A small crowd gathered at the entrance to the Fountain Performing Arts Centre on Wednesday to watch Alan Syliboy and Head of School, Mr. Joe Seagram unveil Syliboy’s large mural The Round Dance. Mr. Seagram welcomed the faculty and students present with some opening comments about how the isolation we experienced during the pandemic has shown us how much we need social, in-person interactions. This mural, with the group of dancers hand in hand at the centre, is a testament to that need, and a symbol of us all coming together again. Syliboy addressed the group to say he was happy to leave this piece for us to enjoy, and that it is so appropriate for our international school with students from all over the world. The Mi’kmaq eight-pointed star on the mural’s drum represents all people coming together from the north, south, east, and west, just like our students do. Syliboy also noted that this mural is a gateway for us to accept and learn about one another.
To me, this gesture echoes Mi’kmaq poet Rita Joe’s poem, “I Lost My Talk.” In the final lines, she writes, “Let me find my talk, so I can teach you about me.” Like many Mi’kmaq people of his generation, Alan Syliboy was not allowed to speak the Mi’kmaq language as a young person, and he is still learning this language as an adult. The visual language he uses in his work, including petroglyphs modelled from those found in Kejimikujik resonate with us, and we can all access the message of community and welcoming in The Round Dance. What a beautiful way to face the stories we reflected on during September’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and take a step forward with the work of this wonderful artist welcoming us into the theatre every week for assembly, with the morning drum calling us all to gather.
During his visit to campus, Syliboy was generous with his time, knowledge, and expertise. He first spoke to the entire School during assembly, then he visited the art room and talked with the Grade 11 and 12 art students. He shared his life experiences as an artist who began working in the 1970s when there were no other Indigenous artists that he knew of working with petroglyphs. Renowned artist, poet, and activist, Shirley Bear was his first art teacher who mentored his work in the beginning. Syliboy shared how his art and media choices changed over time as he raised his three children on his own, and later allowed his grandchildren to make the dots on the bottom of the mural image that hangs in our theatre entrance. Near the end of his visit, Syliboy visited the Honourable A. Gordon Cooper Library to sign our copy of his picture book, The Thundermaker.