Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

“a plea for salvation”


I have been reading a book this last while about the Inuit from the late 1950s, and how they were mis-directed by those in the south. The Inuit ended up in this perilous situation where they were at the point of starvation and suffering diseases with which they had no control over. This book reminded me of the stories I’ve read of this similar situation — and how the shaman must have been under great pressure to help the people with the plight they were in. In the book the people that the author talks about were the people of the caribou. In this piece I made it about the fish and the seal.

This is only my third piece of whale bone employing this vertebrae shape. The first two were owls. With this one I wanted to make something different — and thought that it could be a shaman — taking on other animal forms and contorting his body.

I had brought this piece of bone out in my studio some time ago to have a look at — and began to feel that I wanted to have a head attached. I went through a number of ideas for the back end of the bone — I tried a whale’s tail, a fish tail, and even feet — only to come to the conclusion that it looked better with seal flippers. Wanting to use as much of the bone shape as possible, I added the fin shapes from a rainbow trout to the top and bottom edges. Again, pushing that idea of the shaman taking on animal features.

He clenches the drum and the drum stick, indicating that this is a very serious situation. In his right hand he holds the drum stick, which I turned into a brush on the other side (which is a reference to the story where the shaman descends into the undersea to see Sedna and brush her hair). In his left hand he holds the drum — with the trapped fish which he wishes for her to release.

Quite by accident I came across a piece of serpentine that turned out to be a perfect fit for the head. I was able to get his hair to be free-flowing — but at the same time have this traumatic look and feel about it. His mouth is open and his eyes staring wide, as if he were pleading directly to Sedna.

—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.