“On a small island, on the west coast of the southern part of Haida Gwaii is the old village site of SGang Gwaay. On one end there is a small group of old poles that were partially burned some years ago. Over time the damage, rain and wind have changed the original carving into something not recognizable in the traditional way. They are not part of the park reserve visitors’ tour. Having lived on the islands for six years and returned a number of times, these poles have drawn me time and time again.”
Karel Doruyter wasn’t always fascinated with death. But after spending time among Haida Gwaii’s disintegrating totem poles, working for an arctic expedition, and a series of deaths in his family, the Genocide Series began to emerge. This intense, emotional project was as much a surprise to Doruyter as it is to the people who see it fully completed.
“It’s going to challenge the viewer,” says Wendy Wacko, curator of Mountain Galleries, which worked with the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum & Archives to bring Doruyter’s exhibition to Jasper.
“What is genocide, what does it mean to you? The exhibition takes you from the light to the dark and back again.”
The cultural link that connects Jasper and Haida Gwaii is subtle but strong. Since 1915, Jasper’s downtown has been anchored by a totem pole carved in Haida Gwaii. First it was the Raven Totem, which stood next to the railway station until 2009 when it deteriorated and was returned to its birthplace. The next (and present) Haida totem pole commissioned for Jasper tells the story of two brothers from Haida Gwaii who traveled to the Rocky Mountains.
“Jasper’s Two Brothers totem, born on that landscape, connects us to Haida Gwaii and signifies our position as Gateway to the Northwest,” writes Warren Waxer a former president of the museum. “[Doruyter’s] paintings require us to look at totems from a different perspective.”
Painted in an impressionistic realism style, the exhibit encompasses 30 pieces. Although they’re not massive in size, these paintings carry a big message. Visit the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum & Archives during the month of June to see them in person.