Artist Rande Cook left Alert Bay, B.C. when he was 13. It was and is a divided world where the simple decision of turning right or left means everything.
“You come off the ferry, you go left, you’re on the reserve. You go right, you’re on the white end,” says the left-bound Cook. Leaving the reserve comes with the stigma of “becoming white.” This was particularly hard for an Indian kid who already didn’t look the part with his lighter skin and green eyes.
The multiculturalism of Vic High and UVic began to break down some of those barriers, but it was his ancestral art form that truly helped him negotiate his culture in a larger world context. He found a mentor and learned about business, art, commercialism and staying true.
“There’s this fine line. There are native artists that consider everything to be sacred, yet they’ll sell it for a buck,” says Cook who needed to find a way that still felt right to support himself through his art and culture. He was left with one choice. “I had to create a new art form,” Cook says.
Instead of using sacred items representing the spirits of land, sky and ocean, Cook turned to the ancestral stories learned from his grandparents and interpreted their imagery — no desecration required.
This art form is what attracted film professor Broderick Fox. His film, The Skin I’m In, is an official selection at this year’s Victoria Film Fest.
Through several personas, Fox takes us on a journey of addiction, recovery, gender performance, trivialization of the feminine, gay-today, otherness, mind-body identification and the culture of pain. Shot and edited on consumer-based cameras and editing programs, his personal tale is told with an unexpected whimsy.
And it all begins with a trip to Victoria to design the perfect first tattoo — for his entire back.
“It started as a talisman, but it’s come to represent the relationships and journeying that came with the last seven years [making the film].” The myths, however, remain a touchstone. Fox says, “there’s always the possibility of metamorphosis and play in our lives [Frog] … and we each possess an incredible sense of generative power to wield for good or for mischief [Raven] … so we can let certain obstacles derail us or we can remain permeable and keep going. [Sisiutl (two headed snake)].”
Alcheringa Gallery is a VFF partner and the only gallery Cook deals with on the Island. When they heard about Skin, they approached Cook and put together a show of sculptures and graphics along with one painting created specifically for the event. Yet another parallel in two seemingly very different lives.
When Cook saw the film last year, he says, “My jaw dropped. He could be telling my story. It’s about ‘Where do you fit in?’ No matter where you are in the world it doesn’t mean anything until you can connect with yourself.” M
The Skin I'm In • The Vic Theatre [808 Douglas]
Sat., Feb. 2 • 9:30pm Alcheringa Gallery’s Rande Cook
exhibition runs from Feb. 2 to 21