Alan Syliboy’s multimedia exhibit, The Thundermaker, is being shown at the Beaverbrook Gallery until Jan. 12, 2014.
A M’ikMaq artist based in Nova Scotia and from the Millbrook First Nation, Alan Syliboy is no stranger to the Beaverbrook Gallery. He assisted Terry Graff (now director of the Gallery) in organizing the group exhibit entitled “Ekpahak/Where the tide ends/Où la marée aboutit” in 2009. At the time, the show aimed to “reflect the reality of Frist Nations art and culture in New Brunswick today” and included work by 16 artists from Ugpi’ganjig (Eel River bar), Elsipogtog, Metepenagiag (Red Bank), Negootkook (Tobique) and St. Mary’s.
It is now Syliboy’s turn to shine through his own exhibit, curated by Terry Graff. About 60 people showed up to hear him present his work at the Gallery on Sept. 29, including Lieutenant-Governor Graydon Nicholas who was offered a private tour with Syliboy.
A gorily-decorated blood-red moose skull with antlers welcomes the public at the entrance to the basement of the Beaverbrook Gallery. The Gallery has been completely transformed since Syliboy has created a ceremonial mood as the public enters into the space. The room is like a dark cave; cloth hangings fall like drapes in a circular pattern around a traditional tipi. Syliboy’s story of the Thundermaker starts at one point in the outer circle and winds its way spherically into the tipi; to follow the story linearly, the public must first go around the outside circle, then the inside one.
Although the tale is at its centre, the multimedia exhibit layers traditional elements such as painted drums and woods from moose with more modern artistic media such as video in the tent. The impressive drums –some made from very wide tree trunks- are laid out around the outside of the circle, all painted with Syliboy’s distinctive designs featuring human-like figures, whales, and stars. The larger rectangular cloth pieces that hang are beige with beautifully rendered lettering done by an artist friend of Syliboy’s as well as the artist’s simple drawings. First screened during the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, the NFB film shown in the tent was made by Syliboy with the help of Halifax-based filmmaker and photographer Nance Ackerman. It features the Thundermaker character, one that Terry Graff pointed out reminded him of Power Rangers superheroes.
This story was told to Syliboy by a M’ikMaq elder he claims to have be 150 years old. It is translated for the first time into English and Syliboy will be publishing it next year in the form of a graphic novel with Gaspereau Press (Nova Scotia). He confesses to wanting to turn to storytelling more seriously in the future to continue the story of Thundermaker. However, given the large number of talents pulling him in different directions, it is unlikely he will be able to do just one thing. Lone Cloud, Syliboy’s band, won Best Aboriginal Recording at the East Coast Music Awards in 2013.
Apart from being a musician and artist, Syliboy is also known in Fredericton and local Maliseet communities as a mentor for young artists, something evident in the number of local Native artists who made the trip to honour him in the opening of his exhibit. However, Syliboy is not the only Native artist being shown at the Beaverbrook Gallery this fall, since an exhibit called “Pili Kinsuhsok/Gongigeminaegjij/Young Ancestors” is showcasing the work done by young Native participants to the Gallery’s ActionArt Program. These very promising future young artists were mentored by Native Artists from the province, including Imelda Perley, Richard Dick, and Tara Francis. Support for the expo was provided by the M’ikMaq Maliseet Institute at UNB, Fredericton as well as the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design.
Both Syliboy’s Thundermaker and “Pili Kinsuhsok/Gongigeminaegjij/Young Ancestors” can be seen at the Beaverbrook Gallery this fall and until January 2014. Hours of operation and fees can be accessed through their website.