Artists Michelle Sylliboy, Alan Syliboy and Loretta Gould

Curated by Lindsay Dobbin and Greg Davies

Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design

Curatorial Essay by Lindsay Dobbin:

Komqwejwi'kasikl, or Mi’kmaq (L’nuk) hieroglyphs, are part of a complex communication system sustained by L’nuk for over 13,000 years. Translating roughly to suckerfish writings, which refers to the paths suckerfish leave on the river bottom as they move, Komqwejwi'kasikl is a symbolic language that was used by L’nuk for inscribing maps and tribal records — each character representing a concept that can be expressed through the the oral and written (phonetic) aspects of the language.¹

The trauma of colonization has impacted L’nuk culture, fragmenting knowledge and creating an interruption in the number of L’nu who speak the language. With loss of language comes loss of worldview and the way of relating with all kin, including the land — the origin of language.

Thankfully paths remain, and the L’nuk artists — Michelle Sylliboy, Alan Syliboy and Loretta Gould — walk these paths through their respective practices to engage in dialogue with the land, ancestors and cultural memory. Their creativity is an active relationship that listens to and honours the animacy of the land and culture of Mi’kma’ki, as well as the knowledge within themselves.  

Michelle Sylliboy approaches the L’nuk hieroglyphs as a “continuous hermeneutic discourse.” Through poetry, photography, sculpture and pedagogy, Sylliboy seeks to reclaim her Indigenous voice and the L’nuk way of life through tracing the lines and messages of the culture in the land and language.

Alan Syliboy engages in a living process of discovery and revitalization of Mi’kmaq petroglyphs in his painting practice. Found in sites throughout Mi’kma’ki, these carvings in stone were Syliboy’s first direction into his culture. His images combine petroglyphs and elements of lived experience to demonstrate that their meaning is found in how they relate.

Loretta Gould’s paintings celebrate the animacy of the world, inherent in L’nuk language. Her colourful work honour the vibrant knowledge of the land and creatures, demonstrating the interrelationships that sustain us through the past, present and future.

The artists in Komqwejwi'kasikl are nurturing a resurgence in L’nuk culture through co-creating for the health of community and recognizing that the land speaks to us if we choose to listen.

— Lindsay Dobbin, Kanien'kehá:ka/Acadian living in Mi’kma’ki

  1. Schmidt, D. L., & Marshall, M. (1995). Mi’kmaq hieroglyphic prayers: Readings in North America’s first indigenous script. Halifax, NS: Nimbus.