Alan Syliboy | Les esprits dans la forêt

Alan Syliboy | There are Spirits in the Forest

July 20 to September 10, 2023

As part of the International First Peoples Festival, La Guilde proudly presents the exhibition There are Spirits in the Forest by Mi’kmaw artist Alan Syliboy. Exploring themes of family, spirituality, struggle and strength, he uses the layering of symbols and mark-making to create depth and texture in his works.

Alan Syliboy uses the simplicity of the line, the vibrance of the colours, and the themes he explores to highlight that Indigenous art is distinct and varied. The unique visual language he creates is inspired by the Indigenous petroglyph tradition and ancient Mi'kmaw engravings on naturally polished slate found by the water. When talking about his practice, the artist says: "My work lives in the moment but is profoundly influenced by the past; this gives me my bearings as an artist and as a human being. My ancestors have provided me with a spiritual global navigation system, and I like to believe that what I do helps to keep the spirits evolving."

Exhibition view, There Are Spirits in the Forest - Alan Syliboy
Exhibition view, Beluga Whale Drum - Alan Syliboy
Exhibition view, There Are Spirits in the Forest - Alan Syliboy
Exhibition view, works Spirit Wright Whale and Spirits Leaving the Earth #2 - Alan Syliboy

Through his search for identity, he creates a world that celebrates Mi’kmaw narratives. Making art becomes a tool that he uses to organize chaos. He says, “[ … ] sometimes within the chaos of making a painting, a symbol in the shape of a moose or a caribou will walk through my consciousness, in a form that resembles an ancient petroglyph”. Their spirits are thus brought back to our consciousness as the artist integrates them in his practice. By recalling those early forms of communication, Alan Syliboy draws upon ancestral knowledge, making evident his belief that the earth holds memories of the spirits that reside on it. The artist has devoted himself to exploring the aesthetics and imagery evoking his culture. Through his paintings, he can put the results of his research into visual form. Art is his way of making things live on.

About the artist

Born in Millbrook (NS), Alan Syliboy studied painting with Shirley Bear before attending the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (Halifax, NS). Inspired by his Mi’kmaw origins, petroglyph traditions, and a search for symbolism, he is an artist, musician, filmmaker, and book illustrator. He received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and was long-listed for this year’s prestigious Sobey Art Award. Alan Syliboy has been part of many group and solo exhibitions worldwide, including at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax, NS) and Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent (Rivière-du-Loup, QC).

About our partner

LAND InSIGHTS is the driving force behind the International First Peoples Festival, a multidisciplinary artistic and cultural event that makes Montreal the epicentre of Indigenous creativity from the three Americas for ten days in August. We set three strategic objectives upon our foundation in 1990: create a major First Nations festival in Montreal, commemorate and remember the Great Peace of Montreal 1701 upon its tricentennial, and secure a permanent home for First Cultures in Québec’s metropolis. Mission: Link the artistic and cultural renaissance of First Peoples to the cultural dynamics of a major metropolis within a sustainable development perspective based on friendship between peoples, diversity of sources of expression as a collective cultural wealth to share and recognition of the specificity of First Nations.

Images: Alan Syliboy, There Are Spirits in the Forest, exhibition views, 2023.