This large painting is over three and a half meters tall, and six meters wide, the length of a small school bus! Norval Morrisseau made Androgyny as a gift to the Government of Canada and it’s peoples in 1983. Morrisseau meant for the acceptance of the gift to be a symbol of Canada’s commitment to better treatment of Indigenous peoples.
This painting shows a dome of rich red earth against a vibrant yellow sky. People are shown walking amongst hundreds of animals and plants. There are also spirits represented in the painting, such as the large thunderbird at its centre. One larger person stands at the right-most edge of the painting. Most of the subjects in the painting are outlined in black, and have pastel pinks, purples, blues and greens inside their bodies.
Androgyny is meant to depict a shaman who is connected to all things, including people, plants, animals, the earth, the four directions and spirit beings. A shaman is a type of spiritual leader, often responsible for healing and matters related to spirits. The exact definition of what a shaman is and does can vary between Indigenous nations, and not all Indigenous people use the term shaman. The title, Androgyny could refer to this connection and everything becoming one. Or, it might be referring more specifically to the idea of having an androgynous gender- having both male and female qualities.
This painting is an example of Woodland style artwork- an Indigenous art style that Morrisseau helped create and popularize. This style is often defined by bold outlines and vibrant colours. It sometimes has lines that show connections and communication between its subjects. Often in the Woodland style, you can see inside the segmented bodies of animals and people. This style is inspired by the Anishinaabe paintings Morrisseau saw on rock surfaces (rock paintings are called pictographs) and in birchbark scrolls that held sacred stories.
Want to learn more about this artwork? Explore it in the online book Norval Morrisseau: Life & Work by Carmen Robertson: https://www.aci-iac.ca/art-books/norval-morrisseau/key-works/androgyny/