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Elk Man Waiting For Love

Elk Man Waiting for Love (1999)
Matrix G, elk antlers, CD soundtrack of elk mating call
60 x 55 x 41cm
Collection of Thunderbay Art Gallery

In 1999 and later in 2004 I created two sister pieces surrounding the topic of love and courtship. The work Elk man waiting for Love was produced in 1999 and was an exploration of the universal topic of love, spoken from traditional courting rituals of Plains Indigenous peoples.

The elk was a predominant figure in Plains courting rituals, with its head carved into the flute and its mouth open to allow for the song to escape. A male would serenade a woman with this courting flute as a form of anticipated engagement for marriage. The elk was revered for its powerful songs during the time of mating and fertility. Its natural song during the mating season emanates power and longing and if heard in the distant forests, can sound magical and intimidating. The traditional courting ritual usually occurred at large events, in order to guarantee witnesses at the time of the proposal and is said to occur at public events such as at Sun dances. These events were not only a time of annual ceremonies but an opportunity for socializing and “snagging.” If a young man was interested in a woman, he would come by her tent at night and serenade her with his flute. It was believed that if he played the flute exceptionally well, he could entice any woman with the beauty of the song and the power of the elk would assist him. If the woman was agreeable to his request, she would bring out her blanket and the two would promenade around the camp, announcing their commitment.

The life size Elk man represents the longing for love and courtship symbolized by the two rocks in his hand bound together with a lock of hair taken from his desired love. His longing is expressed though his elk calls that exit his mouth, made possible with a recorded loop tape played on a CD player, hidden inside his body. This work revives traditional courting rituals with a contemporary twist, in that the humanizing of the elk and reminds us of the universal power of love.