A Port Alberni artist received a People’s Choice Award from the Salt Spring National Art Prize.
Artist Dave Parsanishi received third prize in the People’s Choice Awards for his piece, Mamaalni (A Transformation Mask), a mixed-media project based on residential schools.
After being a finalist in the 2015 Salt Spring art show, Parsanishi said he wanted to create a more in-depth piece.
“It’s an ‘art about ideas’ show,” he explained. “Residential schools is in our common culture right now. I noticed a lot of people were still in the denial phase about it.”
He added, “This was my internal conversation with those people, manifested into art.”
The artwork is made from wood, recycled material and archival photographs, most of which he found online and from the provincial archives. The two largest photos are of the St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay and Skitigats Village in Haida Gwaii. With Alert Bay, the large windows of the school are an opportunity to “look into the windows of the past.” With Haida Gwaii, Parsanishi said, “I wanted to get as close to pre-contact as I could. I had to take what I could find.”
Parsanishi said mixed media was something he started experimenting with at an Art Rave event.
“I had to meet a theme, I had to incorporate a faster message,” he said. “It helped me progress my artwork, as much as I was a grump about it at first.”
There are a set of mirrors in the eyes of the carving, which Parsanishi explained is so viewers can see themselves reflected in them. You become either the child, or the perpetrator.
“It gives the illusion of being multi-directional,” he explained. “It can go both ways.”
Parsanishi held conversations with Nuu-chah-nulth carvers, elders and language teachers in his journey to create the piece of artwork.
“I wanted to be sensitive to the issues without tromping through there,” he explained. “I had some trepidation at first.”
He spoke often with Gordon Dick, of Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, who told him, “It’s truth. It doesn’t matter who says it.”
Parsanishi explained, “They’re other people’s stories, but it’s all of our story. It’s all of our issue and we have to own it. It’s about creating the conversation.”
He pointed out that the community of Port Alberni is going through this very conversation in regards to A.W. Neill.
“Not everyone’s going to agree, but we still have to discuss it,” he said.
Paranishi said he wasn’t trying to stir up controversy with his piece. “In my original intent, it was the chance for me to say what I’ve got to say to myself,” he said. “I’m not really a political artist. I don’t want to dictate what people think. With the Salt Spring Show, it gave me a way to express myself.”
The judging process was a “blind jury,” and Paranishi said one juror had some issues with a white man creating the artwork when the artists were revealed.
“That raises conversations, too,” he said. “I was very careful, and I talked to quite a few people here. But it was interesting, it raised issues.”
The Salt Spring National Art Prize winners will be on display at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Vancouver from November 4-18. Parsanishi’s piece will be available to view here.