By Teagan McFarlane

Introduction

Crazymaking is about sharing our stories, the beauty, the anger, the confusion and the protest of living in between worlds…. [it] is a visual journey through aboriginal experience, history and healing of mental health issues

Tania Willard, Introduction to Crazymaking, 2007

Crazymaking was an exhibit created by a group of nine young Indigenous artists in 2007, and was hosted by Gallery Gachet, a Vancouver outsider / dissident artist-run centre dedicated to fostering dialogue on mental health and social and economic marginalization. The Crazymaking contributors participated in a five month residency led by exhibit curator Tania Willard, learning the technique of relief printing and producing art for the exhibit. This accessible medium created a visual unity for the exhibit, but was also selected by Willard because of its association with socially conscious art and its resemblance to traditional and contemporary art practices of many Indigenous groups in Canada. The result was a compelling set of twenty-six works, each powerful piece bringing its own perspective to conversations about mental health and Indigenous communities.

The Crazymaking project offers an important Indigenous lens on mental health in Canada, in an era when decolonizing artwork grows alongside radical critiques of psychiatry and the disability rights movement, among other struggles against institutionalized power. Unlike participants in anti-psychiatry projects like Shrink-Resistant or Still Sane, Crazymaking contributors did not have stories to tell about the mental health system or “mad culture.” Instead, a “what makes me heal” theme is immediately visible in the Crazymaking exhibit, as are questions about power, historical trauma, and very real mental health effects from a different kind of authority – a persistently abusive settler society frequently blind to its own brutal colonial legacy. Because the project was designed to showcase the art of emerging young Indigenous artists, themes of youth and the experience of being a young Indigenous person in the city also emerged. Powerful, multi-layered, and highly expressive, the work of the Crazymaking artists provides a much needed glimpse into subjects which are too often missing from consumer / survivor publications, exhibits, and other forms of publically released creativity.

Dedication: This portion of the After the Asylum project is dedicated to the memory of Erick Greene.

The Two Worlds residency and the Crazymaking exhibit were funded the Canada Council for the Arts, the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Coastal Health, Redwire Native Youth Media, and private donations.

Marika Swan (Tla-o-qui-aht Nation)

I feel like my father’s generation fought really hard to reverse a lot of the stigma and shame that was put on them through the residential school system, and I think about my father as a little boy, and when he was a little boy no one was allowed to practice our culture openly or speak our language… and I feel so lucky…. I never had to experience those things - the legacy that they left us in terms of the healing that they did during their lifetime offered us such a different experience…

But it also is this really difficult position where we‘ve been born into this culture, this wider society that is of complete opposite values to the values that I feel are being passed down from my father’s generation. So all the things that I believe to true and believe to be right and just are the complete opposite of how the broader society lives our live, and just what that feels like to my generation I think is what that piece is about.

- Marika Swan, speaking about her piece Log Blessing Ceremony, from an interview for this web project (Nov 19th, 2013)

My name given to me at birth is Ahma-noos-uck-suup (woman from the rocks where the loons swim). I was born out in the wilds of the west coast, on an island, on the beach, in a spot where we used to bring the whales in. Northern lights stretched out into the north the night before I came into this world. My first memory is sitting with my mother and father as he slept. Dawn was breaking and my mom was chewing up almonds and feeding them to me from the palm of her hand. I can close my eyes and see the vivid colours of daybreak mixed with sweet, nutty flavours.

I enjoy exploring a wide range of creative outlets including writing, beadwork, print media, and carving. I am currently running Inkwis Arts and Culture, a hub in Tofino, Tla-o-qui-aht Territory, which provides space for artists and various community projects. I believe deeply in a profound relationship with the land that I come from and a responsibility to its survival, health, and freedom.

Print of an Aboriginal man standing in the middle with his cloak covering the top of a little girls head who is standing under the cloak by his leg. There are circles eminating from an object in the man's hand. There is a forest in the background.

Log Blessing Ceremony, 12x12 lino by Marika Swan

Marika Swan's Artist's Statement

I use my art as a method to lift my own layers to find a deeper understanding and truth. This series of prints explores the struggles we face as the cultural values passed down to us clash against our need to survive in today's world.

Visit Marika Swan's website.

Markia Swan Speaks

Residency & Exhibit

Gallery Gachet

When I step back at the end I have a fuller picture

I find it really inspiring to hear our elders speak

My father’s generation

Everything is connected, everything is one

Can I say bullshit

I feel a deep blood connection to the area

I think it was just uncensored

Healing through creativity

Print of tree with skeleton inside, back drop of coastal mountains and water

My Blood is not For Sale, 14.5 x11 woodcut by Marika Swan

Peter Morin

Three crows are balancing rocks and bottles on top of each other.

Balancing Act, by Peter Morin

Riel Manywounds

I think that I would like my art to just be inspirational to other native youth… I just want to inspire people to speak up too, and to heal. And I’m really grateful to have gone through the whole experience of Crazymaking. For the first time ever I felt special as an artist (laughing), you know, to have a whole gallery exhibit and to be working with all the incredible other people, I still remember Erick who passed away…. it was an incredible time and I’ll never forget it.

- Riel Manywounds, from an interview for this web project (Dec. 1st, 2013)

Born to both the Tsuu T'ina Nation and Nak'azdli Dakelh Nation, Riel Manywounds, at the age of 23, finds herself located on Coast Salish Territories in Vancouver. During this project she worked for Redwire Magazine. The transitional stretch between both nations and the truths and reality learned from a childhood spent in struggle has only encouraged strong growth and awareness towards her people's health and wellness.

Black and red print of brick wall and 2 old sailing ships, "Tear for us!" written out

Mourning, 14.5 x11, woodcut

Riel Manywounds Artist's Statement

This print making experience is Riel's first to date and has manifested pieces in which are a good representation of her own healing process from the mental health effects that colonization has had on Indigenous people. Exercising her rights and sharing her story visually through art has found to be her most powerful and productive means of getting her message out to society.

black and white abstract prints with hearts, highways, clouds and the word "Unity"

“All Else is Vanity”, 12 x12 lino, by Riel Manywounds

Riel Manywounds Speaks

Just laugh and talk about how crazy white people are sometimes

Everyone’s work was incredible

Never feeling like a regular person

This is how I stay strong

Artistic process and influences

All else is vanity

Mourning

I found a reason

That is my hope for my people

The younger you ask someone to speak up the better

It was an incredible time and I’ll never forget it

Mental health, poverty, criminalization of addiction

Print of a lined figure with their hand beside their mouth looks to be shouting "I've found a reason". Abstracted stars and terrain lie below the large text.

 “I’ve Found a Reason”, 24 x 30 woodcut, by Riel Manywounds

Rachel Taylor

Rachel Taylor is a 31-year-old Iñupiaq / settler woman, raised on Wet'suwet'en / Gitxa'an territory, and currently residing on Coast Salish territory. Rachel served at Redwire for seven years in various capacities; at the time of the Crazymaking exhibit she was Redwire's Arts Director.

dark print of person drinking from bottle at counter

"Self Portrait." 12x 12 lino, by Rachel Taylor

An almost entirely black print with a small figure standing on the right surrounded by a white semicircle. The figure is looking up at the viewer with a slightly sad expression.

I Guess I Don't Know, 14 x11 woodcut by Rachel Taylor

print of small animal looking upward

"Ambition" 24x30 woodcut, by Rachel Taylor

Tania Willard

None of [the pieces in the exhibit] were resolved (laughing), they were just simply explorations and trying to kind of navigate through these different issues and maybe find some peace by depicting them and creating this body of work together.

- Tania Willard in an interview for this web project, Dec. 13th, 2013)

I think just opening up those spaces for those conversations and for that awareness can be healing…. To open it up and have these kind of public discussions and a public lens and a safe space to exercise and express yourself, I’ve seen over and over again in working that way that there’s a real value in that…. It had been a real journey to create these kinds of spaces and then look at the body of work that came out from all of the artists and to see these real intimate portrayals of what mental health meant to each of these artists and to the ways that they interpreted that in their artwork… None of [the pieces in the exhibit] were resolved (laughing), they were just simply explorations and trying to kind of navigate through these different issues and maybe find some peace by depicting them and creating this body of work together.

- Tania Willard in an interview for this web project, Dec. 13th, 2013
 

Tania Willard, Secwepemc Nation, works within the shifting ideas of contemporary and traditional as it relates to cultural arts and production. Often working with bodies of knowledge and skills that are conceptually linked to her interest in intersections between Aboriginal and other cultures. Willard has worked as an artist in residence with Gallery Gachet in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, the Banff Centre's visual arts residency, fiction and Trading Post and was a curator in residence with Grunt Gallery. Collections of Willard's work include the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Kamloops Art Gallery and Thompson Rivers University. Willard’s recent curatorial work includes Beat Nation: Art Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture, featuring 27 contemporary Aboriginal artists currently at Vancouver Art Gallery. Willard is currently the Aboriginal Curator in Residence at Kamloops Art Gallery in her home territory of Secwepemculecw.

Tania Willard's Artist's Statement

In thinking about my residency with Gallery Gachet and exploring mental health issues for First Nations people in my work and with a group I wanted to acknowledge the historical traumas that affect our people. The title grew out of thinking about these issues, the substance use, residential schools, colonization, abuse all of our ‘crazymaking’ history. My approach was to reflect on these issues but also to celebrate the strength of aboriginal people and the strength all marginalized people have to endure, and change their worlds. I am interested in telling stories that are hidden and erased, stories about Indian Insane Asylums, about Mohawk Saints and Native veterans, stories that are full of the paradoxical push and pull between our worlds. My grandfather was of mixed blood, Secwepemc and European roots, he said he lived in two worlds. I wanted to express this tension; this sacrifice and survival that we as Native people navigate and that sometimes (or always in some ways) drives us crazy. 

Print of a church in the centre with flames on the roof, flowers towering on the left side above the church and a serious figure on the right. A bear with its mouth open looms in the sky above everything.

Ghost sickness, woodcut, by Tania Willard

Multi-coloured print with religious symbols, gravemarker, bootles, wings and stars

Making Us Crazy, 10x11 Woodcut, by Tania Willard

Tania Willard Speaks

What does mental health mean in an Aboriginal context?

These problematic histories

Places of confinement, places of punishment; a sense of distrust

Two different worlds; a really crazymaking kind of space to occupy

Finding community, finding like-voices

A safe place to exorcise and express yourself

The power to transform

He was a storyteller

Keep working, keep busy

Serene and beautiful and white

Escape through imagination

Imagery that has some kind of power

Sepia photo of old psychiatric hospital with red print of religious figure with owl's face overlaid

Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum, by Tania Willard