Category Archives: Art

Thursday Special: Vodou

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This was an exhibition that was new to me at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. The warning that part of the exhibition might cause discomfort or surprise spurred my curiosity to take a look. As it turned out, it was a thought-provoking and educational display on the origin, history and the practice of Vodou.

Vodou came to the New World from West Africa and took root in Haiti blending with local religious beliefs. The first group of exhibits were artifacts inspired by Vodou. On display was a Vodou shrine in the size of a small closet where Vodou could be practiced at home.

A wall was dedicated to the time-line of Vodou in Haiti, where colonizers who were Catholics denounced Vodou as superstition and considered it to be evil and barbaric. This drove Vodouists into clandestine practice and they formed their secret societies.

A central belief in Vodou is the interconnection of the spiritual world after death and the world we live in. This is achieved through Lwa, which are special spirits also manifesting the presence of the Great Met (the Vodou god). Lwa can appear in many shapes and forms. This one is an example:

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Vodouists communicates more easily with Lwa and when they do, they enter into a state commonly known as “possession”. The vodouists do not suffer and they return to their own selves afterwards.

On display were drums and artifacts used in special ceremonies and a video played the dancing, chanting and trance-like condition of vodouists to the rhythm of drums.

The exhibits looked more menacing towards the end of the exhibition, as they represented the darkness of persecution by the colonists and the struggle by vodouists for freedom and independence . Vodou also became synonymous with the fight against slavery at the time.

Haiti became independent in 1804 and Vodou was officially recognized in Haiti in 2003.

One of the goals of the exhibition was to dispel the notion that Vodou was associated with curses and the popular image of a Vodou doll that people poke with needles. In this exhibition, I saw a lot of parallel between Vodou and many other indigenous folk beliefs all over the world. Believers were persecuted in the name of religion by colonizers or invaders in human history. It is unfortunate that political domination is linked hand in hand with the attempt to eradicate the collective meanings of a culture that has become the subordinate. Would it not be a better world if we were more tolerant of differences?

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For more Thursday Specials this week, please visit Paul’s blog Lost in Translation.jupiter-widget_text

Public Art On The Trails

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Other than enjoying nature’s beauty on my walks or hikes, I also notice a myriad of public art. They are usually simple, neat artistic creations, some likely commissioned by the city to decorate open spaces, yet others are contributions by unknown artistic talents who want to express themselves on the trails. They always attract me to slow down and admire the details. Here are my recent collection to share with you.

Sonel’s Black and White Weekly Photo Challenge: ABSTRACT

This is my first time entering Sonel’s Black and White Challenge with pictures for the theme Abstract. I am inspired by blog friend Michael’s post in reitreediary in which he says, “We know what abstract is when we see one.”. When I walked past these two sculptures standing across the road from each other on Broadway, Saskatoon, I did not know what they were, but they certainly appeared “abstract” to me.

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A Kurelek Connection in Saskatoon

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William Kurelek was born in Alberta Canada to Ukrainian parents and his grandparents came to Edmonton in 1924 in the second wave of Ukrainian immigration. Kurelek was a prolific painter in spite of his short life. He was renowned for depicting the life of early settlers, particularly Ukrainian pioneers in his paintings. Several members of the board of directors of the Ukrainian Museum in Saskatoon met Kurelek to commission him to paint a collection to celebrate Canada’s Centennial. Kurelek spent about three years between 1964 and 1967 and produced 20 paintings focussing on the life of the pioneer Ukrainian women. He was working in his studio in Toronto at that time. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada did not have enough funds for all the paintings, and only paid Kurelek for twelve of them, now on display in the Special Collection Gallery behind the brass door, which were the original front doors of the museum in the Ukrainian Museum in Saskatoon.
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This is undoubtedly a precious collection that I have not come across before in publications on Kurelek’s art. Six smaller paintings in glass frames recorded the daily chores of the pioneer women–serving a meal, painting pysanka (Easter egg), engaging laundry, daily prayer, embroidery, and helping a child to read. Each painting tells a story and one is naturally drawn towards the facial expressions of the figures in an attempt to guess what is on their mind or what they are saying.

Six larger paintings are about community life, such going to church, farming, an outdoor picnic and dance. This painting is unique in that it shows a meeting of the Association of Ukrainian Women in session.

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I like this one with aurelius borealis in the night sky with mother and daughter returning with their supplies.

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The community party with exudes gaiety and festivities is more well-known  and a little boy, likely Kurelek himself, has climbed up the tree to watch the activities and scenes like this are based on the painter’s recollection of his childhood in the prairies.

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This collection is painted in oil on panel. The details and the fineness of the stroke are the work of a great master. One has to be face to face with the painting to appreciate the talent of Kurelek.

The Gallery also presents a documentary made in 1983 on Kurelek. There is  sub-titles if you do not know Ukrainian.

Ukrainian Museum of Canada, 910 Spadina Crescent East, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

A Word A Week Challenge: UNEXPECTED

I was walking across Broadway Bridge in Saskatoon. When I looked over the south side of the bridge, I saw the most UNEXPECTED sight: Painted rocks and stones!  (I am very pleased that it fits Sue’s A Word A Week Theme : Unexpected for this week.)

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I had no idea who did them or how they got there along the river bank, and people I asked did not seem to know either. Anyway, it’s a fun and pretty sight. Saskatoon has more interesting things to discover than most people think. To give you a better idea, this is the location (A):

PLEASE click here to see a bigger view of where the rocks are:

https://maps.google.ca/maps?q=Broadway+Bridge,+Saskatoon,+SK&hl=en&ll=52.121459,-106.659208&spn=0.000484,0.000955&sll=49.303974,-84.738438&sspn=11.814539,31.289062&oq=broadway+bridge+saskta&t=h&hq=Broadway+Bridge,&hnear=Saskatoon,+Division+No.+11,+Saskatchewan&z=20

Tracing the History of Ukrainian Immigration in Saskatoon

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I lived near the Royal University Hospital on the eastern side of town during my recent visit to Saskatoon. Located across the South Saskatchewan River on the west bank is the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. The museum is governed by a board of directors under the authority of the Ukrainian Women’s Association, which was instrumental in establishing the museum in 1936, and for its move to the present location in 1979. The museum has been collecting artifacts from across Canada to preserve the Ukrainian heritage in this country .

The museum has three exhibit areas. The Main Gallery has a permanent exhibition on the history of Ukrainian immigration to Canada, the Special Collection Gallery is dedicated to the paintings of William Kurelek, and a  Feature Gallery displaying the other collections of the museum, which otherwise are stored in the basement,  on a periodic basis.

The Main Gallery features articles collected primarily from the first wave of immigration of the Ukrainians to Canada. The exhibits tell the story of how hardship in Ukraine around 1890 -1913, combined with the promotion of immigration from Canada motivated many Ukrainians to leave their homes and travelled to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatoon. The Canadian government gave each family 160 acres of land–a homestead–for the value of only $10 with the only condition that the immigrants must farm the land. There are immigration documents, land deeds, birth certificates and baptism papers on display. Household artifacts–farming implements, spindle and loom–and a large collection of costumes and accessories from western Ukraine are among the exhibits. The embroidery is complicated and delicate. There were an entire cabinet of pysanky (Ukrainian painted Easter eggs) and detailed explanations on the symbolism of the colours and how a pysanka is made.

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The first wave of immigration was halted by the First World War. When it resumed, the second wave continued up to the Second World War, and the third wave took place in the 1950’s. The last two waves were not as massive an exodus, because there was no incentive from the Canadian government. After Ukraine became an independent state in 1981, immigration continued at a steady pace.

The collection is well presented and educational. At the end of my tour, I develop a deep respect for the Ukrainian women in the pioneer days for their hard work in maintaining the household and daily routine while the men were occupied in farming and mining. Their influence has carried on into the present day with the establishment of this museum and their effort to secure a special collection of William Kurelek’s paintings. More on this when I write about the Kurelek collection.

Ukranian Museum of Canada, 910 Spadina Crescent E., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.