Celebrating Norval Morrisseau’s life and art
- Tiffany Head | February 12, 2015
The Plain Red Art Gallery at First Nations University of Canada held a Symposium honoring the art and life of Norval Morriseau. The Galleries mission is to represent Indigenous visual art practice, culture and history currently found in the province of Saskatchewan. Five presenters talked about Morrisseau’s life, artwork and career and each one brought their own distinct insights to Morrisseau’s artwork and his development and contribution to Canadian Aboriginal art.
Barry Ace, a visual artist and writer from M’Chigeen First Nation on Manitoulin Island in Ontario talked a bit about the history of Morrisseau’s life, his influences and how he came from a family knowledgeable in traditional mythology, legends and spirituality. Morrisseau was raised in this dichotomy of two spiritual views where his grandfather was a Midewiwin, a spiritual society, and his grandmother was a devout Roman Catholic. Norval was concerned with what he believed was the decline of culture and tradition and wanted to promote culture revitalization.
“He was influenced by the iconography that he would have seen on his grandfather’s Midewiwin scrolls. He would have seen figures with lifelines showing transparencies of spirituality and then he would have seen a lot of beadwork and so he kind of took the bright colors and the color gradation of the beadwork and integrated into the etching he would have seen on the birch bark scrolls and that helped him to develop his unique style,” Ace said.
Dr. Carmen Robertson is an art historian who teaches Indigenous art history. She has recently finished writing a book on Morrisseau and his complicated history with Canada’s media since 1962. She gives her perspective on Morrisseau’s art and how he was a real trailblazer.
“He hasn’t gotten his full due, that’s because of the racial politics in this country. But his work, what he does is he’s created a visual language that brings together Anishinaabe cultural tradition, his own personal ideas and of course colonialist ideas that he’s responding to and he created a direction in art that no one else had ever done. To me he is pivotally important to the history of art in this country,” Robertson said.