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Water Animal Themes -- Might Illustrate Creation Story

Click on the turtle image below to see a larger one

Fish -- this is the big one. Printed poster from Leona Lattimer Gallery, Vancouver. This shows a large fish carrying 2 birds, one of which may be talking to him. They are surrounded by a circular line of protective power with two "seeds" that may represent Miigiis (white cowrie, cypraea moneta) shells, which are used in Midèwiwin ceremonies. The surrounding wavy power-line is a theme in many of Morrisseau's early Medicine paintings. X-ray anatomy divides the fish in half -- as with Missipeshieuw -- but it appears to be more design than meaning. Perhaps there is a story which inspired this picture.

Turtle, Fish, Frog, bird -- This poster, also from Leona Lattimer Gallery in Vancouver, uses the same underwater animals color scheme as the Fish-with-birds poster above. A colorful turtle plunges toward a frog, with a small radiant circle between them. Two fish swim round the turtle, and a small bird rests on the closed surrounding power line just above thed surface. Several spirit seeds hold the line together or generate it, or are genrated by it and by what it encloses and protects. Though thy are colored here, they perhaps represent the miigiis shells of Midewiwin. The water creatures have x-ray anatomy, but it appears more decorative than meaningful.

If these two poster-pictures go together -- as their color schemes suggest they are intended to -- they could represent scenes from one of the Anishinaabe creation stories (which is found in many other tribes as well), where eventually some creature succeeds in diving deep enough to bring up mud for the turtle's back to create this Turtle Island North American continent. If that's so, there are two missing from the sequence. The Fish poster has 2 Miigiis, indicating it is a second try to bring up mud, and the Turtle poster has 3, indicating the third try. The first try and the fourth -- successful -- try are missing.

But I may be seeing something which wasn't intended, becauseI don't understand why all 4 wouldn't be exhibited, in sequence -- and for that matter, why not explain it to the general public of the commercial gallery? Still, non-Indian art is generally treated as design, pattern, balnaced masses of color, dynamic shapes, without meaning, unless it happens to be portraits or scenery. Morrissau probably doesn't explain, artists usually don't. It seems likely those not acquainted with Anishinaabe traditions wouldn't see meanings which are in fact there, if you understand the symbolism and know some of the traditions and stories.




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Last Updated: Friday, July 12, 1996 - 10:40:50 AM