Kanata: Bear­ing Wit­ness

‘Re­al­ize the beauty in what was, and re­ju­ve­nate the old by bal­anc­ing it with the new’

Our Canada - - Contents - By Carey New­man, Vic­to­ria

Indige­nous artist Carey New­man be­lieves learn­ing from the past is the key to a bet­ter fu­ture.

My name is Carey New­man; my tra­di­tional name is Hay­althkin’ geme. On my fa­ther’s side, through my grand­mother, I am Coast Sal­ish from Cheam of the Sto:lo Na­tion, along the up­per Fraser Val­ley. Through my grand­fa­ther, I de­scend from the Kuk­wekum, Gik­sam and Wawal­abei’i Namima of the Kwak­waka’ wakw Na­tion on North­ern Van­cou­ver Is­land. On my mother’s side, I am English, Ir­ish and Scot­tish.

I grew up know­ing that one half of my fam­ily ben­e­fit­ted from the same colo­nial struc­tures that harmed the other half. I was home or free schooled un­til post-sec­ondary. Mu­sic and art lessons, build­ing fur­ni­ture with my grand­fa­ther, con­struct­ing a four-storey tree house, sports, read­ing books and play­ing with num­bers, watch­ing my fa­ther work, learn­ing to carve, at­tend­ing pot­latches and cul­tural classes were all part of my child­hood ed­u­ca­tion. These early ex­pe­ri­ences com­bined to form my iden­tity and in­di­gene­ity, and con­tinue to in­form my artis­tic prac­tice and my per­spec­tives on art, cul­ture and the process of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

I be­lieve that novel

artis­tic ex­pres­sion, from a per­son raised within cul­tural ways and un­der­stand­ing of na­tion­hood, is not only the def­i­ni­tion of a con­tem­po­rary Indige­nous artist, it is ev­i­dence of sur­vival and resur­gence. Cul­tural prac­tice and tra­di­tional cer­e­mony are vi­tal to the en­durance of Indige­nous ways, but cre­at­ing anew, as op­posed to cre­at­ing again, is the distinc­tion be­tween sub­sis­tence and holis­tic recla­ma­tion.

As a con­tem­po­rary Coast Sal­ish and Kwag­iulth artist, from as far back as my mem­ory reaches, I work in wood, stone, glass, metal and dig­i­tal me­dia. I de­sign and cre­ate ev­ery­thing from fine jew­ellery to gi­ant totems, from steel sculp­tures to a trav­el­ling mon­u­ment. I have co-di­rected a doc­u­men­tary, pro­duced a mo­bile app, stud­ied clas­si­cal pi­ano and been a pro­fes­sional opera singer. Through pub­lic com­mis­sions and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment projects, my artis­tic and so­cial jus­tice in­ter­ests have in­ter­sected, and I have be­come an ad­vo­cate for Indige­nous rights, speak­ing pub­licly about and work­ing to­wards un­der- stand­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, de­col­o­niza­tion, Indige­nous iden­tity and na­tion­hood.

Early in my ca­reer, I be­lieved in, and ac­tively sought, per­fec­tion. I would pore over each de­sign ele­ment, each knife stroke and of­ten joked that I was never fin­ished a piece un­til it was raised up out of my reach. With the com­ple­tion of each work, in spite of all that I didn’t yet know, I would bask in the fleet­ing sat­is­fac­tion of il­lu­sory per­fec­tion. Each assess­ment lack-

ing pe­riph­ery, each time de­ceived by my ego and naiveté. When I even­tu­ally be­came cog­nizant of this, I was un­set­tled by the fu­til­ity of that cy­cle, and it took some deep con­tem­pla­tion and a shift in my fun­da­men­tal thought process to re­gain my foot­ing. That was the mo­ment I truly be­came an artist, be­cause that was the mo­ment I un­teth­ered my­self from the con­straints of ex­pec­ta­tion and lim­its of eco­nomic con­cerns. Un­til then I had worked to­ward the price that I put upon a pro­posed com­mis­sion, let­ting bud­get place pa­ram­e­ters upon my prac­tice. With­out those prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, I was free to dis­cover, de­fine and to work to­ward my own artis­tic ideals, search­ing for ways to in­te­grate both deeper mean­ing and tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tion into my pieces. It took ex­pe­ri­ence and self-ex­am­i­na­tion to get to where I can look at my past works, see the im­per­fec­tions in not only form and tech­nique, but also in mo­ti­va­tion and artis­tic ide­ol­ogy, and rec­og­nize them as foun­da­tional to build­ing my abil­i­ties and strength­en­ing my vi­sion. I no longer seek per­fec­tion; in­stead I pur­sue ex­cel­lence, aware that I should al­ways strive to ex­ceed my­self, tak­ing sat­is­fac­tion in the process. My path­way to mean­ing­ful artis­tic ex­pres­sion is crit­i­cal re­flec­tion and life­long learn­ing.

In 1996 I opened the Blue Raven Gallery, mar­ket­ing my work and the work of my fam­ily and fel­low artists. Af­ter com­plet­ing more than 20 sell-out edi­tions, and slowly de­vel­op­ing my carv­ing skills, I found my­self in a po­si­tion to ac­cept and com­plete pri­vate com­mis­sions for cor­po­ra­tions, gov­ern­ment agen­cies and mu­se­ums from around the world.

In 2008, I was se­lected as the mas­ter carver of the Cowichan 2008 Spirit Pole, a jour­ney that al­lowed

me to travel to the prov­ince of Bri­tish Columbia, shar­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of carv­ing a 20-foot totem with more than 1,000 peo­ple. In 2009, I was se­lected from a na­tional call to artists by VANOC (Van­cou­ver Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee for the 2010 Win­ter Olympics), and won the right to cre­ate a large in­stal­la­tion. The piece I cre­ated, ti­tled “Danc­ing Wind,” was fea­tured dur­ing the Games, con­sist­ing of four large pan­els made from stain­less steel, cedar and glass.

My in­volve­ment with the cul­tural com­mu­nity ex­tends be­yond my art­work, as I am con­tin­u­ally learn­ing about my peo­ple’s his­tory and tra­di­tions, and, in the same way I bene- fit­ted from my fa­ther’s men­tor­ship early in my ca­reer, I now de­vote time to men­tor­ing younger artists.

One mem­o­rable un­der­tak­ing was com­plet­ing two totems with the “EA­GLE Project,” a life-skills and em­ploy­ment pro­gram for Abo­rig­i­nal youth that in­cor­po­rated carv­ing and rais­ing mon­u­men­tal totems as a cul­tural com­po­nent.

More re­cently, I en­gaged res­i­den­tial school sur­vivors, com­mu­nity mem­bers, and artists from across the coun­try in a largescale art in­stal­la­tion known as the Wit­ness Blan­ket. The name was cho­sen to re­flect the cul­tural prac­tice of wit­ness­ing as a form of record-keep­ing or truth-telling, and the blan­ket as a uni­ver­sal sym­bol of pro­tec­tion. Across many Na­tive cul­tures, the blan­ket iden­ti­fies who we are and where we’re from. We wear blan­kets in cer­e­mony and give them as gifts, as they pro­tect our young and com­fort our el­ders.

With that im­age as in­spi­ra­tion, the Wit­ness Blan­ket in­stal­la­tion was cre­ated from hun­dreds of items re­claimed from res­i­den­tial schools, churches, gov­ern­ment build­ings, and tra­di­tional and cul­tural struc­tures, in­clud­ing friend­ship cen­tres, band of­fices, treat­ment cen­tres and uni­ver­si­ties from across Canada.

The Wit­ness Blan­ket now stands as a na­tional mon­u­ment to rec­og­nize the atroc­i­ties of the In­dian Res­i­den­tial School era, hon­our the chil­dren, and sym­bol­ize the on­go­ing process of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Through it, we share truth and try to come to terms with the im­pacts of colo­nial his­tory, which through the cy­cle of in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma, per­sist in our com­mu­ni­ties to­day. Learn­ing from the past, cre­at­ing art based on our ac­cu­mu­lated knowl­edge, ex­pe­ri­ences and tra­di­tions, and en­cour­ag­ing for­ward move­ment to­wards a bet­ter fu­ture con­tinue to be key mo­ti­va­tors for me as an artist. n

Up­per left: Hu­man­ity, a wood carv­ing. Top right and be­low: Wit­ness Blan­ket ex­hibit, on dis­play at the Cana­dian Mu­seum for Hu­man Rights.

Above: a sam­pling of Carey’s work, from left to right—cowichan Spirit Pole; Danc­ing Wind; Red Ea­gle; Mind, Body and Spirit.

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