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New exhibit mixes traditional symbolism with pop culture (5 photos)

When Raven Became Spider features work by six contemporary Indigenous artists; 'It's a good way to get exposed to Indigenous culture'

Indigenous art and pop culture may have more in common than most people think.

That's an idea that is explored by When Raven Became Spider, an exhibit at the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH), that is available until Aug. 26.

The exhibit features works by six contemporary Indigenous artists and storytellers who mix traditional symbolism, such as that of the trickster raven, into super-hero pop culture.

The raven is a trickster that always wants attention, but he also has a partner, the eagle, who is quiet, noble, and wise and is always shaking its wing at the raven’s tricks.

Two more traditional characters that are prominent in Indigenous storytelling are the badger and coyote, but those are missing in pop art.

The collection is a multi-pronged narrative approach that looks at the resilience of Indigenous people and their artwork, said curator Leena Minifie, who put together the collection with help from Dunlop Art Gallery and Regina Public Library.

“These are traditional characters that are mixed in these modern characters,” she said. “It’s about the hybridization and morphing of the traditional with the modern.”

The themes of the exhibit are empowerment of Indigenous females and contemporary Indigenous identity.

“It’s about turning around the idea of Indigenous women being victims,” said Minifie, who is a member of the Gitx’aala Nation.

“We have aunties, sisters, and mothers who are the backbone of families in many tribes,” she noted.

Traditional stories highlight figures, with super-heroic traits, who maintain their complexity, while contemporary comic book superheroes tend to be simply characterized as good or evil, reads the description for the exhibition.

Some of the works may depict modern-day superheroes in morphing from more traditional symbolism, but Minifie said, unlike the single transformation that happens in Hollywood movies, traditional stories are deeper.

“(The heroes) are not infallible in our stories,” she said. “In the traditional narrative, life is all about transformation and there’s compassion and empathy and more understanding.”

For the two dozen or so viewers who came out to the show opening Saturday afternoon, it was a chance to educate themselves about the cultural artworks of various territories and tribes in Turtle Island, said Ninette Gyorody, executive director of OMAH.

“It’s a good way to get exposed to Indigenous culture,” said Steve Duoloff, of Orillia. “The more you know about someone’s culture, the easier it is to know them.”

“It’s also an opportunity to engage with a younger audience,” said Gyorody.

Linda Baker agreed with that notion.

“This is a way to bring the traditional stories of the trickster to the Indigenous youngsters,” said the Oro-Medonte resident.

“It’s very engaging to look for the hidden symbols,” she said. “The way the symbols have been used in the art makes you look into it and draw your own conclusions.”

Duoloff also liked the juxtaposition of the Indigenous culture with the modern culture.

“It’s really interesting the way they’re always using shapes,” said the Orillia resident. “It flows very well and it’s symbolic, too.”