Lou-ann Neel from the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe, was born in Alert Bay in the 1960s. She moved to Victoria with her family in her early years. Coming from a family of artists, she was introduced to art at a young age. She got her basic training in Grade 9 and started to created original designs then. She attended Emily Carr University for her Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Arts and during her time there, she learned various techniques and inspired her to explore other types of art like digital imaging and animation.
Her grandmother, Ellen Neel, a well known carver, and her great great grandfather, Charlie James, were big influences to her. Her designs are inspired by traditional stories as well as personal experiences. Lou-ann’s artwork includes traditional Kwakwaka’waka designs on wood carvings, paintings, textiles and jewelry. She has also worked and helped launch projects such as Authentic Indigenous – a project she collaborated with other Indigenous artists that promotes protecting Indigenous artists’ works as well as informing the public about their art. She strongly believes in the importance of authenticity and high quality works.
Lou-ann was recently in Vancouver for the Matriarts: Indigenous Women’s Art Exhibition which she curated and participated in. Lou-ann is currently working on a 3D sculpture honouring women.
These excerpts are from the full audio file of an interview between Nichola Hernandez and Lou-ann Neel (March 14th, 2016).
Lou-ann Neel on her works: (1:27 mins)
Lou-ann Neel on artists’ role in society: (00:15, 1:05 mins)
A Conversation with Lou-ann Neel
Full interview – 41:02 mins
Transcribed and edited by Nichola Hernandez.
Text in square brackets indicates additions or subtractions from original interview as recorded in the audio file above.
Nichola Hernandez: I’m Nichola Hernandez and I’m here today with [artist] Ms. Lou-ann Neel […], and it’s about 1:40 pm on March 14th and this interview is taking place at University of Victoria’s Cornett building. Good afternoon, how are you doing today, Ms. Lou-ann?
Lou-ann Neel: I’m very well thank you.
NH: I just want to start of by asking you about your background. What was your childhood like, what was the environment, etc.?
LN: Well that was a long time ago [laughter], in a galaxy far, far away. I was born in Alert Bay, and I was in Alert Bay until I was six years old. I was about five was when the first traditional big house was built (after anti-potlatch law was quietly erased from the Indian Act) in Alert Bay. It was part of the [Canadian] centennial [celebration]. I guess there was a lot of funding for these kinds of things, so our chiefs lobbied with the government to build a traditional big house so our ceremonies can start again. All the big houses were in the outlying villages, where all the traditional feasts took place. Early on, I got a glimpse into our potlatches and regalia and I was so overtaken with amazement over especially the button blankets and of course I had never seen a house that big in my life so I felt like I was really surrounded by our culture and to me that was the world. That was normal. And so to me the baseline of what was normal was pretty strong there in Alert Bay. I went away to residential school in Port Alberni at age six and I turned seven there. At that time they didn’t call it the residential school they called it the boarding school. But, that’s just semantics, we actually lived in school and we were bussed everyday to the public school. So [our experience in my generation] was a little bit different with the previous generation. Then, we moved to Victoria. I pretty much spent most of my life in Victoria. I come from a big family and my mum who was a single mum [who] brought up the six of us on her own. After she went to school and did her LPN – Licensed Practical Nurse training, she met our stepfather. He joined then and kept us sane: one big family.
NH: One big family, happy family.
NH: When did you decide to pursue being an artist? I know you went to Emily Carr, how was that experience for you?
LN: Well, I decided when we were [still] in Alert Bay. I guess in Grade 1, we did some painting one day and the teacher sent me home with my painting. My mum started showing it off to all of the neighbours saying, “My daughter’s an artist.” I always remember that because I believed her and always thought, “Oh I’m going to be an artist.” When I got really serious about [art] was when I went into junior high school so Grade 8 and 9. SJ Willis was the junior high school in our neighbourhood, and they offered the first what was [going to] become First Nations Studies 12. So out cohort of students were kind of the guinea pigs of the program and we were delighted to be the guinea pigs because we got Native Social Studies, Native Language (three languages were taught), and Native Art. I got all of my basic training in Grade 9, and I haven’t stopped since.
NH: Oh, that’s pretty young.
LN: So Emily Carr somewhere around there, I also learned about what university was. I was really excited about my lifelong dream to pursue several degrees and I knew I was going to get several. I actually started here at UVic in public admin because I worked in government at that time. I thought it made sense for me to do that and so that was good. I came into public administration of Aboriginal Governance program and diploma in Public Sector Management. Then just continued working in government for a few years and I just practiced my art along the side. I just took whatever I learned in high school and just kept doing that and kept practicing it. Every now and then I try different materials and experiment a little bit but it didn’t feel like I knew enough about how to experiment with different materials. I really wanted to try more technology. I wanted to try really large scale works and was really interested in animation. When I decided after my certificate and diploma, public admin here doesn’t have an undergrad. For Public Admin, you have to go away somewhere else and come back [here] to do your Masters. When I realized I was [going to] have to finish my undergrad somewhere else I thought, you know, I worked in government long enough to know that it didn’t really matter which degree you got, you just needed a degree. So I applied to Emily Carr. I just bursted into tears when I got the letter saying I was accepted because it was such validation that the portfolio I already had was sufficient. I know I was on the right track. So that was it. I packed up and moved to Vancouver.
NH: That’s awesome and you liked it there?
LN: I loved it. I’ve always said I’ll never live in Vancouver and you just never say never. I really appreciate that because it was the first time that I’d ever spent so much time surrounded by other artists. I’ve never had that opportunity, not since Grade 9. It just opened my mind and I didn’t want to specialize in anything… I thought, “You know what I’m over forty I’m almost fifty I’m going to try whatever I want.” So I just picked a whole bunch of courses and asked the advisor “Tell me what I need to graduate I’ll just fit everything.” I probably ended up doing six months extra worth of courses but I jammed it all into the four years and finished with a [B.A] Fine Arts in Visual Arts.
NH: And you had fun.
LN: And I had fun.
NH: Yes, exactly. That’s the most important part.
LN: I ended up following this path into digital design that I never expected. That was probably the furthest thing in my mind. I’ve been practicing and becoming a lot more fluid with my digital design.
NH: Your family is pretty well known as artists especially your grandmother Ellen Neel, a well-known carver, what role did she play in your life as an artist?
LN: Oh, she has played a huge role. We never got to meet. She passed away in ’66, and I was only three years old when she passed away. Actually, I grew up under my stepfather’s name, Glendale. So I was Lou-ann Glendale up until I was nineteen years old. It was at about age seventeen that I found out who my surviving members of the Neel family were. So as soon as I knew about them and knew where they were, I went and located and met them and found out about my grandmother. Everything I’ve done since I found out who my grandmother was has been a very deliberate effort to continue what she started. I felt so devastated that she died at such a young age, she had just turned 49, so I already outlived her. I really honoured the work she was doing. She fought; she was not only a carver when nobody believed that women were allowed to carve or allowed [laughter] – I don’t know where that came from very much a colonial construct. She also really fought for the rights of indigenous artists against appropriation for the rights of women to be engaged in the arts. She was one of the only native women who not only ran a successful business in the arts, she had her own gallery in White Rock, she [also] trained all of my aunts and uncles plus anybody who came by the house to learn, she taught them and that includes Phil Nuytten who wrote the book The Totem Carvers. He was one of the guys that hung out – him and my dad and my uncles were all buddies. I guess [he] lived down the street and so he hung out with them and he learned from her too.
NH: So she was like a teacher to everyone.
NH: As an indigenous artist, what kind – or do you have any responsibilities and practices that are unique or special to indigenous people in regards of your kind of work?
LN: Yes. I think everything I do is a responsibility. First of all, to continue the traditions, to continue the form and to maintain it in its original form, that was what I was taught right when I was learning in Grade 9. We learned that these aren’t just shapes and crests, and figures that anyone can pick up and do. They all belong somewhere within our cultural mosaic. We learned right at the start that there are certain designs that belong to your family and those are the ones you have the permission to replicate or recreate. You don’t reach into other people’s belongings and take them unless they commission you. And even still you’re a hired artist, you do the work just like any artist would [but] you don’t have any hold on that piece afterwards. We have really strict rules around that. A lot of people don’t know that those are our laws.
NH: Yeah, I didn’t know about that.
LN: So when I teach up at my nieces and nephews for the last 20 years and that’s the number one rule I teach them so they get it already.
NH: Tell me about Authentic Indigenous.
LN: Oh, Authentic Indigenous was something I worked on while I was going to school. It was actually an initiative that was started by Shane Jackson – he’s from Sechelt. He’s an artist and arts entrepreneur as well, he runs an arts business. Him and I turned out have mutual friends and our mutual friends would always say, “Shane, have you talked to Lou-ann? Because she’s trying to do the same thing as you” and people would say to me “You should meet this guy Shane.” So we finally met and realize we’re both after [the same] kind of range of things. Authentic [Indigenous] was about creating authenticity label system that indigenous artists can use to show that their work is authentic. A big reason for that was to counter the fact that all these [shops] in Gastown in Vancouver, Government Street in Victoria and any tourist trap you can find across North America, has all of these knock offs that were made elsewhere in the world. They’re usually done very poorly, poor quality and really bad designs. We wanted the public to be aware because legally in Canada we haven’t been able to stop people from appropriating our designs even though copyright legislation is clear. We have a lot of work to do in our community to make sure people know, that our people know, to protect your work in the first place by signing it, putting your copyright symbol and those best practices. But the public isn’t aware of it. We figured if we did an awareness campaign with this labeling system people could see that there was something different visually and they could at least inquire and then it would be up to the buyer to decide. Do you want something authentic or are you satisfied with this trinket made in somewhere else? We got the initiative started but had a hard time getting on the Federal and Provincial Governments, they were very interested and always liked what we were saying but they would never put money on the table and it takes money to do these things. We still haven’t been able to take Authentic [Indigenous] to the next level and haven’t widespread across BC but people are aware and the website is there so things have started. They had a few dollars to keep me on contract to get things rolling so that’s what I did – I helped launch it. I’m on the website as well. I have a closet full of stickers that go on all my stuff but unfortunately I haven’t been able to continue work on that, yet.
NH: I think most people are aware of that. Hopefully.
LN: Of Authentic or?
LN: They’re getting more aware. But its something I think we need a good two solid years of really strong marketing and advertising and consumer awareness.
NH: Yeah. I’ve read from your First Peoples Arts Map website that you love “transforming stories into painted, or textile, or jewelry work.” Are these stories your personal experiences or is it other people’s?
LN: Up until I went to Emily Carr, they were mostly traditional stories that I heard from my mum. My mum is a fluent speaker of our language. [But also] from my aunties and uncles. Just from different people that I’ve had a chance to do a little bit of apprentice work with over the years and then research I’ve done on some of the books that have been written. The trouble with the books is that they’re all been written by non-native people so they tend to do their own interpretation and you have to sort of re-interpret knowing what you know. What I know as a Kwagiulth person I get what they were trying to say and know that they got it wrong so I have to reinterpret and turn that into my work. After Emily Carr though, the grad cape that I did was my story but it was all based on traditional beings, spirits, supernatural beings. It was to tell my story of how I journeyed to that point in Emily Carr to kind of work my way to that level in artistry and being reborn as this new artist. So it’s a young Thunderbird and in the body of the Thunderbird is me being born and then all along the bottom of the cape is a double headed serpent which is my mum’s family crest but it’s also a crest in my dad’s side. The double headed serpent is a representation of balance, it’s the good versus evil, it’s all of those things in our lives that we struggle with. I put that all at the bottom of my blanket is because my mum and her side of the family is how I was brought up and that’s always been my foundation and I wanted that to be the foundation and that the young Thunderbirds comes up from that foundation and giving birth to me.
NH: That’s very pretty.
LN: So that was neat. The other part that really inspired me to expand my mind around that is that my uncle used to always tell me “Your grandmother [Ellen Neel] used to be so good at telling stories, she knew all the traditional stories.” So when someone asked her to do a totem pole like, could you put this jaguar or something not from our culture, she could do it because she knew the forms so well and she knew the legend so well that she could adapt. One of the iconic pieces that people refer to in her in being able to tell those kinds of stories is the pole she did for White Spot. White Spot was launching its new menu and its new look or something like that back in the ’50s. They asked her to do the totem pole for them, so she did this totem pole: its about four feet high. It’s got all these traditional figures and it talks. I haven’t seen the written legend in awhile so I don’t remember how it goes but all the legends lead up and the top is the White Spot chicken.
NH: Oh. That’s funny!
LN: [Laughter] It’s hilarious. I couldn’t believe it, when I first heard it I thought, “My grandmother did the pole with a chicken on it? What?” But when I saw it I thought of course she did. Of course she did. I think this is what made her so unique in her time. There’s so many things that she did. She’s been able to balance being in the white world and in our traditional world. She spoke our language she knew all those things, she was involved in ceremonies and she had the rights and the prerogative to take those things and reshape them respectfully and with honour and always correctly with all the art rules. She did that and nobody questioned that. Some people didn’t like it very much; some people thought she was playing with our art. But you know, there’s always naysayers out there so whatever.
NH: You can’t agree with everything. Yeah. That’s pretty cool. It’s very creative. I like it!
NH: How long is the process of making a single design or an artwork for you, typically?
LN: Well, there have been times where I have a design floating in my mind for weeks and I don’t actually have the pencil and paper in my hand but I’m working it in my mind so it can usually take at least – at the very least – a couple of weeks to months. Just to conceive of… because I have to think about those variables you know. What I’m trying to create. What it’s going to be: am I making for a button blanket, am I making for jewelry, is it going to be a carving or a painting? If it’s going to be a painting, is it going to be oil, is it going to be acrylics. I have these little drop-down menus that pop down in my head with all these check list of things that I need to consider. When I actually get down to the work it can still take as few as a couple of days to months to get to a point where I’m happy with it. Because you design differently for a button blanket than you do for painting, following the rules of form line – which is basically all the black lines. You really have to know your form line and I think that’s one of the things I learned really thoroughly when I was in school. I wasn’t really practiced at it but I understood what they were saying. So I it just took a long time to train my hands to do the shapes just right. All the proportions have to be just so the way things taper, the way they expand. The consistency that you have to do that. I think that the fastest I’ve ever turned everything around was when you know the 11th hour somebody calls me up and says “We need a button blanket we’re having – there’s a potlatch we need a special something to put on” two days I’ve turned something around from scratch like start to finish. Only because I absolutely have to.
NH: Yeah, because you had to. I feel like every detail is very important and not a lot of people acknowledge that; not a lot know about it.
NH: Have you ever explored other types of artworks besides what you’re currently working on? I know you mentioned about animation, did you want to pursue that more?
LN: I do want to pursue that more. I had so much fun with that. I thought it would be a fun way to create – I’m really focused on creating things for the kids. I don’t have any of my own kids but I have about thirteen nieces and nephews that are really close and all together twenty-seven.
NH: Oh wow.
LN: That’s from both sides of the family. I’m really focused on making sure that I leave something for them. If I don’t get to spend time with them, I still want them to have the colouring books and animation and stories. I started working on those ideas probably early ’90s trying to figure out how to do all of that. So the little bit of training that I got at Emily Carr gave me a glimpse into something and it kind of opened the door a little bit and that door is still open. That’s part why I was drawn to practicing digital art because then create what need to create digitally and then maybe collaborate with an animation artist to actually turn it into animation.
NH: Especially these modern times. Everything is changing. Technology.
LN: Yeah [laughter]. I can’t keep up with them but I can keep up with my own digital designs.
NH: What do you think is the most powerful artwork you’ve done so far?
LN: Wow. I think the one that’s been the most far-reaching and had the most impact is what ended up being my very first limited edition print and it’s called Four Noble Women. It’s actually one of the designs that sat in my head for months and it came about when I was in Scottsdale, Arizona. Went down to the museum with our dance group and I saw this beautiful sculpture by Allan Houser and – oh god I love his work. I just happened to be walking by it. It’s the way it happens all the time. I wasn’t thinking about anything, admiring the orange trees. I turned around and saw this sculpture and immediately I saw the Four Noble Women design. It took me a really long time to get it into paper and when I did finally get it done, it was 11th hour, the local Victoria Friendship Centre was hosting a warrior women’s conference I think they called it, women warriors or something and they wanted a local for the conference. I wanted to submit an entry and it was due that day at four o’clock and I sat there on my lunch hour, working in government, I went out and took a chair outside and I was sitting on Douglas and Johnson with a chair and my paper and a pencil. I quickly drew my design and coloured it in and then ran to the Friendship Centre, about four blocks away, and dropped it off. They turned it into totes, bags, t-shirts, all those goodies. I knew about enough about copyright then that I made sure that my contract with them was for a limited time licensing agreement. When they were done using the design I took it back and went over and had a print made of it then sold out in a couple months. It’s been used several times for other women’s gatherings as well.
NH: Oh wow. That’s very impressive.
LN: The design itself it’s called Four Noble Women because it’s got four women: my mum and my three sisters. My mum is in a traditional button blanket with that double headed serpent design, and then my oldest sister who was initiated to be the attendant for a Hamat’sa, she was in a separate different blanket, my second sister was initiated as a Ghost Dancer so she had on that cape and my third sister had a different cape to represent the dance she was initiated to. It’s to show all four so there’s black, white, red and yellow. It’s for the four directions. It’s a little bit of reference to the medicine wheel. All around the outside I think I did 28 points around it to represent the cycle of the moon, which is so closely associated with women.
NH: It’s very personal.
LN: It’s very personal. I was very proud of that. Then I was scared after I did that because I thought “How am I going to top that? Oh no!” [Laughter] I was going to run and hide.
NH: Yeah [Laughter]. What role do you think artists have in society? How about women artists in particular?
LN: Oh. Good god. Society really needs us artists. I think we pull people in from the ledge, mostly. We do couple things we reflect back the reality we’re living in. I’ll speak for myself. What I feel like I have is I got this one side of my brain that says public admin, very personality type A administrator and then the artistic side. And so I see in a university setting here there’s lots of mechanics that make the place run well I also understand how that runs. I also understand how you go from legislation to policy to practice to, everyday routine. Sometimes I see systemic barriers that other people don’t see and every now and then I get the opportunity to be at the table to say something about that and when I don’t get to be at table I make art. I show people this is what you look like; this is what this looks like. Its either absurd and needs fixing or its beautiful and its flowing beautifully. For people liking to see that place they spend most of their day has this beautiful flow about it, it’s very encouraging. It helps people to just appreciate in that moment, when they look at the art “Yes I’m in the right track.” And for those who get to see the absurd version it makes them really uncomfortable and I think that somebody has to tell people that it’s not good enough to just say “Well, we’ve always done it that way so let’s just keep doing that way.” That’s the definition of insanity. I think that artists have a really important role to play in that respect because if we’re not reflecting that back to society, society becomes minions. You know, we’ve seen that a lot in North America. I can’t believe in my lifetime that I’ve gone from the proudest Canadian ever to questioning what’s this place we call Canada. I think a lot of my work, especially in recent years, has become quite political, it’s not overtly political but I like to poke fun at people who think they know it all [laughter].
NH: Yeah. That’ll be fun. I feel like British Columbia has that “support locals” mentality. How do you think Victoria responds to indigenous artworks or even local artworks, do you think the city has the same mentality?
LN: I think for a while it really did. I mean I’ve been here my whole life almost. In the ’70s, during that time, like ’60s and ’70s for native art on the coast and Victoria was an exciting time. People were calling it a ‘Renaissance’ but really it was crawling out from underneath the legislation that the government dumped on us and outlawed our art. So it was a resurgence, I don’t know about a Renaissance but definitely a resurgence. You look around Victoria now and you see evidence of First Nations art everywhere. Now, the problem was that back then the general public tended to gravitate towards our art from the north island not local art. My heart just always aches for them because they were impacted the most for the longest. They were impacted first. And then the art that the people from these territories of Salish people was already – all of our art was very sacred and secretive. Their stuff already wasn’t out there, the stuff that they had left after the Indian Act came in was even more closely held. By the time we got to the ’60s and ’70s, they weren’t outwardly sharing their art. I think the only reason our art became so recognizable is because of the anthropologists and ethnologists who are in our territories, Franz Boas especially. So there were a lot or collectors coming up to our territories from the early 1900 to the ’50s easily. A lot of our artifacts – always kills me when they call artifacts – all of our art got taken and got put into the museums and so it just drew more people here. So over time Victoria and BC have always I think wanted to maintain that recognition as being this ‘totem land’ and in fact my grandmother started this society called Totem Land with the mayor and a bunch of businessmen in Vancouver. Part of the Totem Land’s mandate was to stop appropriation of offshore knockoffs. BC has really taken advantage of using our art as part of its identity. On the one hand, its good for someone like me born in the ’60s, I’ve gotten to see all of that unfold and then become a part of it. The downside is that the neither BC or the Federal Government invest back. We don’t have as a result any Northwest Coast schools; we don’t have any native art schools. Emily Carr was the closest thing I was going to get to see the painted paintings of our stuff and Hazelton or ‘Ksan had the carving school up there for a number of years which was really exciting and I got to go to visit there but it closed down because the funding got pulled. So we really need that kind of investment and now we’re dealing with – we are in Coast Salish territory and now we’re finally starting to see Coast Salish artists recognized and their work represented in their land but we still have so many pieces. I mean my great uncle, Mungo Martin that’s his house down by the museum, that big house, that’s my grandmother’s uncle. He got permission from the local chiefs to do that. Our families have lots of discussion with the local chiefs about that. But we’ve got still I think a stronger presence I think than the Coast Salish artists so I think there’s still some balancing to do. I think the city of Victoria and its arts policy, I’m hearing lots more favourable discussions going on now but certainly during my early career it was not a hope that we could see more support to native artists. That’s why you see these some of these artists sitting in the causeway in the summer, its not their favourite place to be its because they can’t sell in those Government Street shops. Lots of work to do.
NH: Long way to go.
NH: What do you want your viewers to get from your artworks?
LN: When I create my work, because art is so personal, there’s an energy. I really feel the energy I’m putting into a piece – I won’t work on anything unless I’m really in that zone because I really do believe that I mean I know how I feel when I purchase other people’s art and I feel that energy that comes from it. What I put into my art is the energy of strength, of hope and just wonder, you know? I really like when people see some of the little things I’ve done in the piece and plays tricks on their eyes. I’m holding up my scarf now [see Neel’s scarf here]; this is a feather, this is a component of a feather, you can see the feather coming along so everything that’s in white on this one is form line and the everything in black is the negative space. When I was taught, it’s one of the things Mungo taught all of his students and his students were the ones that taught me so it’s still that unbroken line, is that you should be able to see a design in the negative space as well as the positive. So when you stand back from some of my works, you’re not sure if you just saw this little glimpse of something and that’s what I want people to get: Hey what was that? Also, since Emily Carr, I’ve gotten more focused on including an artist statement that really speaks to where I came from when I did a particular piece. Because lots of my stuff have been more political, its educational about our people, the fact that we’re all unique as tribal peoples, we all have our rights. It’s kind of that little bit of that Authentic Indigenous stuff but also recognize that this is a woman doing this art, it doesn’t just belong to our guys. Women design differently. All the women artists that I know from my territory have something different about it, we all know it and we all see it but can’t articulate it really yet. But I think that’s when I look and think: so why don’t we have gatherings? Let’s have gatherings of our women artists so we can talk and maybe share our vocabularies so that we’re all empowered to speak about these things a little more thoroughly. I think that’s why some of my relatives and friends that are women artists they shy away from more public presentations of their art or public speaking opportunities because they struggle with how do I explain this? When the only vocabulary I ever heard is from my male side who taught me. So I think we’re still in a time of transition of ourselves, accepting that we are really allowed to this and no ones going to stop us. Not like anyone’s going to stop us anyway, no one stopped my grandmother. But this more broad acceptance of the fact that these colonial ideas of women not being allowed to carve are just myths. Somebody made that up.
NH: Its 2016. We can do anything!
LN: Yeah! Really. Come on!
NH: And last question is, are currently you working on something? And can you tell us something about it?
LN: I’m working on a piece that has been simmering on for fifteen years. I’m collecting pennies and I’m so glad that the Canadian penny was decommissioned out of currency. I’ve been collecting pennies and its something that I hope is going to come together this year. It’s something to honour women. It’s very much going to be a sculptural kind of a piece, a three-dimensional piece. It’s going to require me hand cutting and hand painting every penny. I would imagine it would be thousands of thousands of pennies involved in it [laughter]. It’s one of those things where my heart was set on it a few years, all these years ago and it wasn’t until I learned some of the techniques and the equipment and the tools that I could use and got a little bit more practice in them. Now that I’m that much more practiced, I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to do. So now I’m just sort of deciding between a couple of design choices.
NH: Oh perfect. That’s awesome. That’s exciting!
LN: Yeah! So that’s one piece and the second piece, which I actually did the prototype for while I was at, Emily Carr is at least a 10 ft. Dzunukwa, the “wild woman of the woods”. That’s the legendary character who scoops children up and throws them in her basket and eats them for dinner.
NH: Oh! Okay…
LN: That’s our boogey man. This is boogey woman [laughter].
LN: I’ve heard of Dzunukwa when I was really little. She has always been this iconic huge scary figure in my life but at the same time she carries nobility and a place of honour in our potlatch. I wanted to do is a ten or twelve ft. copper Dzunukwa fully articulated pieces and have her placed outdoors and every six months or so or every season I would move the pieces and watch it weather. I just thought that would be a neat experiment.
NH: That would be!
LN: I want it near a forest like near the edge of a forest somewhere. So I’m thinking Alert Bay. But I have to really keep up on the areas that might need to develop for more housing so where’s the forest going to really stay so I could put Dzunukwa there. When we were kids, our house was about three houses away from the line where the forest was and we used always go play in there when we’re in the daylight but that’s when we started getting told “Don’t get too deep into that forest Dzunukwa will get you!”
NH: Oh no!
LN: So I just thought “one day I’m going to come back with Dzunukwa in my hands” [laughter].
NH: [Laughter] “I’m going to control it”.
LN: Or maybe I’ll just be the Dzunukwa! [Laughter]
NH: Yeah just stand there for a bit. And that’s everything for today. Thank you so much for your time!
LN: You’re so welcome.
NH: All the best on your projects.
LN: Thank you. That’s going to be fun.
“Matriarts: Indigenous Women’s Art Exhibition”. Accessed March 10, 2015. do604.com/events/2016/2/16/matriarts-indigenous-women-s-art-exhibition
Chattopadhyay, Piya. “Indigenous artist Lou-ann Neel on the fight against ‘fakelore'”. CBC Radio. Posted on November 13, 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-wednesday-nov-12-2014-1.2926142/indigenous-artist-lou-ann-neel-on-the-fight-against-fakelore-1.2926147
Griffin, Kevin. “Authentic Indigenous: new program helps ensure artists are fairly paid”. The Vancouver Sun; Art Seen section. Posted on October 7, 2014. http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2014/10/07/authentic-indigenous-new-program-helps-ensure-artists-are-fairly-paid/
Neel, Lou-ann. “Lou-ann Neel”. Red Bubble. Accessed March 10, 2016. www.redbubble.com/people/lou-annneel
Neel, Lou-ann. “Lou-ann Neel”. First Peoples Arts Map. Accessed March 10, 2016. http://www.fp-artsmap.ca/person/lou-ann-neel
Neel, Lou-ann. “Lou-ann Neel”. Authentic Indigenous. Accessed March 5, 2016. www.authenticindigenous.com/artists/lou-ann-neel