Winds of Change Art Exhibit Brings Hundreds to Malaspina Theatre

Winds Of Change

Artist Daniel R. Elliott discusses his exhibition Winds of Change.

November 9, 2021 - 8:00pm

Indigenous artist Daniel R. Elliott wants to take people on a healing journey. But first, he’s asking people to confront the history and impact of residential schools head on, and not look away.

His paintings in the Winds of Change exhibit series were on display in the Malaspina Theatre lobby at VIU’s Nanaimo campus from October 1 to 13, 2021. More than 600 people, including several school groups, came through the lobby during that time to view the exhibit.

Elliott received a grant from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council to paint this body of work, which takes viewers through a curve of emotions – from beautiful, pre-contact scenes, to the impacts of colonization, to the artist’s vision of how reconciliation can happen.

“My art is about helping people forge a new relationship,” said Elliott. “I’ve tempered all this pain and sorrow with hope. That was hard to do. I want to explore how this healing can happen, how we can bridge Canadian educational structures with Indigenous knowledge, how we can find a way to put that together in a good way.”

Dr. Sharon Hobenshield, former Director of VIU’s Office of Indigenous Education and Engagement, which spearheaded this initiative, said hosting this exhibit was a tangible way to engage the wider community in the truth and reconciliation process.

“The horrific discoveries of unmarked graves at former Residential School sites were revelations to many who now feel the imperative to educate themselves further on the realities of Residential Schools and the impact of systemic racism in this country,” she said. “This exhibit was a powerful medium for people to learn and, more importantly, feel. Engaging with the emotional and uncomfortable is necessary to action reconciliation and I am grateful to Dan for sharing his journey in this process through his art to inspire change.”

Elliott started painting at a young age, encouraged by his mother. After winning top prize for his artwork at the Vancouver Island Exhibition one year, he attracted the attention of Michael B. Gergley, an internationally known artist who taught at the Royal Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary. His family traded landscaping for formal instruction.

Living around Nanaimo and Ladysmith his whole life, Elliott has had several rewarding careers, all the while painting and selling his artwork on the side. He was a commercial fisherman for 25 years, working with Indigenous youth in the public school system on the off season, before he took training through Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre to become a counsellor.

Now a National Native Alcohol and Drug Prevention Worker at Stz’uminus First Nation, Elliott focuses on cultural healing and one-on-one work with his clients. Each of these careers has helped shape his artwork.

Elliott, whose father is from Stz’uminus First Nation and mother is Scottish, has always felt like he was straddling two worlds. In the 1990s, he went through a spiritually transcendent experience in a sweat lodge that allowed him to feel, for the first time, at home with who he is as an Indigenous person of mixed ancestry.

“I came face-to-face with a collision of cultures in the Spiritual realm,” he remembered. “All the negative messages that I heard throughout my life about Indigenous people were cleansed and dissolved from my being. This was my truth and reconciliation of my own being.”

The name of the exhibit, Winds of Change, comes from childhood memories of commercial clam digging on Cortez Island with his family on long, hot summer days. Reprieve came in the form of the breeze that signaled the tide change, which meant that soon they would be done for the day.

“It’s a change of direction,” he explained. “I want to help people to not look away, help people understand. Winds of Change is saying this with a loud voice through colour and texture.”

Shores of Indifference

“Shores of indifference” (106.68 cm x 165 cm)

"The 2008 apology opened up a ground-breaking connection between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples. This world is exposed in a way that has never been seen since colonization took place. The Matriarchs (Indigenous women) have taken charge and I honour them. From Children to Elders. Pictured: Ellen White, Cindy Blackstock, Jody R. Wilson, Marie Batiste, Autumn Peltier and Angelina Sealth." - Artist Daniel R. Elliott 

smoke of torment

“Smoke of Torment” (70.8 cm x 50.8 cm)

"Created to honour of what our grandmother Matilda (Harris) Elliott endured at Kuper Island Residential School as a child. She never spoke of her experience there to us as children. The smoke of torment is all the pain, anguish, policies, hurt, fear, and genocides of children, culture and Spirituality being let loose when the school came down in 1975. The Creator in the form of an eagle is ripping off the roof, letting loose all that never belonged." - Artist Daniel R. Elliot

Thuqmin

“Thuqmin” (52.7 cm x 72 cm)

"Thuqmin means a place where you spear fish off the rocks. I drive by this road every day on my way to the Stz’uminus First Nations Health Center where I work. Thanks to my formal training from Michael B. Gergley, I am able to transition to other art styles. Modernism is an art form the 1800s to the mid-1970s. I decided to be playful, creating a sense of abundance, cultural teachings and the embodiment of our connections to how and what we gathered for food." - Artist Daniel R. Elliot


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