Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

“the ties that bind us”


I base most of my works on actual events in my own life, or from stories I have read and from which I then try and come up with an idea that will work. I have always been very interested in spiritual belief, and this work “the ties that bind us” came about through my interpretation of the many books and articles I have encountered over the years that have dealt with both animist (shamanic) and Christian practices — two entities that are both powerful in their own right.

As I read, watched, or listened to the stories of the times when people were told that the practice of Shamanism was the same as worshiping the devil, I found this unbelievable to me — how could an outsider have so much power and authority in a land that wasn’t his? The threat for those who continued to practice these “pagan” ways was incarceration or worse. I was outraged — but as I continued to listen, I began to understand: the aboriginal cultures were, for the most part, very welcoming, and because of this it became their downfall. By that I mean they were so welcoming that they did not see or understand what was coming until it was much too late. This piece — the ties that bind us — is my take on this very statement.

I wanted to use an image that was as shamanistic as possible, because in many cases the use of this kind of image was completely wiped out in the communities. The face is simultaneously that of a muskox, a walrus, and a human. When it came time to make the horns I decided to make them out of copper and then cover it in gold leaf. The idea of the gold leaf came to me because historically the depictions of Christ, Mary, or other religious figures often had a golden glow around their heads… and for the most part gold leaf was used.

The body of the form has a human left hand and right foot, whereas the right hand is a blend of the human hand and a flipper, and the left foot/flipper is that of a walrus. I did this because if you draw imaginary lines from one appendage to the matching one it forms a cross shape. The torso and the tail are again a blend of human and fish form. For the body of the fish I used brass to give the effect of that spotted pattern on char and trout, which also visually leads the eye from the gold in the horns to the pattern on the fish. The ribs that show very slightly is to allude to the fact that people have starved over the loss of the practice.

I have presented the figure seemingly sitting and turning backwards — at first it was to be a startled motion — but now it makes the case that their backs are not going to be turned any more. He pulls the staff from his shoulder, in representation that he has been shouldering this for many years. And I have placed the kakivak in his hand as if he is holding onto it very gently, as how he looked at life in the beginning.

—Michael Massie

Michael Massie

Michael Massie


Inuit, Métis

Happy Valley - Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

(1962- )

Massie’s work is a reflection of his mixed Inuit, Métis and Scottish heritage. In it, he investigates both traditional and contemporary themes. He has achieved renown for his innovative teapots that combine themes and symbols from his native Inuit culture with European traditions. Massie has been twice short-listed for the coveted Prix Saidye Bronfman and has an extensive international reputation. His work has been shown in North America and Europe, including the National Gallery of Canada. He was elected a member of Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2011.