Sprakkar - The Vancouver Women Project
– ABOUT THE PROJECT
Icelandic Canadian artist Carla Sumarlidosn has a colourful history of featuring marginal communities and unsung stories in her figurative paintings. Following an artist residency in Reykjavik that introduced her to the concept of the ‘sprakkar’ – the strong female spirit that animates Nordic cultural history – Sumarlidson returned to her art practice in Vancouver with a vision for creating a vibrant installation piece intended to herald a diverse collection of extraordinary women who, for over a century, have been bright forces for critical change in Vancouver’s history. It was a pleasure to work with Carla to help research, organize and message the meaning and value of this important piece. The stories at the core of each of the women named (99 in all) are warrior tales from the long battle for social justice, equal rights and the inherent power in female identity.
“In its complex knitting of names, Sprakkar contains both an absence and a spirited reunion. The absence is the missing 100th name – that rounded out number is purposefully left open to serve as a portal to other possibilities. The reunion is between Emily Carr and Sophie Frank; both are named in Sprakkar, renewing a powerful connection that lasted for 40 years. Sophie Frank (Sewinchelwet) was a basket weaver, determined and resourceful, from the Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) nation who met Carr in 1906, selling her a large intricately-detailed basket. Carr lived in Vancouver until 1913, pre and post her pivotal year in France. For each in her own way, their long friendship – sharing artistic practices, telling stories, grieving loss – was a hallmark of their lives.”
– Barry Dumka
Sprakkar - The Vancouver Women Project
In her illuminating essay, ”Searching For Herself – Female Experience and Female Tradition in Icelandic Literature”, Icelandic scholar Helga Kress recounts how early oral culture was more the domain of women than men. The oral tradition in Old Norse culture “can be traced to women’s culture, particularly to such activities as healing and prophesying. The poetic genres were mainly visions (spar) and incantations (siedr) as well as laments, dreams, work songs and poems of healing.” Women, it seems way back then, had a lot to say about themselves, the work they did and the communities they created. But when oral culture began transitioning in the 11th Century to an inscribed form, when the ballad sung in the nursery became an ode written in a book, the scholars and scribes and now Catholic overlords – all exclusively male – diminished and shut out the voices and views of women. In Iceland, as in so many other societies, women’s lives, their names and stories, became hidden or were held back, a minor undercurrent beneath the mighty river of male accomplishment. Still, the ancient pagan idea of the ‘sprakki’ or ‘sprakkar’ – referencing either a singular extraordinary woman or a collective of female power – remained latent in Icelandic culture. In pagan society, women “were priestesses and oracles, poets and rune masters, merchants and medicine doctors, enjoying respect.” Now an exemplar of female representation, contemporary Iceland is rewiring its society to make the invisible visible again, to bring equity and value to a woman’s place in society.
For Icelandic-Canadian artist Carla Sumarlidson, the concept of the sprakkar became the wellspring for her latest conceptual art installation, Sprakkar. During an artist residency in Reykjavik in 2019, Sumarlidson began researching the role of women in Icelandic society, both past and present, while reflecting on the importance of visibility. In Sumarlidson’s previous studio practice and short experimental films, she often investigates the charged connections – tangled and tough and loving and smart – between women. Still, Iceland inspired her to value the individual power of women as much as their collective strength. For Sumarlidson, Sprakkar acts as both synthesis and catharsis for her idea of how women should be seen. Sumarlidson’s installation is a potent yet intimate statement on the lure and lasting strength of so many individual women in the history of the Vancouver region, and the collective relationships that weave them together.
— (end of excerpt)
© Barry Dumka/BCREATIVE CONSULTING
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