Student’s work inspired by art of Qap’u’luq, John Marston titled
Many artists try to use their compositions to create a soulful connection with the land; “Ascending Faith” is a work that represents this concept.
This wood sculpture was created by Salish Artist, John Marston in 2015 and installed at its current site in the North Vancouver Cemetery. Marston’s teacher was the famous Salish carver, Simon Charli, meaning the inspiration for this work was rooted in Salish culture.
The carved statue features a woman with eyes tightly closed in prayer. Her prayers turn into feathers, and these feathers are made into blankets which represent her spiritual power to protect herself. She is standing on a traditional ceremonial box composed of two different faces, representing the sun of hope to the front of the figure and the moon of sleep to the rear. On the figure’s head stands an owl, whose significance is mentioned by Elmendorf (1993) as connecting people’s thoughts to the spiritual world.
Marginalization is the act of relegating a group of people to an unimportant position in politics, culture, and the economy (Pannekoek, 2001). According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG), “In many parts of the world, Indigenous peoples suffer from a history of discrimination and exclusion that has left them on the margins of the larger societies in which they exist”.
This situation has also happened in North Vancouver, where First Nations peoples are still suffering the consequences of colonialism. The more stories and histories are shared by Indigenous people, and the more work exhibited by Indigenous artists at museums, the more it will foment resistance to injustices and to the legacies of colonization.
The reason why I chose this sculpture is that it represents the image of a mother. Djiniyini (1985) states that the land is people’s mother. People are born from the land and will go back to the land. The land we inhabit becomes part of our identity.
What happens when that land is taken away or, equally, when people are taken away from it? When the land is taken from people or destroyed, they feel hurt because they belong to the land and are part of it.
When Indigenous people lost their land, they also lost their identity. For example, not very long ago, Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools. Here, the children experienced racism (Gray Smith, 2017). Today, the government attempts to issue laws and policies to make up for the atrocities committed at residential schools. According to Kabatay and Johnson (2019), British Columbia updated its curriculum to include more First Nations knowledge and learning in 2015 in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
I am an international student; if I did not have this class, I would not have done research about this land. This means that I would not have had the chance to visit this wooden sculpture, nor would I have been able to discuss relevant history or stories with my friends and family.
Indigenous artists’ efforts to raise awareness about their connection with the land can be seen through their art pieces. Sanchez (2018) says in her TED Talk that, “This history is not your fault, but it is absolutely your responsibility”. The history of colonization is a complex global phenomenon, which everyone should care about.
THIS HISTORY IS NOT YOUR FAULT, BUT IT IS ABSOLUTELY YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.
Gray Smith (2017) brings to our attention that “in some Nations, sweetgrass is braided using seven strands. Each strand represents one of the Seven Sacred Teachings” (p. 22). In reflecting about the significance of the strands, I used some threads as the raw materials for my art work to emphasize the meaning of connection. The process involved stapling nails to the wood board to fix the general outline and then winding the thread clockwise between the nails. The connection can be an association between my identity and my social locations. Each nail represents a different experience or social category, and a complex interweaving of threads connects these nails to form the final piece. On the other hand, this connection can also be a link with the land. The sculpture is about the mother image, and the land is the people’s mother. Without the wood board to hold them all in place, the nails would be meaningless—much like people who, without a connection to the land, may lose their identity.