“When I start a carving, I feel like my body knows what the stone will become.”
For me, carving comes from a longing to reconnect with the spirit of the land. I am from the Dehcho in Canada’s Northwest Territories. My home is rich in stories and resources that have sustained my people for a long, long time. I am drawn to stories of transformation and shape-shifting and to stories that illustrate the ongoing power in relationships between people and animals.
When I start a carving, I feel like my body knows what the stone will become. I love this feeling and I thoroughly enjoy making a sculpture for this reason. What the stone will become is very much influenced by the place where I am from. I am Dene but what my ancestors knew, I do not know. I heard stories growing up and when I was very young, my family did travel on the land – hunting and fishing and preparing the food. But my community felt the impact of residential schools and alcohol abuse and my family was not immune. In my work, I try to bring together fragments and through lines of knowing from my heritage to make meaning in today’s world. I believe that what my ancestors knew is still relevant. It’s my job to bring the possibility for the past into the present, in my own way.
Carving stone is very serious work that I don’t take seriously. I play with images and motifs that come from my environment and I like that rhythmic, flowing lines find their expression in very hard stone. I think my work is whimsical and I draw a lot of inspiration from the raven for that idea. I really like ravens because they are immensely adaptable and resilient.
John Sabourin is a carver from Liidlii Kue First Nation, Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories.