British Columbia·Photos

North Okanagan gallery mounts extensive show from ManWoman, B.C.'s controversial pop artist

Headbones Gallery in Vernon, B.C., is showcasing nearly 70 artworks of the late artist ManWoman, highlighting his positive energy in brilliant colour.

The late artist sought to restore the swastika's peaceful, pre-Nazi history

The late Cranbrook, B.C., pop artist ManWoman had over 200 swastika tattoos on his body and wanted to reclaim the ancient symbol from Nazism. This passion was often misunderstood. (Submitted by Astarte Sellers)

Appearances can deceive, and the late B.C. pop artist ManWoman made a side career out of shocking the public with his attempts to rehabilitate the swastika to its ancient religious roots.

ManWoman, who died in 2012 at 74, had more than 200 swastika tattoos all over his body in addition to a third eye on his forehead. He sought to reclaim the auspicious symbol important to Hindus and Buddhists and rid it of its horrifying Nazi connection.

Now Headbones Gallery in Vernon, B.C., is showcasing 66 of his silk screen prints and three paintings in the exhibit Holy Screen Time which features Smiley Swastika, among other works.

Born Patrick Charles Kemball in Cranbrook, B.C., ManWoman was known for dressing in head-to-toe yellow and driving a yellow van.

Many of his prints depict adorable figures in vivid colours including cheerful nuns riding in trucks and an angelic dog. 

Transports of Joy by ManWoman. (Chris Walker/CBC)
Dog Consciousness by ManWoman. (Chris Walker/CBC)
A Princess to Di For by ManWoman. (Chris Walker/CBC)

Four of the prints feature swastikas, one filled with doves and another the focus of a group of bunnies.

"His dreams led him to believe that it was a sacred sign," said ManWoman's widow Astarte Sellers about his unique vision. "He felt that the sacred sign was misused and he wanted to restore it to its former benevolent power."

It proved to be an uphill battle to reclaim the swastika. Because of his appearance, ManWoman was mistaken by many people in his community as a former prisoner with an unbalanced mind. He upset his friends and acquaintances of Jewish descent.

Richard Fogarty and Julie Oakes curated the Headbones Gallery exhibition of ManWoman's artworks. Oakes expects visitors won't feel any negativity when looking at the swastika-themed screen prints. (Chris Walker/CBC)

"But whenever you look at any of his artworks that have swastikas in them, there's no way that you could look at them with any kind of a feeling of negativity," Headbones Gallery curator Julie Oakes told CBC reporter Chris Walker.

Sellers says ManWoman's courage to follow his own inner calling has been a big inspiration for many young artists.

"It gave them license to follow their own path and have more confidence in the kinds of guidance that they get from inside their own self, not looking outside themselves," she said.

Gentle Swastika by ManWoman. (Submitted by Headbones Gallery)
Smiley Swastika by ManWoman. (Submitted by Headbones Gallery)
Good Luck Rabbits by ManWoman. (Submitted by Headbones Gallery)

The Holy Screen Time exhibit runs until Nov. 28. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, visitors need to book an appointment for accessing the gallery.

Tap the link below to listen to Chris Walker's conversation with Headbones Gallery's curators:

With files from Chris Walker and Daybreak South