“She is gripped by terror!” A teenager on a tour I was leading at the Winnipeg Art Gallery made that comment as we looked at this ink drawing on mineral paper by Heather Campbell called Methylmercury.
The work shows the sea goddess Nuliajuk more commonly known as Sedna. All the creatures who live in the sea were created from Nuliajuk’s fingers after a rather horrifying episode where her father cuts her fingers off. Heather says the goddess Nuliajuk is a symbol of female power in Inuit culture.
In Methylmercury Heather wants to show the impact of a hydroelectric dam under construction in Muskrat Falls Labrador. A Harvard study concluded that vegetation and topsoil must first be removed from the area the dam will flood. Otherwise dangerous levels of methylmercury will be released contaminating the traditional food supply for Inuit communities downstream. CBC reported the methylmercury will create the highest risk for people in Heather’s hometown of Rigolet because people there eat the most wildlife, birds and fish. The black mass at the top of Methylmercury is filled with death symbols and a hand reaches out from it to grab Nuliajuk’s neck and force the poisonous substance down her throat. This is similar to what will happen to people who eat fish and animals contaminated with methylmercury. The look on Nuliajuk’s face is what caused the young man on my tour to comment so insightfully, “She is gripped by terror.”
Heather put tattoos on Nuliajuk because traditional Inuit tattoos are enjoying a resurgence as symbols of beauty, strength, family, community, and even a form of protest.
Heather’s thought-provoking work is one of the art pieces we will be discussing when I lead the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Books and Brushes Book Club in November. You can read more about that here.