A good friend of mine, Kenny, found this whalebone in St. George’s on the beach there a few years ago. He continued to look after he found this piece, but was not fortunate enough to find more. I have had this bone in my studio for some time now — but wouldn’t touch it until I could see what it could become. But sitting here with this piece, the first artist that came to my mind was Karoo Ashevak.
As you know, I like to let the original shape speak in my work — so from the time that I first looked at the form until the time I first started to mark out where bone was to stay and what was to be removed, I didn’t want to carve away too much bone to achieve full forms (i.e.: human or animal). From there I wanted the forms to all intermingle with each other — as I think that this would be how the spirits would be in the spirit world, intermingled and communicating with one another.
To begin the story on this piece would be to describe a situation that has happened to so many families in the north (and not that far in the past). A community is in dire need of food — fresh food — as the food that has sustained them to this point was from last year’s catch…and what was left now were the meager portions that, in good times, would be left for the dogs. The people of the community gather in the largest igloo, which the men had built for the shaman to perform his chant to enter the spirit world and the hope of meeting with the sea-goddess, Sedna. Having made contact, the shaman could talk to her and explain the situation, in the hope of her releasing the sea creatures so the people could once again have food and skins for clothing.
After a successful meeting with Sedna, the shaman returns to the human world to tell of his journey. He told of how he had the Owl as a helping spirit to guide him to the spirit world, and once there he met with a powerful walrus spirit. Using his ability to shape-shift (and become another creature), he enlisted the help of the walrus spirit to help him reach Sedna, who was at the very bottom of the sea. He tells the people that when he arrived in Sedna’s domain, he respectful asked her for permission to enter and discuss the conditions in his human world. After much talking and listening on both sides, she finally decided to release the sea creatures. She reminded him of the rules of respect — and how they must not be broken — for if they are, the next time we would not be as fortunate.
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.
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