Gerry McComb of the Moose Cree First Nation and Thaila Sarazin of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan perform an Opening Song written by McComb for the Exhibitions reception. They are singing in front of Thaila’s Reconciling Two Selves into One artwork. Photo by Ellis O’Connor.

By Kelly Anne Smith

NORTH BAY—A series of paintings in the BFA Graduate Exhibition 2017 on public view at W.K.P. Kennedy Gallery in North Bay are powerful images created to invoke conversations about opening the wounds of intergenerational trauma.

That must be done to begin to heal from Residential School trauma and move forward in life says a talented recent graduate of Nipissing University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program.

Fourth year Fine Arts graduate student Gerald McComb explains the exhibit, which is part of his thesis artwork from the Directed Studio Research and Professional Practice course.

“In my work, I have embraced the theme of cultural identity, ceremonies, and healing from the lasting effects of colonialism and the Residential School system on Indigenous peoples,” stated McComb.

The series’ first four paintings on display at the W.K. P. Kennedy Gallery are focused on the effects of intergenerational trauma. The artworks in the Intergenerational Series are titled: The Survivor, The Mother, The Child, and Homeless Within.

McComb, from Moose Cree First Nation, says it is important for artists to address these themes. His works are scenes from his own personal experiences of traumas and the healing from those traumas. He offers perspectives of his Indigenous culture and spiritual background in bold imagery.

McComb has used collages of rows of hard steel beds, rows of bricks, and rows of unhappy children affirming the source of the sorrow of his characters.

“The abuse that occurred, and its lasting effects on not only the children who were often forced to attend, but are also on the generations that followed,” explained McComb.

The four paintings in the Healing of the Spirit Series are called: Self-Regulation, Expulsion of the Sickness, Healing from Here, and Breaking the Cycle. The portrayals show progression towards healing through Indigenous ceremony and by mending relationships between generations. McComb informs that healing takes work and wounds have to be opened to bring about change.

The artist recalls how his paintings invoked intense emotions.

“During the critique there was someone who may have experienced trauma at residential school who reacted to our discussion about where to show the work,” recalled McComb. “The individual was triggered because we were talking about whether to show my body of work in the front room of the gallery or the basement.”

“She mentioned that we should be very careful about putting them in the basemen,” continued McComb. “That setting is triggering for some people. We thought that was a very powerful experience for the critique because everyone reflected on that.”

McComb, along with graduate student artist and partner, Thaila Sarazin, sang the opening song for the reception.

“We sing together very well,” stated McComb. “She is a very practiced singer. We sang a song I composed during the Christmas holiday. It’s a Round Dance song.”

Sarazin is a member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan.

Sarazin’s work in the BFA Graduate Exhibition 2017 is a multi-media piece entitled Reconciling Two Selves into One. The large artwork includes pen and ink works, bead work, and a large leather dream catcher pyrographed with strong hands and symbols against a painted back-drop. Her work explores Indigenous culture in the Westernized gallery setting to open up dialogue of identity and spirituality.

Course instructor and Gallery Manager of the W.K.P. Kennedy Gallery, Alex Landon Richardson, was really moved with the opening song performance of her students Gerald McComb and Thaila Sarazin.

“I was really proud of the students,” stated Richardson. “They were dealing with some deep human questions this year such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘Who is my identity?’, ‘Where am I going?’ [and] ‘What am I healing from?’.”

“Gerry McComb’s artwork is so powerful that during the critique, a Cree woman from James Bay saw it, bringing her to tears,” recollected Richardson. “We had to have a moment of silence. We were all so touched and humbled. It showed me how much power artwork has to move us towards changing the way we think about things. It can also help us release emotions that we have been holding onto.”

Other artists in the exhibition included: Thomas Sandziuk, Joélle Myre, Melanie Webdale, Tina Couchie, Amber Claassen, Annie Manion, Janica Vossos, Connor McNeilly, Bryanne Morris, Morgan Ranney, Emelie Janes, and Brianna Hachez-Lagacé.