Fallen Totems

Anni Hunt’s relationship with powerful imagery
It was autumn, 2008. It all started when my husband took a one-month locum to work at the regional hospital in Prince Rupert, BC.
    While my husband was at work, I stayed at the apartment we had rented, and was working on an upcoming solo show at Crafthouse on Granville Island, back home in Vancouver. I had anticipated this valuable focus-work time, and took all my art supplies and sewing machine with me.This enabled me to complete an amazing amount of artwork.
    Every weekday, I would go for a walk in the areas surrounding Prince Rupert, and take pictures. I was awestruck by what I found; the traditions of the First Nations artists, particularly in the form of beautiful ‘totem’ poles. They allow the poles to slowly decay with moss, algae, water and sun, and eventually return to nature. I couldn’t help but think, what a shame that such amazing pieces of art would be no more!
At the end of the month, I came home with this incredible collection of photos of poles in various stages of decay and disintegration. They had such sublime organic textures and details that I couldn’t dismiss from my mind.
    Fast forward four years ( it took that long for these images and emotions to percolate in my mind) before I decided to reinterpret these images and produce a new body of artwork. Eventually, I decided upon printing various close-up and broken images of the poles onto canvas. Then, I did my best to make them look like they were emerging from the wood of the tree, being ‘reborn,’ as it were.I stitched back into the canvas with hand and machine stitches and then painted into the image with oil sticks. I also contacted First Nations artists from the area and sent them sample photography of my works in progress, and sought their approval for interpreting the totem imagery in this way. They kindly gave me words in their language to add to my interpretations.
    I absolutely loved working with these images. The beautiful designs that the First Nations people use are so powerful and significant. Simple, yet beautifully executed. They took these simple shapes from nature and their surroundings, and transposed them to adorn their homes and catalyze meaningful stories in their lives for thousands of years. The designs took on family tradition, and the rights to use them were bequeathed to honoured family members. With permission, it’s been an honour to bring these decaying monuments back to life.
    I feel strongly and passionately about the artwork. I relate to the powerful shapes, textures, forms and designs which are so meaningful to First Nations people. My intent, and hopefully my impact, has been one of respect, reverence, and appreciation for the stories and oral histories behind their hand-carved totems.
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