Haida artist, activist and lawyer Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson manifests an Indigenous ethos of environmentalism while honouring the power of Indigenous femininity in her solo exhibition Out of Concealment on display at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art from Oct. 23, 2019–Apr. 5, 2020.
What began as writing songs about supernatural beings for her 2017 album Grizzly Bear Town metamorphosed into Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson’s quest to depict the supernatural figures that occupied her lyrics.
“I wanted to write about supernatural beings, but as I wrote the music, I kept wanting to picture what they would look like in real life,” says Williams-Davidson.
Reimagining traditional female Indigenous supernatural beings as they would appear in the physical, environmental landscape of Haida Gwaii, Out of Concealment presents themes of environmentalism, sexuality and culture via multimedia installations of photomontages, film and sound – with Williams-Davidson as the subject of her own pieces.
“All of these pieces are performance art pieces where I am working really hard to become the supernatural beings,” she says. “When I look at the pieces, I don’t see myself. I see Haida Gwaii.”
Revitalizing and sharing culture
Based on her research into the ethnographic record and the oral history passed onto her by her mother and relatives, Williams-Davidson returns to her ancestral origins to uncover a culture suppressed by colonial rule and share traditional stories and messages with future generations, sustaining and preserving the legacy of Haida Gwaii.
In the hopes of making the Haida Gwaii cultural history accessible to all through art, the pieces showcased in Out of Concealment have been carefully selected to create a space of collective accessibility and appreciation.
“I have grandchildren who are fascinated with Disney princesses and I feel that there is a gap in the community in that kids are not as familiar with the supernatural beings as they are with Disney princesses,” says Williams-Davidson. “I wanted to give them something to visualize and something to connect with and a way to reconnect with the culture.”
A rewriting of Williams-Davidson’s identically titled book, Out of Concealment, has been done for children. Williams-Davidson’s Magical Beings, co-authored by Sara Florence Davidson, will explore supernatural beings in language accessible to children. The Magical Beings book launch will take place at the Bill Reid Gallery on Nov. 2, just weeks before the launch of William-Davidson’s Haida Box of Knowledge: Guidance from Supernatural Sisters on Nov. 30, an oracle deck to help everyday people draw upon guidance from supernatural beings.
The exhibit’s interactive elements invite visitors to transform into supernatural beings, aligning with the themes of Out of Concealment and drawing upon the Haida word for ‘mask,’ which better translates into the English verbs ‘become’ or ‘imitate.’
Finding lessons in our relationships with the earth
Out of Concealment works to both open its audience’s eyes to unfamiliar landscapes and evoke new ways of interacting with familiar terrains, ultimately prioritizing an appreciation for human interconnectedness with natural and spiritual worlds.
As an environmental lawyer representing the Haida Nation, Williams-Davidson directly views
the underrepresentation and dismissal of supernatural realms in legal issues and aspires to establish an acknowledgement of the supernatural in Canada’s legal and environmental landscapes. The Vancouver premiere of Out of Concealment will also feature Plastic Woman, a sculptural piece made of plastic Williams-Davidson found on the beaches in the remote south of Haida Gwaii to examine the pervasive human relationship with plastic and debris.
“The land is not something to be owned and resources are not something to be dominated and exploited. We need to find lessons in our relationships with the earth that also translate to our relationship with women,” says Williams-Davidson. “We can see the impacts of these fractured relationships by seeing the many, many missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.”
For more information on the event, visit www.billreidgallery.ca.
For more about Williams-Davidson, visit www.ravencallingproductions.ca.