Mykola Swarnyk for the NP-UN
The KUMF Gallery (or the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation) in Toronto was keeping a secret for almost a month. The secret? A symbolic painting about human virtues, dedicated to the struggle for the independence of the Ukrainian people, painted by Brian Waboose, an Ojibwe artist, which was donated to the KUMF Gallery.
On April 23, an exhibition of private works by various artists began, at which Brian Waboose’s painting presentation was the central event. At the opening of the exhibition, most of the speeches were dedicated to the work entitled “The Seven Grandfathers’ Teachings”, to the author, and to reflections on the intercultural contacts of Ukrainian immigrants with the First Nations people of Canada.
In his opening speech, Jurij Klufas, the head of the KUMF directorate, provided some background to the creation of the picture, and gave the floor to Jimmy Dick from the Cree First Nations, who greeted the audience and sang, and then said a prayer in his native language. Next, Ms. Daria Darewych, art critic and former President of NTSh, described the painting and gave an explanation of its symbolism. She than gave the floor to Brian Waboose.
Brian’s speech was very sincere, simple and heartfelt. He reminisced, how, as a boy, after the death of his father, he was taken away to a residential school, where conditions were unbearable. Those running the school tried to squeeze out the children’s national identity, language, family ties and customs. Children were mocked, punished for disobedience, beaten, humiliated. Brian was crushed mentally. They tried to place him in different foster families, eventually he ended up on the street and in prison.
In the 1960s, he had no sense of himself at all, he drank and wandered the streets. But after some time, he turned to the culture of his people, began to paint independently, and later studied art in a number of educational institutions, including Trent University and the Ontario College of Art. He lives in one of the Whitefish River First Nations settlements on Manitoulin Island, which is on Lake Huron. His paintings are well known and are held in the collections of many galleries in Canada, including the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as privately in Germany, Mexico, the United States, and various locations in Canada.
Brian said that he is focused on the situation of peoples and nature in the modern world. He painted a series that celebrated the work of medics during the pandemic, for example. He was prompted to paint a picture dedicated to the struggle for Ukraine’s independence by disturbing news about Russian aggression, intertwined with thoughts about the history of his own people. He was struck by the fate of separated families and children crying for their parents.
You can read more about the symbolism of t in the article by Daria Darewych in the 14th issue of the newspaper “New Pathway – Ukrainian News”.
His piece depicts the dark silhouettes of seven grandfatherly horsemen on a bright blue-yellow background, who are riding towards the viewer with staffs of eagle feathers, and the rider in the middle holds the Ukrainian national flag up high. The horsemen reflect the seven ancestral truths: Respect, Love, Bravery, Honesty, Truth, Wisdom and Humility. As a young boy, Brian hunted and traveled with his grandfather, and now often refers to the memories of his early childhood, reinterpreting them in new ways.
Ukrainians have had much contact with the First Nations people in many ways over the years. In particular, the use of Ukrainian head scarfs by Indigenous women, which were a gift from early Ukrainian settlers as an expression of mutual trust and gratitude.
Kristina Kudryk presented Brian with a certificate of appreciation from the KUMF directorate. Oleksandr Shevchenko, from the Ukrainian Consulate in Toronto, also thanked Waboose for his symbolic painting on behalf of the entire Ukrainian people and the state of Ukraine, which is fighting for its freedom and independence.
This article is written under the Local Journalism Initiative agreement