You, along with hundreds of thousands of people each year, may have noticed our two huge murals on the south side of our building. We were gifted with these works of public street art in 2017. One of the main objectives of public street art is to create a space for wonder and curiosity – to capture people’s attention and imaginations and to spur dialogue. These murals do just that – in fact one of them won the mural of the year award in 2017. We are thrilled to have one of our Core Practices, the Arts, expressed in such massive ways.
One theologian said, “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers for every question, but to make us progressively aware of a Mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” (Kallistos Ware) Our hope is that these works will draw people to the great and loving Mystery and the things he cares about.
Below are some thoughts on each mural, bearing in mind that art is always subjective and that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”, as they say. Both murals hold a lot of meaning for the artists as well as us in the Vineyard – but their power also lies in the ineffable beauty, colour, and mystery… things that “words cannot express.”
2017. Artists: Clandestinos (Shalak Attack & Bruno Smoky)
“Mending”, is the apt title of the mural facing the greenspace (and everyone travelling North on Main St). As you can see, it features a strong and beautiful indigenous woman. The Clandestinos, the married artist duo of Shalak Attack and Bruno Smoky who hail from Toronto with roots in South America, dedicated this piece “to strength and resilience of the First Nations Women from across the Americas.” She stands in marked contrast to how women are usually depicted on billboards across our society.
Her bracelets and poncho are adorned with designs and patterns of tribes and First Nations from South, Central and North America, in that order. Bruno says, “Shalak and I spoke with elders here in Winnipeg, and they gave us direction as to what symbolism we should use on her poncho and jewelry. Combining symbolism from the South and North is a beautiful thing – Indigenous people standing together.” Her strength and beauty stands in solidarity with all indigenous peoples.
She goes about her quiet yet important work of mending a heart that is ripped. Shalak and Bruno say “her act of “Mending” is symbolic of the healer, and reconstruction of the broken or missing pieces of our communities.”
Her hat is crowned with a ring of Musk oxen, our metaphor of the kind of community we are called to be. Muskox are known to surround vulnerable members of the herd to protect them against harm – they use their strength in the service of others. The Muskox in this painting represent “the surrounding communities coming together for her protection and everything she stands for.”
With her poncho she enfolds a prairie landscape and a city, both of which give way to the sky. We are all in this together and work toward the healing of our hearts, bodies, societies and even the earth itself. To us, this is a beautiful picture of the heart of God and the restorative work done in and through us. Let it be!
Finally, Shalak and Smoky say, “through these symbolic images we wish to give homage to and remember missing and murdered indigenous women. The act of mending is representative of the healing process, the need to face, overcome and heal the social unbalances and inequalities that are present in our societies that all too often hurt the most vulnerable communities.” Hanging at her centre is a pinecone, a symbol of hope. When it experiences the heat of a forest fire, its seeds are released to bear fruit. We can see a future for our people where all the fires of our suffering will bear much fruit. And so we hope. Behind the pine cone are the beaded portions of a pair of moccasins (called vamps) – the symbol of missing and murdered indigenous women, many of whom we have known and still love. In this respect, Mending works together with our Vineyard Memorial Path, a little to the West.
2017. Artists: PA System (Alexa Hatanaka & Patrick Thompson) & Parr Josephee.
This mural is designed and painted by a collaboration of Toronto based duo, Patrick Thompson and Alexa Hatanaka, collectively known as PA System, and a 17 year old artist from Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Parr Josephee. The Inuit inspired contemporary design is a tribute to Parr’s roots. The human figure in the mural is a self portrait of Parr holding his first fish, which he caught the summer this mural was painted.
This piece is two large watery lungs that hold humans, animals and a cross section of the earth together, portraying the interconnection between all three. Healing waters surround them. The deep, vibrant colours echo the rich cultures of Canada’s north. Winnipeg is a well known hub of Inuit art, and we are pleased to be part of this.
Patrick said, “when you’re creating a piece of public work, you need to create work that’s going to live with people… It can’t be preachy, but it should talk about something real.” One of the “real” issues people from Parr’s home are facing is the impact seismic testing has on the wildlife living in the waters. Narwhal whales, one of which is depicted in this mural, are particularly susceptible to this testing. When the animals are negatively effected, the people also suffer. This mural is painted to speak to that issue, and to highlight the reality that we are all connected in one way or another. “It negatively affects the people, and it negatively affects all of us down south who have very little connection to the north but when those ties are broken between people, and a way of life, and culture, and food, and history… the potential for disaster is great,” Patrick says.
Parr beamed, “I’m so happy to be painting here. I feel good to paint here and have people see my work.”
Of particular note for us in this mural is the theme of water. We have received many dreams, pictures and words over many years about water. It’s amazing that now we have a very “watery” mural painted right on the wall of our building. The fish is also of biblical note!
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Aqua Lungs Progression:
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Thanks to the Artists, the Clandestinos, PA System & Parr Josephee and the organizers and partners at Syn-o-nym, NECRC (North End Community Renewal Corporation) and the Graffiti Gallery.