Bear Barnetson

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These artworks represent significant aspects of healing journey as well as my time at Emily Carr. Through my classes and learning experience I have grown not only as an artist and person but also into my two spirit identity. I have always known I am Two Spirit, but have not had the ability to get in touch with that part of myself or have teachers and mentors to guide me. Throughout my time at Emily Carr I was honoured to sit with so many Elders, Teachers, and classmates at the Aboriginal Gathering Place. This offered me the opportunity to genuinely embrace my cultural identity, as well as my gender identity. Thus I am finishing my BFA with an education experience that is life changing, empowering, and truly healing for me and my community.

People often ask me when I started doing art. I don’t know how to answer that as I’ve drawn and painted as long as I can remember. However I do know when I stopped doing art. That being said, this isn’t my first goalie mask I’ve painted. When I was in grade 6, I painted my first mask. I was in my school classroom painting my Goalie mask during free time. I remember it well. While my sketching and canvas painting were well on its way for a 6 grader, my ability to paint 3 dimensional objects and tools available to do so were that of a 6th grader. Regardless I went to town. I was proud of my work and left it to dry on my desk. My desk was closer to the door, so everyone had to walk by it to get to their desks. So when my classmates came in from break, they began to criticize my work. At one point, the teacher did so as well. While thankfully I don’t remember the exact words used to insult me and my work, I’ll never forget the looks on their faces and tone of voice. At some point I had enough. I took my work to the sink and scrubbed off my artwork. I never wanted people to look at my artwork that way again.
It wasn’t until 2017 that I shared another artwork with others. Then in 2020 I was accepted into the EAGLE program here at Emily Carr. The rest is history.
So this mask marks a reclamation. I am proud of this work and I will continue to paint more masks in the future. For me, and my inner child. I have had to wall up and protect myself. But now I want to let those guards down. To feel, to heal, and learn how to be genuine with myself, my inner child, and those around me.

Throughout my life, I have lived with severe depression. Because of this I have often found myself crying out to the Creator in the night. I call out, but receive no answer. The moon however is always there. In the throws of my dark nights I can see it, and it sees me, or so I choose to believe. I consider the moon to be the Creator’s witness to one’s dark night of the soul. Just as my Aht’soo (grandmother) and Ancestors must have felt fear in their journey. I know that they too looked out at the same moon I do, in fear and apprehension. But the same being that witnessed them and that they spoke to, is the same being that we speak and are witnessed by as well. The same witness that they had, we also share. I choose to believe that the Creator witnesses our suffering and hears our cries and will journey with us.  

Bear Barnetson

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Randall Bear Barnetson is from the village of Nadleh Whut’en, the Dakelh nation, and of the Duntem’yoo Bear clan. Bear’s multidisciplinary artistic practice interprets matters such as mental health and wellbeing, identity, culture, and spirituality, through the framework of Northwest Coast Indigenous art forms. Bear’s art and traditional storytelling has aided in reconciliation and decolonization efforts with settler organizations in discussing Indigenous culture and heritage. Bear was born and raised in the urban Indigenous community of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver BC. Bear spent his upbringing serving alongside his parents who founded a thriving mission on the 100 block of Hastings that provided essential services to over two million members of the Downtown Eastside Community. Bear’s practice is currently based on the Unceded Territories of the Musqueam Coast Salish peoples as a guest. On this territory is Vancouver’s YVR international airport, from which Bear received the Emerging Indigenous Artist Scholarship award in 2022. Bear has recently completed his Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts at Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

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