Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

“the optimistic shaman”


This artwork was on display at the Harbourfront Centre (Toronto) as part of the Michael Massie solo exhibition Shaping Stories, co-presented by the Spirit Wrestler Gallery. June 27 to September 13, 2009.

While thinking what to make from this particular piece of stone, I began looking through back copies of the Inuit Art Quarterly and came across one of David Ruben Piqtoukun’s pieces: shaman banished to the bottom of the sea (for his misdeeds), [Vol.18, No.4, Winter 2003, pg. 23]. It was the title that inspired me to make this piece — I became curious as to what the misdeeds actually were — and began looking for the answer. I came across another piece by David that was very similar to the one I was looking at in the Quarterly. The story of that piece was that of a shaman that had made mistakes while performing a ritual on someone and that person almost died. The people of the community angrily banished him to the bottom of the sea.

Now I was getting somewhere! I had read that David likes to incorporate his own experiences and happenings to the stories of his pieces. So here is where my story comes in.

We all have done something in our lives that could be considered a misdeed, so with this piece I wanted it to represent us all. For some, they ponder what they did — and for others, they could care less. For those who don’t care, the banishment will be longer (and I truly believe that what goes around comes around). For those who try to understand what it was that they did and then try and learn from their mistake, their banishment won’t be as long because they come to view their exile as a learning tool. To be actually physically banished likely won’t happen to many of us, but the sense of isolation from others can be very disheartening. To explain why there are two eyes on one side and only one on the other, you need to know the first few weeks of the life of a fish called a flounder. I chose the flounder because it is of the flatfish family — and when I began reading about them I was surprised to learn about their eyes. When a flounder is first hatched, his eyes are normal… one on each side of the head. After a few weeks the left eye moves to the right side of the head and this eye then becomes colourless. I thought this to be very strange and interesting at the same time.

On this piece, the side that has just one eye — this is the shaman contemplating on what it is that he has done. The treatment of the body is to illustrate the transformation that he (and we) go through with the acceptance of what it was that caused us to be so isolated in the first place. On the other side (that has two eyes), I wanted to show that this shaman has been there at the bottom of the sea for some time. This shaman is still in denial and looks ahead, almost as if he is trying to explain why it was that he was banished in the first place! But, as with the flounder, he looks up in the hopes that he will figure out his mistakes and will be able soon to return to the surface.

—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.