An exhibition of woven works and paintings that explore interwoven cultures opened with personal insights shared by artists and guests at an event at the Sunshine Coast Arts Center in Sechelt on March 20.
Rainbow Women features the work of mother and daughter artists Jessica Silvey and Ali Casey. The de Silvey family, of Coast Salish and Portuguese descent, have been based in Egmont for generations.
Silvey’s cedar and fabric weaving work is featured alongside paintings by Casey. The brightly colored and intimate portraits of women of mixed ethnicity provide a charismatic counterpoint to the tightly woven baskets, blankets and traditional clothing created by Silvey.
One of Casey’s studies is a head and shoulders view of her grandmother, Violet Silvey. As in all portraits, traditional Coast Salish motifs accentuate her face.
“If you asked her what she was,” Silvey says, recalling her mother’s shíshálh, skwxwú7mesh, tla’amin, and Portuguese heritage, “she’d say she’s nothing. That she was of mixed blood and that she was a bastard. I heard her say that when I was nine, and I was so angry. I thought to myself, ‘You are the most beautiful woman, inside and out, that I have ever known.'”
“[Hearing] it has changed a lot for me, in my little world.
In Violet Silvey’s portrait of Casey, lips are subtly layered over facial ornaments that suggest medicine wheels, hinting that cultural identity is more than superficial. Behind its frame, a suspended nylon net signals the family’s long involvement in commercial fishing. Two works by Silvey – Octopus and Salmon – fashioned from red cedar and abalone are trapped in the braids of the net.
Silvey’s first woven work – a small basket of yellow cedar roots – is included in the exhibit. It was originally given to his father but was loaned out for display. A wedding blanket, created for her daughter-in-law, denotes family strength and status through patterned weaving, the symbolism of which only becomes visible when seen up close.
For Casey, who studied art at Capilano University, her Rainbow Women series was an opportunity to express her own Indigenous heritage. “It was really like permission to go ahead and start mixing it with my own stuff,” she said.
“So I started with my self-portrait first. It’s probably the one that took the most liberties in terms of how it actually looked like my face. I wanted my skin to look like wood inspired by my mother’s weave, and the luminous style background evokes the idea of headdresses.
Carmen Joe, another of Casey’s portrait subjects, attended the show’s opening. Joe deconstructed the poem The Onondaga Madonna by Duncan Campbell Scott, one of the architects of the residential school system in Canada. She used her critique of the poem to reflect on the empowerment that comes from her composed identity.
“A non-native told me [relative] that because I’m half English, I shouldn’t have an opinion on the unequal treatment of Indigenous people that still happens today,” Joe said. “Nevertheless, I feel that I am a strong First Nations woman with a voice to help and advance our people and to teach people about justice and equality. It doesn’t matter the race.
Rainbow Women remains on display at the Doris Corwston Gallery at the Sunshine Coast Arts Center until April 14.