Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) artist Norval Morrisseau’s (1931–2007) remarkably influential career began in the early 1960s and spanned over four decades. He is best known for his inventive images of Anishinaabe stories, which first fuelled his imagination as a child living on Sand Point Reserve, near Lake Nipigon in northwestern Ontario. Absorbing these stories and other forms of traditional knowledge over the years, Morrisseau developed a unique pictographic style of painting through which he vividly conveyed the Anishinaabeg’s deep spiritual ties to their traditional territory and all of creation. These ties are nourished by the traditional Anishinaabe values of respect, relationships, reciprocity, and responsibility, which pervade the works in this exhibition.
The exhibition is drawn entirely from the AGH Permanent Collection and the paintings included were likely created between 1980 and 1985. While Morrisseau continued to draw inspiration from traditional Anishinaabe culture during this period, he had begun in 1976 to move away from depicting stories after discovering a New Age movement called Eckankar. A synthesis of Eastern religions and philosophies, Eckankar revolves around the practice of soul travel as a means of spiritual development. By 1979, Morrisseau was describing himself as a shaman-artist; his paintings of people, plants, animals, and other natural phenomena represented visions he experienced when his soul travelled from the earthly realm to the astral plane above.
The works in this exhibition exemplify the transformative role that visions play within Anishinaabe culture—and Morrisseau’s profound belief in their power as catalysts for action. Delving into both Anishinaabe ways of knowing and Eckist teachings, this exhibition considers Morrisseau’s role as a shaman-artist whose spiritual visions promote positive environmental and cultural change based on the traditional Anishinaabe values of respect, relationships, reciprocity, and responsibility.
Organized by Guest Curator Tara Ng and made possible through the support of an Ontario Arts Council Culturally Diverse Curatorial Project grant.
Header Image: Norval Morrisseau (Anishinaabe 1931-2007), Shaman and Apprentice, ca. 1980–85, acrylic on canvas. Art Gallery of Hamilton