Wiinabozho and the Storytellers' Mirror

Nanabush and the Storytellers' Mirror

Wiinabozho Miinawaa Ayaadizookedjig Waabandizowin
Zhaawano Giizhik
Medium: Digital painting; available as customized acrylic on canvas, 40 x 48 inch (101.6 x 121.9 cm). 
© Zhaawano Giizhik  
Price canvas: 7,150.00 CAD /6,350.00 USD*/ 5.000,00 EUR*    
Product code: SZPF-1

Note: commissions are available. Contact Zhaawano Giizhik or Simone McLeod for inquiries about a custom reproduction or a print of the original. Also available in smaller sizes!

*Prices in USD and Euro are approximate and depend on the current exchange rate. 

The above prices are exclusive of Canadian GST, HST and PST tax rates and exclusive of shipping & handling costs, and exclusive of shipping & handling charges, taxes, and possible customs duties and custom brokerage fees in case the painting has to be shipped to a country outside Canada.


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Nanabozho and the Storyteller's Mirror

The sacred tale of Wiinabozho and the Storytellers' Mirror; the beginning of a remarkable collaboration

The visions, dreams, and adventures of the Great Storyteller Hero Wiinabozho fill the minds of children sitting spellbound as they listen to Grandfather's stories...

This painting, which I made in a time span of two moons, was completed in 2012, on the third day of the Maple Syrup Moon. This day, on April 3, marks the beginning of a friendship and cooperation between two kindred artists, one a jeweler and a graphic artist and the other a painter and a poet and both storytellers at heart, each in their own right. Countless beautiful tales have been spun around the mystery of the Storytellers' Mirror ever since and - although the collaboration ended on the third day of the Great Spirit Moon of 2019 - still the story goes on...

The painting depicting two children, a girl and a boy, flanked by two storytellers, is a traditional teaching diagram that is inspired on the visual imagery of the ancients, as well as on the (relatively) modern teachings of the Medicine Wheel. I created the diagram like one would tell an aadizookaan, an allegorical tale containing multiple layers of meaning.

The image represents the act of storytelling viewed from a double perspective, or rather from two (mirrored) perspectives: that of aadizookewinini (the human storyteller, the person to the left) and that of aadizookaan WIINABOZHO (the supernatural protagonist of the story, the person to the right). Grandfather telling the story and Wiinabozho himself are both accomplished storytellers in their own right.

But when Grandfather and Wiinabozho combine forces, they create a magic energy that bounces off one another to spin a truly amazing tale!

The tale of this painted diagram - and the layers of meaning it  carries - are told in the tradition of the sacred pictographs the Anishinaabe ancestors left us, scattered over numerous cliff walls and hiding in remote caves near the coastlines of the Great Lakes; like the ancient spirit drawings, and like a Medicine Wheel, the painting is a mirror, or reflection of things that are inside every single one of us. This mirror concept reveals how there are many aspects to us and that in each aspect of us there are even more aspects to discover. As my one-time friend Simone McLeod put it eloquently: “The Storytellers painting you did, the very imagery…is shown in the old rock images that lurk inside us somewhere”.

The storytelling figure to the right represents Wiinabozho, half man half manidoo, who is also  known by a variety of other names and spellings, including Wenaboozhoo, Nanabozho, ManabozhoNanabush, and Wiisagejaak.

Wiinabozho is considered to be the source and embodiment of the lives of all sentient things, such as humans, animals, and plants. Every living thing on, beneath, and above the earth he gifted with a spirit and a soul, and to each he taught – through his magic powers or through his parabolic stories - the necessary tricks needed to outsmart and outwit their enemies. Not only did he impart to the Anishinaabeg the best remedies for treating illnesses, he, being an expert shape shifter himself, taught the animals how to disguise themselves so that they could survive.

Thus the Anishinaabeg, although he often presents himself as a trickster and a mischievous fantasist, regard Wiinabozho first and foremost as a manidoo possessing great wisdom in the prolonging of life.

If you look closely at the persons in the painting you will notice that I used X-RAY IMAGERY to fill in the contour lines with designs and patterns of animals and images of aadizookaanag (animal spirits and spirit guardians).

This method of depicting the internal forces, not the subject of the painting itself, as the main focal points, is one of the essential features of a contemporary spiritual art that makes use of X-rage imagery.

This art form, which is often called NATIVE WOODLAND, or MEDICINE ART, is derived from mazinaajimowin, the ancient Anishinaabe tradition of spirit writing, where sacred images were painted on, and sometimes inscribed in, rocks and birch bark by the ancestors.

The intention of X-ray imagery is to transport the audience into the sacred spirit world revealing the true nature of things, where the soul, or essence, is more important than the body containing these things.

The images of the children and the figures that I placed inside the bodies of both children and storytellers are rich with symbolism and carry different layers of meaning; their precise meaning will not be imparted in the context of this website – at least, not all of them and not completely.

The knowledgeable elders who told sacred stories or knew how to read the rock paintings and carvings did not explain everything either; they revealed just enough to make people realize it is better not to want to take shortcuts to wisdom and knowledge. The idea behind this is that one has to live up to the old teachings before one is able to fully carry the wisdom the stories and the rocks contain. In order to understand the core of the teaching the diagram wants to impart, however, it is essential to know that the X-ray figures I placed inside the bodies represent (some of) the protagonists and antagonists of the tales being told: beings like thunderbirds, an underwater spirit, a sturgeon, snakes, a marten, a badger, a raven, water fowl, medicine-bearing plants and flowers, and a birch- bark covered wiigiwaam (wigwam) that are one way or another related to Wiinabozho stories.

The hare that is connected by a “spirit power line” to the X-ray figure depicted inside Wiinabozho refers to  his supposed association with hare and rabbits and emphasizes his capacity of a contrary holding up a mirror to mankind; that the power line is connected to the yellow Thunderbird figure  indicates that the stories told are filled with great magic. Each story featuring Wiinabozho as the protagonist is always a source of power to the children listening to it; each story has the potential to empower, and teach them valuable life lessons as well…But also images of sacred objects and symbols, like a MIDE MIIGIS seashell, which is used in the ceremonies of the Midewiwin, and a bear paw - which is related to Mide ceremonies and with the dream world -, recount stories within a story. These Mide symbols and the pipe the grandfather storyteller is holding indicate that he is a ceremonial teacher, a member of the Midewiwin. The symbols, therefore, are depictions of great spiritual power.

The smoke from the pipe and the smoke from the mouths of both the Mide grandfather and Wiinabozho are also indicative of great power; like a sacred breath the strings of smoke coming out of the storyteller’s’ mouths blend at the top of the painting, conjoining into a circle within two larger circles representing GICHI-MANIDOO, the Universal Omnipresence of Mystery.

The divided circle (unity symbol) in the center of the smaller circle reflects the duality that exists in nature and in human nature. Blue is for the sky, red is for the earth; together they form the universe.

Therefore, the symbol reflects the notion that  each living being consists of two separate individuals, or parts, that exist and work together in relation to one another. One part (which is colored blue) inspires, strengthens, and directs the other part (which is colored red) – and vice versa. Similarly, one half can be regarded as a story or a storyteller aspiring to complement the other story or storyteller - which of course is represented by the other half – and vice versa.


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