When Ojibway artist, IceBear, first installed his Four Winds sculpture in Victoria nearly 20 years ago, most people weren’t ready to hear its cautionary message of impending environmental degradation.
Now, as he works to restore the piece, with COVID-19 and smoky skies looming in people’s minds, he hopes his decades-old art will be taken seriously.
For Indigenous people, the four winds — north, east, south and west — are represented on their medicine wheel and relate to the seasons, elements, colours and cycles of life. Although teachings vary, for Ojibway people the medicine wheel represents the need for balance in all aspects of life. It is upon this balance — or lack thereof — that IceBear’s sculpture draws.
“When he started the sculpture, climate change wasn’t something that was on everybody’s mind. It was still seen as a bit of a fringe thing,” said IceBear’s wife, Charronne Johnston.
Four Winds was installed at the end of Swift Street — where Tug Eatery now operates — on Indigenous People’s Day in 2001.
At that time, the only people concerned with climate change were “hippies and scientists,” Johnston said.
Looking at the giant teal structure, four creatures can be made out, each with its own meaning. The female figure seen blowing the north wind represents Mother Earth and the shifting climate, the frog represents the loss of animal life, the dragon-like creature represents Nanabush who is both a trickster and a teacher in Ojibway oral histories, and the eagle presents Thunderbird who is known as a messenger between the Creator and humankind.
“In the sculpture, he [Thunderbird] is the only one looking upwards and he is looking past the great cloud overhead. He can see the world as humans can’t see it. He is a symbol that we still have a chance,” Johnston said.
IceBear feels the world is at a turning point and people need to decide if they are going to act.
“We can go gently or we can go hard,” he said. “We have to be stewards of this household we live in — Mother Earth.”
When he talks about his art, IceBear doesn’t like to take personal credit. Instead, he emphasizes that his talent was given to him by the Creator in order to actualize his visions.
IceBear hopes Four Winds not only pushes people to start protecting the Earth, but also sparks their imagination and curiosity.
“Everyone sees things through their own experiences, through their own loves and losses, and it will provoke that in them. If you make it too literal, then it’s all painted for them and they really don’t have to do any work at all.”
IceBear will be next to Tug Eatery restoring Four Winds for the next week and expects to be finished by Sept. 18.
More of his work can be found on his website https://www.icebearstudios.com/.
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