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Syilx artist Sheldon Pierre Louis says the painting he created for the UBC Okanagan public art collection celebrates the resilience and strength of Syilx women. It is called cax̌alqs, which translates from nsyilxcən, the Syilx language, into English as “red robe”. “The red dress is a symbol of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit Movement (MMIWG2S),” says Louis, who is an Okanagan Indian Band member and Band Councillor.

He tells IndigiNews that the woman’s strong pose, with her fist in the air, says, “We’re not going anywhere.”

“[I was] basically wanting to really capture the strength of our Syilx women and our aboriginal women to really show… the amount of horrible things, I guess, that our women have to endure in today’s society and culture.

“I really turned to imagery to show resistance.”

In a June 16 statement from UBCO, Louis says, “As a Syilx artist, I have always sought to use my art as a catalyst for discussion, to create spaces where uncomfortable issues can be raised in societal dialogue. to give voice. “Art, he tells UBCO, “can be an educational tool, a conversation opener as well as a political weapon.” Louis says his work is inspired by his ancestral roots with a mix of traditional and contemporary imagery. This particular work has many levels, he explains. For example, the elk’s teeth that decorate the red dress are a symbol of commitment, value and wealth in the Syilx culture and in other indigenous cultures, he says.

“It takes a lot of hunting on behalf of man to be able to collect enough of those elk teeth,” he says.

“I was taught that when our men proposed to our women, what we did was give them the moose teeth. It was, I guess, essentially, similar to… today’s idea of ​​offering a wedding ring. So I chose this dress just to, once again, highlight the value of our women. He says his partner suggested adding red ocher markings to his temples to represent protection. In the Syilx culture, he said, when they do spiritual work or go to a spiritual place, they protect themselves by putting ocher on certain parts of the body.

Five years ago, Louis says he responded to a call for applications from UBC Okanagan (UBCO), but didn’t get the opportunity. When UBCO contacted him a few months ago, he says he was quick to apply again.

“It was the first time I was rightfully part of their public art collection on a permanent basis, which was quite an honor,” he says.

The new 4×4 foot Acrylic Paint House is located in Tower 1 on the third floor of the Engineering, Management, and Education building on campus.

“We are delighted to add this new work to our collection, as Sheldon Pierre Louis is an important Syilx artist of considerable talent, bravery and influence,” writes Stacey Koose, curator of the gallery. art at the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, in a statement.

The Okanagan School of Education worked with Koosel to commission Louis’ painting.

“It is especially important for the Okanagan School of Education community to recognize the importance of Indigenous histories, cultures, knowledge and identities, reflected in the learning environment,” said Margaret Macintyre Latta, Principal of the Okanagan School of Education, in a statement. . She adds that this school tries to create new relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, as it is located on the unceded and traditional territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.

“Ultimately, I hope that through my artwork, I’ll start to create alliances, better relationships, more awareness, more empathy,” Louis says. He says he hopes his work will help bring about change among the younger generation, as they are more open to hearing the stories and learning more about the impacts of colonialism.

“Generating these conversations in a space like this, I hope will lead to an educational opportunity for non-Indigenous people,” he says. “Where they can talk about it among themselves and with their peers, maybe go home to their family to discuss it and start to raise awareness of what is happening to our Indigenous people and women in Canada. »

Louis is giving an online talk at UBCO tonight at 7 p.m. about his artistic practice and the new commission. A question and answer period will follow.

Register for Louis’ talk on June 22 here:


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