

Relying heavily upon the ocean for resources and sustenance, First Nations peoples were beholden to the tides, which ebbed and flowed under the influence of the Moon. This relationship between the tides and solstice plays a part in their cultural spiritualism.

Many nations held Winter Potlatches and ceremonies in conjunction with solstice when the ocean was in its most volatile state.  Their daily activities were affected by the ocean’s cycle, from fishing and harvesting to more elaborate decisions, such as where to build a longhouse and how to transport oneself across waterways.  As well, these ceremonies would signal a time to begin harvesting crustaceans that collected in the tide pools along the shoreline, such as clams, abalone, crabs, and other sea life.

For the Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwaka’wakw regions, the time of Winter Solstice was determined by sitting by the ocean at dawn and dusk, watching the Sun rise and fall at slightly different places along the skyline. Each day, the difference was marked and compared to the previous years.  During this time, if the Sun travelled further north than usual, a plentiful year with a good Salmon run was to be expected. If the solstice occurred during a waning Moon, it likewise indicated a year of substantial harvest. However, if a waxing Moon ensued, the year was forecast to be filled with sickness and famine.

Winter Solstice was particularly important for communities that relied heavily upon whaling. Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish whalers made contact with their supernatural counterparts during solstice, drawing spirits and whales into a complex network of communication in order to prepare for the hunt.

The upcoming Winter Solstice exhibition features a diverse contemporary collection grounded in historic utilitarian objects, which includes ceremonial masks, paddles, rattles, wearable art and more.  Represented are acclaimed and internationally-renowned artists who explore their personal and cultural connections to this momentous time of year.

Here are a few highlights from the new works:

Woven Forest serigraph by Susan Point, RCA (Coast Salish)

“It is vital that we all continue to discover the intricate weave of life on earth. I’ve spent much of my time working, and with family in the Coastal, Columbian and Montane forest regions of British Columbia, it remains evident to me there are vast connections between organisms, plants and animals yet to be understood. These relationships are demonstrated from microscopic scale, to the much broader measure between these huge ecological regions. The coniferous Columbian region merges with Coast, Montane and Sub-alpine forest regions and in these special overlapping areas is where I am most fascinated by the unmistakable bird species that cross these seeming boundaries.” – Susan Point

Harvest Moon bracelet by Barry Wilson (Haisla)

Barry Wilson’s Harvest Moon bracelet is an exquisitely carved piece representing a vital relationship between elements in nature. The artist’s precise and clean style, exceptional inlay technique, and ability to carve a narrative makes it distinctive.

Barry states that the Harvest Moon represents a time of year when food supplies are at their height. The Sea Lion is provided with an abundance of Salmon, as are the Haisla people. The Haisla rely upon the Sea Lion’s annual hunt of the Salmon run to know when is the best time to fish. Only after the Sea Lion has finished its feasting do the Haisla begin their harvest.   This process is determined by the Moon’s cycle, upon which the Haisla base certain ceremonies and cultural practices. The Moon also forecasts weather conditions and changes to the environment, allowing the Haisla people to prepare for the months ahead.

Kwii-cu-iik-nas: The Whole of Nature mask by Tim Paul, RCA (Nuu-chah-nulth)

Kwil-cu-iik-nas
“The whole nature encompasses everything
The light, the over compassing power, the life giver
Long ago there was no reference to male or female
Kwii-cu-iik-nas was everything
The whole as one we are relative to nature.”       

– Tim Paul   

Winter Moon mask by Tom Paul (Nuu-chah-nulth)

Winter Moon is an intricately detailed mask from one of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation’s foremost artists. This contemporary design blends both modern and traditional elements incorporating aspects of the winter forest.

Slightly abstract, this work reflects the ongoing theme of the Nuu-chah-nulth’s thirteen Moons, while experimenting with new ways of designing and configuring forms. The Moon told of the arrival of food sources such as the Salmon’s return and the extent of certain crops.

Culturally, each Moon was characterized by images that represented that particular time of year – such are the delicate snow motifs and colors in this mask. The small white figure on the left-hand side of the central moon face depicts the wind that brings the great flood waters. Each winter these waters wash the earth and prepare for a new beginning.

Vision Quest: A new year, a new me? mask by Doug David (Nuu-chah-nulth)

“This mask is a personal statement – an inner reflection that occurs during a vision quest, when we enter the forest for four days and nights, alone, seeking knowledge and understanding. Most often, the best journeys are ones where we must overcome obstacles to succeed. In my personal experience, my best moments of inner reflection occur during the winter. We are quieted from the hustle and bustle of spring and summer activities and, for the most part, chores and responsibilities are taken care of.

This mask represents a man on a vision quest during winter solstice. The opaque paint leads to the questions: is he fading or is he coming back? What is changing? Who will notice? His exterior is faded at points, showing his inner self as it emerges. His eyes are focused inwards on himself, not outward at the world around him. He is at one with the world at this moment” – Doug David

Coastal Peoples wishes to express their gratitude to this remarkable group of gifted artists who continue to deepen our appreciation of and respect for their thriving culture.

Visitors are welcome Monday through Saturday 10am – 6pm and Sunday 11am – 6pm.

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