Mediums: digital art, painting, carving, drum-making
Mulidzas-Curtis, from the Wei Wai Kum First Nation in the Kwakwaka’wakw territory, is an artist living in Campbell River. His family lineage is rich with generations of talented artists. His Grandfather was Sam Henderson, a world renowned carver perhaps best known on Vancouver Island for his totem pole standing at the Campbell River Museum. His uncle Mark Henderson, who recently passed, was a respected painter known for his technical and complex depictions of traditional Kwakiutl figures. His uncle Bill Henderson is a sought after master carver specializing in totem poles, masks, bowls and paddles.
“I come from a longline of very talented artists, and I owe a lot to my uncles for teaching me the traditional ways of our people,” says Mulidzas-Curtis. “My art blends tradition with my own modern take – I like to push the envelope. My pieces are carved, painted or digitally created.”
Mulidzas-Curtis’ family heritage stretches into the northern part of the Kwakwaka’wakw territory up to Blunden Harbour, alternatively known as Ba’as, in the Queen Charlotte Strait. Blunden Harbour is famous for being the inspiration behind Emily Carr’s paintings. The natural wonder of the place steeps into the soul of everyone lucky enough to visit or call the place home. It seems fitting that the Mulidzas-Curtis’ story begins in such an artistic setting.
“Art has always been in my blood,” says Mulidzas-Curtis. “I knew the talent was always there beneath the surface, but when I was a young boy growing up in Campbell River I didn’t really want much to do with it.
“At school I was a minority and western culture was what we all learned and modelled. My own culture was not part of the curriculum, which made identifying with it uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, maybe 16 years old, when I began to understand the significance of my people’s history: where we came from; why tradition mattered; the importance of ceremony; the beauty of custom; and most importantly the rich culture that made us who we are.”
At 16 Mulidzas-Curtis turned his attention to the traditional songs of his people and became one of the lead singer for the Wei Wai Kum Campbell River Band traditional signers group. During this time, he was mentored by the young leaders in his tribe and Mulidzas-Curtis began to realize the pride and longing he had for his traditional culture. He joined the Cultural Group offered once a week to all the young members of the tribe so he could learn the traditional dance, stories and songs of the Wei Wai Kum. He began representing his tribe as a singer and dancer at several ceremonies, and then became a leader himself mentoring other young members of the tribe.
“Around this time of my life is when I began painting and carving. My uncles taught me what my grandfather had taught them. My first carved piece was a raven carved out of red cedar. I gave it to my grandfather from my father’s side as a gift.”
When Mulidzas-Curtis enrolled to attend university he was a proud representative of his tribe.
“At 18 I had fully embraced my culture. When I left Campbell River to attend Vancouver Island University I knew I was leaving empowered and going out into the world to represent my people. I wanted to share my culture. I carved, painted and sketched throughout university – and actually sold a few pieces along the way!
“I got my Bachelor’s Degree in First Nation Studies with a minor in Canadian History. Once I had finished my degree I went back to Campbell River and soon became an elected Council Member for the Wei Wai Kum, and this is when I started work focused on bringing cultural education into the classrooms across the Campbell River school district.
“One of my goals was to get interactive teaching lessons into the school curriculum to give students a grounding in the art, language, and culture of the Wei Wai Kum – I knew that this could be the future of education in Canada.
“When I was going to university Reconciliation was starting to get the attention it deserved. I knew then that I was part of the new future for Canada – a proud First Nation willing and wanting to find a better way forward so that cultural inclusion, and acceptance, and understanding of First Nation culture would become the norm for all Canadians throughout their education.
“Through my work with the Wei Wai Kum council we have been successful in bridging this gap.
“Over the past 11 years, we have worked closely with School District 72 around the Campbell River area to incorporate First Nation culture into the curriculum for elementary and secondary classrooms. My uncles and I have hosted several art classes and taught the kids how to carve and paint in the traditional way of our people, and now we are finding ways to bring the Kwakwaka’wakw language into the classroom. We have a multi-year pilot project underway to test an interactive technology that will teach kindergarten students the language. If it is successful we hope to see this rolled out across the district.
“Finding my cultural identity began with art. And now, I get to use that talent to teach my children and their peers to be proud of who they are and where they come from by taking my art and cultural traditions into their classrooms.
“I am humbled that I get to teach my children the importance of our cultural heritage. My kids, along with other children from all walks of life, will grow up to understand that you can be proud of who you are, and where you come from – and that is what Reconciliation means: working for a better, more inclusive future, where every student can proudly identify with their culture through language, art and tradition.
“The Identity: Art as Life art show at my alma mater is a wonderful way to celebrate where I have come from, the importance of art in my life, and the future – wherever it may take us.”
Mulidzas-Curtis makes his home in Campbell River with his wife and two children. He is Acting Chief of the Wei Wai Kum Nation, Council Member, and artist.
To learn more about Mulidzas-Curtis please visit: http://curtiswilson.ca/
Identity: Art as Life takes place Thursday, September 14th from 4pm to 6pm at the Malaspina Theatre and The View Gallery at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, BC.
Date: Thursday September 14th
Time: 4:00 to 6:00pm
Location: Malasipina Theatre and The View Gallery, Vancouver Island University
Please RSVP by Tuesday, September 12th at RSVP@TimberWest.com