Haida art exhibit imagines ancient female beings in contemporary forms

Ancient female beings take centre stage in a multimedia exhibit at the Haida Gwaii Museum, celebrating the role of powerful ancestresses in Haida culture.

Artist Terri Lynn Williams Davidson hopes the exhibit will inspire young Haida women

Female supernatural beings have a strong presence in Haida oral storytelling, something artist Terri Lynn Williams Davidson explores in her latest collection. (Haida Gwaii Museum)

The legend of Foam Woman — a powerful woman and ancestress to all of the Raven clans on the archipelago — is just one of many female supernatural beings featured in a new exhibit at the Haida Gwaii Museum in Skidegate.

"I was wanting to visualize what these beings would look like today. Most of these representations of supernatural beings have been in abstract art," said Terri Lynn Williams Davidson, a Haida artist and lawyer.

While the story of Foam Woman is a commonly shared story according to Davidson, some lesser-known ancestresses will also be featured, like Dzalarhon, or Volcano Woman, who ruled the earth's creatures and punished those who abused them.

Williams Davidson hopes the exhibit will inspire young Haida women to understand their prominent place in Haida culture and history.

Traditional law 

As a lawyer, Williams Davidson said she was interested in the lessons she could glean from these characters in relation to traditional Haida law.

"I've also tried to incorporate messages in each piece about our conduct going forward and the laws that come from each supernatural being as they emerge," she told Carolina De Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North.

In doing so the artist said she was making the statement that elements of traditional Indigenous law should be incorporated into Canadian law.

"It's a big hope but I hope this will help contribute to that dialogue of seeing the earth and seeing the oceans in a different way," said Williams Davidson.

Out of Concealment: Female Supernatural Beings of Haida Gwaii is filled with photos, carvings and contemporary design elements, including an upcoming live concert in August.