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Alan Syliboy


In the beginning I found painting painful and difficult because I was unsure of my own identity. As my exploration of painting and my understanding of Mi'kmaq spiritualism expanded, my confidence and ability grew with it. Since my family is where I am centered, everything else is exterior. I feel that I have gained the inner strength to conceptualize my spiritualism. Simplicity of line and colour and uncomplicated symbolism now gives my work a cleanness and strength. From this point of beginning I incorporate new themes and mediums to insure my artistic progression. Elements of Mi'kmaq petroglyph records found throughout Nova Scotia provide some inspiration for the developing of my general theme, which is my expression of the pride and understanding attached to our cultural heritage. Most of my subjects deal with family, searching, struggle, and strength. All these things are part of my art, and my art gives me strength for my continuing spiritual quest.

Red Crane Enterprises is the fine arts studio of Mi'kmaq artist Alan Syliboy, who lives on the Millbrook First Nation reserve in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. His work is representative of the traditional North American Indians of the Wabanaki who are of the Eastern woodland tribes. "Like many others in my generation, I grew up believing that native art was generic - what you see on TV and in other mass media." He argues "Visual expressions are part of what makes a culture unique, and, although Mi'kmaq designs are similar to other North American woodland tribes, you can easily recognize the difference."

He looked to the indigenous Mi'kmaq petroglyph tradition (rock drawings) for inspiration and developed his own artistic vocabulary out of those forms. His popularization of these symbolic icons has conferred on them a mainstream legitimacy that restores community pride in its Mi'kmaq heritage. With this purely Mi'kmaq vocabulary he has allowed his brush and pen to lead him to images of family for his series of serigraph prints. 'Grandfather and Grandmother' has put new faces on the flow of constellations and galaxies across the night sky. The past, present, and future of strong family ties are celebrated in a series of sprightly images that suggest the fantasies of Klee and Miro to those familiar with European art history, but their artistic roots are firmly twined around the rocks found in the ancient grounds of Nova Scotia.

Mr. Syliboy also wanted his own people to enjoy his art. "Most Mi'kmaq do not go to museums on Sunday afternoons," he quips. He began selling his beautifully designed T-shirts door to door on his own reserve, and then to other reserves in Nova Scotia and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. And his intuition was well-founded. "Most of my native customers did not know the traditional designs of their own people." he admits.

Alan says of his art, "As my exploration of painting and my understanding of Mi'kmaq spiritualism expanded, my confidence and ability grew with it. Since my family is where I am centered, everything else is exterior." Mr. Syliboy uses elements of Mi'kmaq petroglyph (rock drawing) records found throughout the Maritime Provinces to provide some inspiration for the development of his general theme - the expression of his pride and understanding attached to his cultural heritage.

"Most of my subjects deal with family, searching, struggle and strength. All of these things are part of my art, and my art gives me strength for my continuing spiritual quest." As a youth, Alan was unsure of his talents. "In the beginning I found painting painful and difficult because I was unsure of my identity." But his confidence grew when he studied privately with Mi'kmaq artist Shirley Bear and then attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where 25 years later, in 1997, he was invited to sit on the Board of Governors.