For artist Shaun Hedican, balance in art is as important as balance in life.
Hedican’s latest exhibit called Zhizhoobii’igan, which translates to paint in Ojibwa, includes a dozen works on display at the Baggage Building Arts Centre in Marina Park.
“The name reflects my own personal decolonization process,” said Hedican, a member of the Loon Clan and Eabametoong First Nation, also known as Fort Hope. “It’s a simple word, but that’s where I am in terms of learning my own language.”
His acrylic on canvas painting Male and Female draws a lot of attention.
“In our culture the berries represent male and female,” said Hedican, referring to blueberries and strawberries depicted in the painting. “The strawberry is actually called the heart berry and it represents a woman’s rite of passage. My heart-bearing motif, the strawberry, is very culturally important.”
The self-taught artist, who currently lives on the Rocky Bay reserve on Lake Nipigon with his partner Tara and his two young daughters, said a connecting theme between his pieces is one of balance.
“You’ll see repeated throughout my work, a divided circle motif,” explained the full-time artist. “As we know, balance is an important aspect of life and we often strive to have balance between many of the things that have opposites.”
Maintaining balance in life took on new meaning for Hedican when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last December, a cancer that starts in the cells of the lymphatic system. He recently finished chemotherapy treatment and is awaiting a new computerized tomography (CT) scan.
“The team at the cancer centre is very optimistic,” he said. “My health has improved considerably. I feel almost 100 per cent now.”
Hedican, who previously had solo exhibits in Toronto and Guelph, had been planning his Thunder Bay show since last summer and decided to follow through despite his health problems.
“All of the work in this show has been completed since having cancer. It was meaningful to me and important to continue to strive in terms of my art and carrying on with my life. Not just for my family or for myself, but to try to help inspire other people who are suffering and also to validate all of the hard work that the people at the cancer centre have put into restoring my health.”
Hedican found continuing to work on his artwork while being treated for cancer helped him heal.
“I think it gives me something positive to reflect on other than my own personal pain and suffering,” he said. “It also gives me something meaningful to devote my life to.”
Born in Guelph, Hedican became interested in art as a child. Later, after moving to Toronto in 2009, he began expressing himself through painting while struggling “to pursue the Ojibway ideal while living in an urban and modern environment.”
The 38-year-old credits First Nations elders like Arthur Solomon for influencing the development of his character and imparting knowledge later reflected in his paintings.
He was also creatively inspired by the paintings of his grandmother Margaret Hedican and her experiences with Norval Morrisseau. His painting style developed from his experiences and knowledge of pictographs, birch bark scrolls, beadwork and other traditional iconography.
“I feel that people would identify my style as being what they call Woodlands style, but I like to think of it as a part of Anishanabwe style, or Ojibwa style.”
Hedican’s Zhizhoobii’igan exhibit, his second show in Thunder Bay, runs until Aug. 30 at the Baggage Building Arts Centre in Marina Park.
He plans to hold a show in Fort Hope in the fall. His work can also be found at the Ahnisnabae Art Gallery on Court Street.