Marcus Gosse’s definition of utopia may be a little different than yours.
Historically speaking, the word was coined in Greek and used by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book, “Utopia,” and used to describe a fictional island in the Atlantic. Plato’s version included a class structure of citizens. Other utopian ideas include elements of science, feminism, religion or world peace.
For Gosse, it comes down to a sharing of cultures and an appreciation for the environment.
Gosse, who lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is a visual artist, a teacher and a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band. Growing up with art supplies his mother, also a teacher, would bring home, Gosse says he remembers being interested in aboriginal culture, film and art as a small boy.
Teaching on a contract position in a school in Sandy Lake, Ont., Gosse was adopted by the Ojibway-Cree people there and given his native name: Papamikapow, or “he who travels spiritually as well as physically.”
It’s his spiritual identity that most influences his goals as an artist: to provoke thought, display energy and help preserve the Mi’kmaq culture.
Tonight, he’ll open “Mi’kmaq Utopia,” an exhibition of his work at the Regional Museum of Art and History at the Stephenville Legion, including 20 individual paintings as well as a three-foot mixed media panel mural, which will be permanently installed in the museum.
“I feel that utopia, or paradise for me — and I’m sure for a lot of Mi’kmaq people — exists within in the land and becoming at one with the environment, and sharing spiritual ideas and creative thoughts,” he says. “My themes are harmony, joy, love, family, sharing and reflecting.”
Gosse uses Mi’kmaq motifs, petroglyphs and hieroglyphs in his work, creating landscapes and seascapes. One of his favourite is the Mi’kmaq star — an eight-pointed shape, based on a petroglyph found in a wooded area in Nova Scotia in the early 1980s, representing the eight districts of the Mi’kmaq nation in North America.
“I said to myself, here exists all these designs — why not take them and put them into landscapes? I like adding abstractness, making landscapes abstract through Mi’kmaq art,” Gosse says.
Among his paintings are depictions of icebergs, left representational above but abstract beneath the water, to show the depth of a person and their culture. A pair of kissing petroglyph whales in a painting called “Love” bears the star shape, showing how the animals have embodied the Mi’kmaq culture. The berg in the piece represents their respect for the environment.
The black eagles in Gosse’s work represent the spirit of our personalities, he says, rising up into the air.
“One of my purposes is to not exclude cultures, even though I’m Mi’kmaq,” Gosse says. “I think what my collections show is that a paradise can exist from us sharing ideas.”
The mural Gosse will unveil tonight is called “K’taqmkuk,” (“Newfoundland,” or, literally, “Land Across the Water”), and was executed in acrylic paint and historical photo clippings. Each of the four panels represents an era in the Mi’kmaq presence in this province, from pre-1700 to the mixing of Mi’kmaq, French and English, to Stephenville in the 1900s, to the 21st century, and the formation of the Qalipu band.
It’s not Gosse’s first mural. In 2005, he was commissioned by the Town of Torbay to to paint a 60-foot piece, entitled “Moonlight Over Tapper’s Cove,” in Tapper’s Cove to celebrate Torbay’s come home year.
The individual pieces displayed in “Mi’kmaq Utopia” are for sale, and Gosse will be on hand at the opening tonight.
The show will run at the museum for the rest of the summer.
On the weekend, Gosse will attend the Flat Bay Pow Wow at the Flat Bay Cultural Gathering Grounds, where he will be selling other pieces and giving a presentation on Mi’kmaq art. Gosse’s work can be viewed at the Spurrell Gallery in St. John’s, the Newfoundland Mi’kmaw Museum in St. George’s and online at www.marcusgosse.synthasite.com.