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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Shamanic content in the art of Clayoquot artist : Joe David "Ka-Ka-Win-Chealth" (Supernatural White Wolf Transforming into Whale) Katz-Lahaigue, J. Vanina


The question of the influence of shamanism on Northwest Coast art is not new. It has received increasing attention in the past few years, though in ways that are not altogether convincing. This dissertation presents an aspect which has been relatively ignored until now, namely the point of view of the artist himself. It focusses on one contemporary Northwest Coast Indian artist, Joe David, and uses both his works and his comments as the basis for the study of his use of shamanic themes. At the beginning of the thesis, shamanism is defined in terms of its main characteristics and cosmological themes, using the work of Mircea Eliade as a primary reference. This is followed by an examination of Northwest Coast shamanism, and the pervasiveness of shamanic ideology in Northwest Coast Indian cultures and art. The works of art by Joe David are discussed, and through his comments the meaning of the work is revealed, as he talks about the circumstances behind the creation of the pieces and the private meaning hidden in them. Finally the importance of the artist's comments is confirmed in a summary of Joe David's views concerning art and his private cosmology which synthesizes West Coast traditions and personal experience. Both his works and his cosmology contain most of the shamanic themes identified in the first part of the study. For Joe David, this relationship with shamanism has become explicit as he compares his work to shaman's activities. But little of that personal cosmology would be evident in Joe David's works to an observer who was not a participant in Joe David's world. This leads to the conclusion that any study of Northwest Coast art based solely on images, without considering the world view of the artist, reveals only a fraction of the possible influence of shamanic themes in Northwest Coast Indian art.

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