Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Chisato "Kitty" Dubreuil & her Sky Woman: Peramonkoro Sunazawa

Chisato "Kitty" Dubreuil, a scholar specializing in Ainu and Northwestern North American indigenous cultures, has had her first literary nonfiction work published in an anthology, Sky Woman: Indigenous Women Who Have Shaped, Moved or Inspired Us released in September 2005 by Native Women in the Arts.

The image of the "Sky Woman" comes from an Iroquois (Native American) creation story. When Sky Woman came to the earth from the heavens, water-dwelling animals created a dry place (North America) for her to land. Sky Woman then gave birth to twins, Good Spirit and Bad Spirit. Good Spirit created more animals, rivers and hills. However, Bad Spirit tried to destroy all that Good Spirit created. Good Spirit beat the Bad Spirit in a battle to rule the earth, banishing him to an underground cave.

Although Sky Woman had died giving birth to her sons, Good Spirit fashioned the sun, moon and stars from her body. And all living things find nourishment from the rest of her body, the earth where it was buried. Thus, "Sky Woman" symbolizes creative nourishment, especially for writers, musicians, performing and visual artists.

"The premise of this anthology was to pay honor to specific indigenous women who touched our lives in a special way.  I was fortunate to have a role model that helped me along the way.  I suspect my story is different than the other authors in the book in that I never met her.  It was through her that I became extremely interested in her son, Bikky Sunazawa, an Ainu artist that I did my Master's on, and recently published his story, From the Playground of the Gods: the Life and Art of Bikky Sunazawa," Dubreuil explains.

Peramonkoro Sunazawa, an Ainu textile artist, was one of the most respected textile artists in the 20th-century. Her son, Bikky Sunazawa, led the liberation of Ainu art out of the narrow realm of art for the tourist market, where it had been trapped for decades, into global fine arts circles. The shift pioneered by Sunazawa paralleled similar transformation of indigenous art throughout the world happening at the same time.

Dubreuil, both an activist and a scholar, is part of this transformation. As a graduate student, Dubreuil co-curated a groundbreaking 1999 Smithsonian exhibition on the Ainu, insisting on a broad approach that included the work of contemporary artists, not simply artifacts.

Out of this exhibition, Dubreuil, along with co-curator William Fitzhugh, edited Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, a critically acclaimed and beautifully produced volume of interdisciplinary contributions by Ainu scholars, the most in-depth work on Ainu culture to date.

Dubreuil's From the Playground of the Gods: The Life and Art of Bikky Sunazawa, a volume on the innovative visual artist, was published last year by the Smithsonian Institution Press:
Bikky, a nickname meaning "frog" in Ainu, rose to prominence in the 1970-80s as a charismatic young artist interested in advancing the political and cultural aspirations of Ainu people. Initially through direct political action and later through his art, Bikky translated the historical legacy of Ainu culture into a powerful message of modern Ainu identity unlike any previous Ainu artist. Chisato Dubreuil's current work is the most comprehensive treatment of the artist who became the pivot-point in the development of modern Ainu fine art.
Dubreuil's story about Bikky Sunazawa's mother, Peramonkoro Sunazawa, is part of a collection of works that includes Indigenous writers and visual artists from Canada, U.S., Japan, Hawai'i, Samoan Islands, New Zealand and Mexico. This anthology is just one example of many pan-Indigenous artistic collaborations fueling a dynamic globally interconnected creative movement.

The creators of this anthology, Native Women in the Arts, are a non-profit group of First Nations women, "Inuit and Metis, women from diverse artistic disciplines who share a common interest in culture, art, community and the advancement of Indigenous peoples." They now operate internationally, supporting aboriginal women writers, such as Kitty Dubreuil, and artists, beyond North America's borders as well as within.

Buffy Saint-Marie, renowned songwriter and educator, is another one of the contributors to the anthology. A brilliant pioneer in popularizing Native issues, Saint-Marie holds a degree in Oriental philosophy, which influenced her worldview, music, visual art and activism.

The founder of Native Women in the Arts, Sandra Laronde, is also the director of Red Sky Theater, an Indigenous performing arts company, which performed this past summer at The Dreaming, Australia's international indigenous festival, which brings together Indigenous artists from around the world.

(Originally posted at Kyoto Journal by JD)

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