âkâm'askîhk ᐋᑳᒼ'ᐊᐢᑮ (Across the Land)
These film works are a series of meditations that relay various artistic conceptions of the land. The artists’ earthly visuals help induce emotional responses to stories ranging from humourous to tragic, producing deep reflections about their visual world. The five videos from VUCAVU’s online database show a diversity of cultures and beliefs from local to international artists. Contrasting Native and non-Native, artists and directors, purposefully expands understandings of how various people see and value the land. In past misconceptions about our Aboriginal culture, there existed a Romantic notion of the “Indian living harmoniously with the land.” My curatorial undertaking aims to demonstrate, through a diversity of artistic voices, from many backgrounds, how each artist conveys how they want to belong and connect to their natural surroundings. The artists are from âkâm'askîhk (Across the land) (1).
SWEAT is a short film of just over four minutes, and is a gently moving piece that describes artist/director Kristin Snowbird’s first experience during an Indigenous ceremonial sweat. The piece does not film the sacred event in which she participated. This particular event took place when she was much younger, and is incredibly personal, not allowed for public spectacle. Snowbird's work alludes to the ceremony through atmospheric views of the forest as well as abstract visuals and sounds that she heard and felt while she was in the small, crowded hot lodge. The actual filming of an old lodge is borrowed from a friend’s acreage in which ceremonies have not been practiced for several years. Still, the surrounding forest holds a beautiful, hushed, and palpable power and knowledge that can be felt while standing near the small and intertwined branches of the shelter.
The film begins with a visual of the motionless artist in the woods during an autumn dusk evening. The artist's thick black and red hair is in a diagonal French braid across her head. She deliberately incorporates the image of her braided hair because of its connotations, particularly to the Sweetgrass braid, a metaphor for her location and her Ojibway / Cree identity. Sweetgrass grows naturally all over the prairies, and more importantly is a medicine that indigenous cultures use for sacred, spiritual cleansing. Generally, the braid can represent personal strength, wisdom, and Aboriginal identity. The belief is that with each addition of more hair (or Sweetgrass) the interweaving becomes a stronger entity, a stronger bonding.
The artist slowly narrates her experience while mentally preparing herself for the sweat. The birch bark trees’ rushing, intense movement conveys Snowbird's anxiety as she travels through the landscape. Dark fire scenes allude to the ceremony, as well as the artist dancing in her coloured red, white and blue ribbons, followed by the sudden flapping of a wing. The elder she spoke to at the end of the ceremony interprets that the eagle spirit had visited the artist during the sacred event. This experience remains an intense, vivid experience that Snowbird recounts to this day.
(1) “From the first time I heard about this project I had been concerned about what speaking to the land might mean, and especially that it might evoke a certain familiar Romanticism about the mystical Indigenous connection to the land and nature. Although this supposed connection is framed “positively” in the Romantic tradition, I had long recognized that the assumption of an unmediated (and thus a cultural) connection to nature was a threat to Indigenous agency, not a boon.” – Richard Hill, Speaking into Ayum‑ee‑aawach Oomama‑mowan: Speaking to Their Mother, Walter Phillips Gallery/Banff Centre Press, 2016, pg 24.
Sweetgrass grows naturally all over the prairies, and more importantly is a medicine that indigenous cultures use for sacred, spiritual cleansing. Generally, the braid can represent personal strength, wisdom, and Aboriginal identity. The belief is that with each addition of more hair (or Sweetgrass) the interweaving becomes a stronger entity, a stronger bonding.