Print on photopaper, 36”x18”; mask, cedar, 24.2”x13.75”x10”
Reflections is a collaboration between two artists: Toronto photographer Marissa Magneson and North West Coast carver Joshua Prescott. The photograph depicts Joshua’s partially completed cedar mask floating on the bank of a river in Port Alberni, British Columbia. The mask and its reflection in the water mirror a discussion between two cousins that considers past, present, and future in one.
Reflections began as a dream and was brought into existence through my cousin Joshua and me (Marissa). Just before the piece was created, I had made the decision to embark on an independent study project using photography as a way of documenting my own journey towards reclaiming my cultural identity. As part of this, my mom introduced me to Joshua, who was on his own journey to reclaim the language of his children, Nuu-chah-nulth, which has fewer than 20 fluent speakers—most, over the age of 65. Inspired by Joshua’s work as a language activist and artist, I proposed that the two of us collaborate on an artistic project. In Joshua’s dream, we submerged one of his carved cedar masks in the river as a way of giving back to the land. I immediately felt that this was a dream we had to honour and so, in December 2017, I travelled to meet my cousin for the very first time.
Walking through the forest to a river that Joshua visits often, we stepped together into the frigid winter water, and quickly learned that the buoyant cedar mask simply could not be submerged as planned. And so, trusting in the process of collaborative art-making, we created something different.
Reflections symbolizes two artists, two cousins, coming together to engage in ancestral knowledge systems that inspire them to create. It also symbolizes an act of reclamation, as neither Joshua nor I had grown up with our cultures or languages. Colonization attempted to erase who we are but, through art, we are bringing back what was once lost but never forgotten.
Métis activist and language and culture defender Louis Riel once said: “My people will sleep for 100 years and, when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”
When I first learned about the impacts of colonization on Indigenous peoples and cultures, I turned to photography to express the emotions I was feeling and to process what I’d learned. Out of this, the photograph Frozen Chains of Childhood (2017) was born (published on the cover of volume 5 of Revue YOUR Review). That photograph depicts a schoolyard swing encapsulated in ice and illustrates the pain Indigenous children endured in the residential school system.
Much like Frozen Chains of Childhood, Reflections was the last photograph I took on the days of each photoshoot and, in both instances, I knew I had captured something special. While Frozen Chains of Childhood looks to a past where Indigenous peoples were not allowed to express their culture(s), Reflections looks to the future, as we carve a path forward where future generations know what it means to be Indigenous and are proud to share who they are.
As the ice is melting, the earth beneath us is thawing, bringing undeniable truths to the surface. Canada is thrown into a time of reflection when we must look back to understand where we are now and where we are heading.
To quote an ancient Nuu-chah-nulth saying:
hišukniš c̓awaak c̓awaackʷiniš, ḥaaʔakʷaqƛna miiłinkšiƛqun mamuuk
We are all one, everything is interconnected. We are incredibly strong when we work together.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2020 Marissa Magneson and Joshua Prescott
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