ᐁᐸᐢᐹᐱᐟ ᐚᓰᓇᒫᓂᕁ ᐚᐸᐦᑕᑦ ᐁᓈᓈᐦᑌᔨᐠ consists of a phrase written in Plains Cree syllabics produced on iridescent film and installed on both the interior and exterior of the ground-level windows of the MacKenzie Art Gallery. The phrase has been translated into English as “Looking out her window she watches a moving mirage of dazzling light.”
Nēhiyaw (Plains Cree) artist Joi T. Arcand was invited to make this work in response to the relationship between the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the land on which it is situated. The resulting work refers to Arcand’s personal experience of long winters spent at her home on the maskēko-sākahikanihk reserve as an oskinikiskwēw (young girl), gazing out the window and watching ē-nānāhtēk (a dazzling mirage of light).
For Arcand, the light represents the power of cahkipēhikana (syllabics) which have guided her in her language journey from childhood into adulthood. Arcand provides a nostalgic look at adolescence as well as a forward-looking articulation of the power of imagination, longing, and presence on ancestral lands.
The “mirage of light” also references the origin story of syllabics. In the story of Calling Badger, shared by Darryl Chamekese, it is said ē-kihkāsawiyēk kīkway kīsikōh (a bright light in the sky) accompanied the gift of syllabics, which were given to help ensure the survival of Nēhiyawēwin (the Plains Cree language). Chamekese’s story speaks to the gifts of creativity, culture, and communication that have been bestowed upon us that can both honour our histories and move us into the future.
By mirroring her phrase, Arcand addresses our relationship between interior and exterior, between individual and our wider relations—to that source of inspiration from outside of us that drives us to create. It also speaks to the two dominant perspectives of relating to an institution like an art gallery: looking from the outside in or from the inside out—to the potential for the institution to act as a source of inspiration and the need for the gallery to look outwards toward the beauty and ways of knowing that can’t be contained within its walls.
Arcand’s work shows how customary knowledge can be a source for new ideas. It points to new paths forward waiting to be gifted to future generations—to the dazzling mirages of light that will inspire the next evolution in how we communicate, relate, and thrive in our emerging cultural future, while honouring and building upon the lessons and knowledge of our ancestors and this land.
The phrase used in this work was created by Joi T. Arcand with Darryl Chamakese and was informed by teachings from Elders Jo-Ann and Jerry Saddleback, and consultation from Solomon Ratt.