Sheldon Pierre Louis

Artist: Sheldon Pierre Louis
Photographer: Ingrid Love

That Story is Living Itself Out Again it Today’s Context

We met up with Sheldon Pierre Louis, also known as Bound by a Feather, to learn more about his work and the mural he has created for the 2019 edition of NIMF.

What’s the story behind your artist name “Bound by a Feather”?

The name came about almost 30 years ago; at the time I was doing a lot of graffiti and running around with some of my friends in high school. At this time I was thinking “What can I tag that is going to stand out?”

A lot of my work comes from dreams and this name came from a dream I had. In the dream, I was on the lakeshore of Okanagan Lake, and there were a number of eagle feathers floating out on the lake. I knew I had to go and collect them, but I’m not the greatest at swimming. So, in my dream, I’m very apprehensive and nervous to go into the water. As I’m sitting there watching them get further and further out and becoming worried that I’m not going to be able to get them. Then, my older brother Dwayne is beside me in my dream, and he wades out into the water. He collects the feathers and brings them back for me. Initially that phrase, when I used to tag it and use it was “Brother’s by blood, bound by a feather”. It spoke to that bond we had as brothers. Later, I shortened it down and it’s what I now use for my business side of things.

What influences/inspires you as an artist?

I grew up in a family of artists; everyone I grew up around was an artist, like my father, Barb Marchand (one of my relatives) and Lucy Louis (one of my aunts), my uncle Jim, and my uncle Rob. When I was six years old, our community came together on our reserve in 85’ and did an art show in our local community hall. I went home that day and went “That’s what I want to do with my life”. I grabbed a bunch of paper and drew a number of different dinosaurs and in the top corner wrote “Price: $1000.00”. Whenever family would come by, I was trying to sell them my art. Most of the family had a good chuckle and said “Sorry I don’t have any money”.

As time went on, I always had art. My dad would come home on the regular with art supplies and encouraged me to do all types of art. As I got older, I started noticing different artists that were Indigenous. Bill Reed at the time was so prevalent and someone I really looked up to. Although his style wasn’t of the interior, just seeing an Indigenous artist have such a huge impact was big for me. I was also influenced by Norval Morisseau and Benjamin Chee Chee; at a young age I started to kind of emulate their styles. But it wasn’t anything that was related to this area; to our land and our culture. So I was always pulling from other things for inspiration, but when I got to my mid-twenties I had that need for something that was me; something of our people, the Okanagan People. I really started digging into our culture and I started reading a lot of our captikʷł, our oral histories. I started using those to inform my work. Actually, the piece I’m painting for the festival is also based on traditional stories. That’s the biggest part of it; our culture and our history.

What can you tell us about the piece you are creating for the festival?

The piece originally came from a body of artwork I had done two years ago. I created a body of work called The Ancestors of the Columbia which really focused on one of our captikʷł, which talks about how coyote brought the salmon to the people. The short of it is:

Coyote travelled down the Columbia River to find out why there were no fish coming up. He got down there and there were two snipe sisters—one of which I painted on the wall—that were blocking the river with a salmon weir (a dam). They were keeping all the fish to themselves and so Coyote had to be sneaky and break this dam. When he did, he brought all the fish up.

The story tells of specific areas he went within our territory in the Okanagan, as well as here in the Columbia Basin area. It really has so many different things embedded in it; the history, the laws, and the teachings. When I read that story, what stood out was how present it is today. Yesterday our Nation signed a pretty historic agreement where they are going to be part of the Columbia River Treaty. And so when we look at it in today’s context, that story about Coyote setting the salmon free and bringing them back is exactly what our people are doing today by fighting the US and the Canadian governments to put fish passes into the dams—essentially breaking down the dams. It’s kind of a circle where that story is living itself out again in today’s context.

Do you think art is a medium/catalyst for change? Why/why not?

Oh definitely. I speak to it all the time when I’m doing artist talks at universities or high schools and talking to kids about art. I look at art as being a human tool. I spent about two-thirds of my life in addictions and I’ve spent the last seven years sober; my art was really part and parcel of why I sobered up. It’s a healing tool; and as you can tell from the stories attached, it’s also an education tool. Art is also (and specifically with this body of work) something I look at as a weapon. Sitting at the political tables because of my work with Chief and Council, there are times where I can’t say everything that I would like to say, because I’ve got to be mindful of my words and the organization and people that I represent. Sometimes my personal views can’t come out verbally, so I use my artwork to convey my disdain, my distrust and the not-so-good feelings that I get when looking at political climates.

I liken art to standing on a soapbox; as an Indigenous man I couldn’t go out into the street anywhere and stand on a soapbox to scream, yell, rant and rave about some of these issues because people would walk by and might say “He’s crazy, what’s he talking about?” People don’t react well to that approach, so in creating messages through artwork, it switches the dynamic— now the viewer starts the engagement and the viewer starts to ask you “Oh, what does this mean? What does this symbolize?”. When you have difficult conversations in this way, it feels a little more comfortable and not so forced. And people tend to be a little more open-minded in art-related settings. I think it’s a huge tool for any type of activism.

You can find “NKw?ast-Deep Water” on the back of the parkade, on the wall facing the Hume Hotel’s outbuilding.

Interviewer: Ingrid Love – 2019

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