Born in British Columbia, Melanie Daniel has a mixed heritage which includes family members who are First Nations (Aboriginal People), and for eighteen years has made her home in Israel. In the exhibition Raven and the Leftover Men Daniel recalls the West Coast narratives and traditional totemic imagery of her childhood and reworks them from a contemporary perspective in her intensely vivid and detailed paintings. Dense brushwork reveals a weird fabricated world inhabited by camouflaged figures and mythical animal characters.
Looking to the Haida, Kwakuitl and other Northwest tribes, Daniel weaves those graphic conventions and stylistic devices into her own otherworldly landscapes, the end result being a kind of joyful mutation. Furtive humans disintegrate into the foliage of natural and supernatural worlds with Bear, Mosquito or Raven never far away. Fabricated forests are propped up in front of trapezoidal shapes and patterned backdrops, stage props for the main event – characters attempting to restore hope or meaning through the power of a good story.
Of the stories, Daniel says, “Insiders and outsiders alike can only empower the old ways by sharing them and paradoxically allowing them to mutate.” Daniel takes her cue from characters like Raven, a deity and trickster who is often insolent, libidinous and deceitful, and frequently the victim of his own excesses: “I love the legends of Raven, a naughty and playful creator who could change form in order to satisfy his curiosity.” She points out his ability to adapt himself in order to get what he most desires, an ability which is both creative and one which goes well beyond basic survival. The paintings tell of magical creatures, neither just human nor just animal, but both at once who have survived the rigours of a disdainful world and still have the power to fuel the imagination.
The following story presents the cosmological theme of Raven and the First People.
Raven was bored. He walked along the beach in search of diversions, but there was no one around to play with. Then he heard a strange sound unlike any he knew. He searched the beach until he found a large clamshell lying in the sand, crammed with oddly shaped, tiny creatures. Raven bent down to get a closer look and began to coax the terrified creatures with his seductive voice. It wasn’t long before the timid shell creatures all emerged from the clam. They were very different from Raven – no feathers, no wings, and no beaks. These tiny creatures were the first humans. Raven enjoyed watching his small companions play and explore the world, but soon he grew tired of them and planned to return them to their shell. Then, he noticed that these humans were all men. He looked all along the beach for female creatures to make the game more interesting, but found none. Raven had an idea. Spotting some soft-lipped molluscs called chitons, he tossed them with his beak toward the groins of the surprised men. Nothing like this had ever happened to the men in their safe shell. Since that day, many generations of humans have grown and flourished, and Raven has never been bored.