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Indigenous Arts & Stories - Shapeshifter 7

Shapeshifter 7

2014 - Art Winner

Jessie Jakumeit

Toronto, ON
Tsimshian and Gitxsan
Age 27

Author's Statement

My work explores flux and transformation. The transformation from one material to another, one being to another, one state to another, one moment in time to the next. In my drawings bodies become diaphanous and shatter into pieces. One thing easily slips into another, evading concrete definition. Nothing is pinned down, ambiguity and disorientation reign. The image comes apart and reforms in front of your eyes. It’s like the moment in the darkroom right before the developer sharpens the photograph into focus. Space or ether, what nobel-prize winning physicist Franz Wilczek calls “The Grid”, becomes activated, pulsing with spontaneous activity that creates and destroys.

Looking at First Nations art from the Northwest Coast has informed my compositions, especially my understanding of negative space. It took me a long time to learn when to stop, to see elegance in restraint. Looking at the artwork in "Challenging Traditions: Contemporary First Nations Art of the Northwest Coast" and "Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art" I realized that negative space is just as important as positive space. Ovoid, U and S shapes have started to pop up in my drawings. It feels right. My great-grandfather, William Jeffrey, was a hereditary Tsimshian chief, activist and artist. One of my earliest memories is of him pulling a sheet of plastic of a totem pole he was working on, the smell of cedar filling the room. He looked so proud. We need to keep nurturing that pride in our culture.

Shapeshifters inspire me. I love the idea of beings able to transform into something else. In University I read books with Tsimshian stories about salmon who turn into humans in a kingdom under the river, a raven turning into a boy to steal the light and a Tsimshian princess who married a grizzly bear who would turn into a man at night.

Shapeshifting speaks to my culture as well as my interests in unknowable mystery and transformation. I'm fascinated by liminal states: the raven halfway to becoming human, the lunar eclipse, the girl almost a woman, the long journey to a new place. The threshold between past and future presents a potent opportunity for growth.