Out of Concealment: Female Supernatural Beings of Haida Gwaii
At the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art until April 5
Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, whose Haida name is Gid7ahl-Gudsllaay Lalaxaaygans, is a wonder. Artist, writer, activist, environmental lawyer, and knowledge-keeper, she is a powerful force in the preservation of Haida language, laws, and culture. She is also an award-winning musician and cofounder of the Haida Gwaii Singers Society.
Out of Concealment, her solo show at the Bill Reid Gallery, includes a few of Williams-Davidson’s Haida Gwaii–shot music videos, in which she is accompanied by saxophonist Claire Lawrence and guitarist Bill Henderson. Primarily, however, the exhibition consists of some two dozen ink-jet prints and backlit transparencies, conveying the artist’s creative interpretations of female supernatural beings and crest figures of the Haida. Sources include oral histories and origin stories, handed down to Williams-Davidson by her elders and also recorded in early ethnographies.
Using her own face and body as her raw material, she has worked with a team of photographers, designers, art directors, and hair and makeup artists to create digitally composited images of such beings as Sguuluu Jaad, Foam Woman and Ts’uu K’waayga, Cedar Sister. Studio-shot portraits have been digitally integrated into natural settings in Haida Gwaii, their locations according with oral narratives while also speaking to environmental issues and the interconnectedness of all things. As well, the images include faint, almost ghostly reproductions of artworks by her renowned husband, Robert Davidson, establishing a connection between Williams-Davidson’s photographic portraits of these beings and more familiar and long-standing depictions of them in wood and paint.
Among the most striking images here is Xuuya Gaada White Raven, with Williams-Davidson dressed in white and assuming the role of Raven before she/he steals the light from the supernatural Chief’s bentwood box and bestows it upon the world. Also powerful is her Taw Xaasdll Jadd Oil Spill Woman, a black-clad, nontraditional figure intended to illustrate the environmental devastation an oil spill would bring to Haida Gwaii.
Not to be overlooked is Morgan Asoyuf’s Royal Portrait show in the upper gallery. Composed of extraordinary jewellery in a range of materials, from bear claws to engraved and oxidized silver, along with four delicately carved and inlaid frontlets and a painted drum, the show honours Ts’msyen matriarchs. It complements the strength and beauty of Williams-Davidson’s supernatural beings—matriarchs of another realm.