“While mainstream art may be divided into “modern” and “traditional”, our Heida tradition is alive and continuous, transcending this division.”
As a Haida person, my life’s work is to learn from my elders and ancestors and carry forward our culture, language, and relationship to the land. My work as an artist is rooted in this understanding and intention. The pieces I design and create all play a role in this process of experiencing, learning and sharing. As I work, I draw on the lessons that have been left to us by our ancestors in order to tell the stories of our land and people. Many of our ancestral works now stored in museums, or still standing in the ancient village sites around Haida Gwaii, show their artists’ mastery in their carving and painting, a mastery that represents centuries of refinement from the experience of living connected to the land and the sea.
While mainstream art may be divided into “modern” and “traditional”, our Haida tradition is alive and continuous, transcending this division. The thread we carry forward in our arts, songs, dance and story is without end and continues to gives shape to our past, present and future. Inseparable from my practice as an artist, I hunt, fish, gather seaweed, cockles and scallops, and process all of it to feed my family throughout the year. Continuing these practices allows me to connect with the essence of the shapes and forms of Haida formline design: a fish’s eye, the joint of a deer's leg, or the stem of a blade of sea grass.
The rules of Haida art that I have spent my life learning, in mentorships with Guujaaw and Jim Hart, and in my own work, guide my explorations of flow in formline, ovoid, and U. Within the intricacies of these visual and tactile rules, I have learned to play with forms and have conversations with the pieces left to us by past artists.
Jaalen Edenshaw is a Haida carver from Haida Gwaii, B.C.