Before I left for the first hunt of the season, the Syrian conflict was hitting mass media. The photo of a drowned young Syrian boy reflected in my mind for days. Even as I sat there in the woods, no one around but me, a couple of chipmunks and a squirrel, the image of that young boy represented all the things that are wrong with humanity. In the days following, I learned a respected community member and arts advocate had suddenly died. I was shocked at the news even though I didn’t know her all that well. But we’d had a discussion once about the demise of the Beothuks. I was impressed with her knowledge of indigenous culture and her empathy towards this group that suffered genocide at the hands of European settlers. I was immediately reminded of the lengths humans will go to for what they want.And yet, here I was, waiting for a bear to show up to kill it so I could continue to live. The conflict is undeniable.
|Death Mask of a Bear, 2015|
12"x12", Acrylic, Gallery Canvas
For me, the value of a life is the same regardless if it’s for a human or non-human animal. I don’t consider myself on any rung of some food chain. I’m simply a part of the ecosystem I live in. However, all through school and even in university, we’re taught about hierarchies. It’s embedded in our psyches that humans are at the top of a pyramid, and some humans are close to divine. I’ve found that this concept is especially held by people who believe in some sort of god, regardless of religion. I wondered if maybe that was the problem. Not so much the belief in god but this idea of hierarchy and “food chains”.It’s impossible for me to have an objective opinion on all this. Aside from thinking of myself as an active player in my environment, I also don’t believe in god or any kind of creator or spirit realm. I believe in the laws of thermodynamics (1 & 2) and that, when it’s my time to die, my body will become a part of the ecosystem I’m buried in. I don’t think anyone can really have an objective opinion when it comes to religion, beliefs, politics, life or death either. It’s just too close to us. That said when do we collectively stop to ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing to each other in the name of humanity? Where is the fine line between fear and offense?
Ultimately, we’re killing each other for our beliefs. We’re killing each other so we can have our idea of a better life (or rest ourselves assured that is the goal). We’re killing each other out of fear, rejection, revenge, greed, or some other perverse desire to rid ourselves of each other so we could ultimately gain from the death of others. When you stop to put that in perspective, isn’t that what we’re also doing with the environment? We’re destroying land and rivers and air so we can have a few more conveniences. You simply have to look at the bags and bins piled up along a suburban street on garbage day as proof that conveniences are top of mind for most of us. The thing of it is, we’re not really killing mother earth. We’re killing ourselves.
I’ll be the first person to say that there are just too many people on the planet for my liking, that the earth would do well without us and that humans are really just a virus. (There’s proof in our DNA that we’re born of virus.) As much as I would prefer to live in the woods, off the land and never see another city, hear another political promise, or learn of another human-created disaster, I realize that there are other people who share this planet and who have just as much right to live in peace as I do. As much as I would rather people have the ability to thrive in their own countries, I also recognize that my moral compass includes empathy toward my fellow humans. And even though I have my own cultural ties and preferences, I believe that others have every right to explore the cultural practices they were born in or exposed to.
The piece associated to this stream of thought is “Death Mask of a Bear”. The concept is based on old world practices of creating death masks of those who’ve departed, to keep them and their memory alive. It is adorned with Metis style floral embroidery designs. It was created in honour of the bear we recently hunted, to keep its memory alive even after we’ve finished consuming it for our continued existence.