Taking its title from a Sonny Assu works depicting Spiderman in a traditional Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw style, When Raven Became Spider is guest curated by Vancouver-based Gitxaala/British, curator, artist and writer Leena Minifie. Minifie’s research examines supernatural characters in Indigenous art and modern comic superheroes. She notes that traditional stories often highlight figures with superheroic traits, but that these figures maintain complexity as they are fallible, and capable of making mistakes. Most pop comic icons lean towards the archetypical, exhibiting simplified ways of being; they are good or evil. This generation of Indigenous artists and storytellers are increasingly depicting modern super-beings and using pop icon images within their work, blurring the line between oral stories and modern comics. Their aesthetics, style, and composition flow between both worlds.
Does the use of these modern-day images generate a space for oral narratives related to super beings? Or does it reduce these characters into one-dimensional archetypes? Does this work make stories more accessible and palatable to audiences and listeners, who may not be familiar with storytelling traditions? Do modernized forms sacrifice a certain degree of the three-dimensionality and nuance of the characters they depict? Can these characters still transmit old-world, oratory tales and teach us something about the frail human condition, as they were intended?
When Raven Became Spider grapples with such questions.
Image: Shaun Beyale, The Time Traveler, 2015, ink, grey comic marker, and white jellyroll pen on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.