Culture Envy: The journey of The Creator’s Eye

q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ / Phyllis Atkins dives into her newest series titled Divine Connection

“ƛ̓a tə qələms tə c̓ic̓əɬ səy̓em̓ / The Creator’s Eye” by Phyllis Atkins. (Submitted)

The Creator’s Eye, a multimedia sculpture made out of cedar, is the focal point of artist Phyllis Atkins’ first solo exhibition, which will soon be viewable at the Surrey Art Gallery from Sept. 18 to Dec. 11.

The Divine Connection exhibit will feature three artworks that reflect Atkins’ life and healing process. The Creator’s Eye sculpture is partly based on a Coast Salish spindle whorl design, a traditional tool using a disc and shaft for spinning wool. 

The event details describe the sculpture as a “circular painted panel elevated two metres off the ground with long strands of woven cedar tumbling from its bottom edge.”

Atkins creates paintings and sculptures that draw from Coast Salish tradition, her healing journey, and also inspiration from her husband, Drew Atkins. She is a part of the q̓ʷɑ:n̓ƛ̓ən̓ / Kwantlen First Nation and has been painting, carving, jewellery-making, and weaving for the past 25 years. 

“A really important part of my healing was reconnecting with [my] culture, language, and I was doing art at the same time,” says Atkins. “Once I started learning about Coast Salish art, I was getting a piece of me back.” 

Her sculpture was inspired by the Yin and Yang concept in the ancient Chinese philosophy of opposites that balance each other out, such as light and darkness, good and evil, and male and female energy. 

She says her husband has helped her a lot with the building process in The Creator’s Eye by designing and building the stand. 

Atkins says the sculpture resembles reconnecting with her culture and language. In addition to the sculpture, The Divine Connection will feature a circular video projection playing the “Kwantlen Song” and be displayed near her other artwork such as sil̕ə θə ɬqelc̓ / Grandmother Moon, a lunar portrait that shows the phases of the moon in a silver leaf. 

“I really feel that art is healing, it’s helped me in my life, and it’s helped me overcome my addiction, and helped me where I wasn’t able to explain with words a lot of times. For me, just taking those negative, bad things that happened and turning them into something beautiful is really healing for me,” says Atkins. 

Throughout her life, Atkins has faced intergenerational trauma, addiction, and disconnection from her culture. She says it’s important to share where she came from for people to understand what art means to her. 

“I feel like people have to understand from the beginning,” says Atkins. “Art has saved my life. I really feel that and to be able to have an outlet.” 

Before Atkins begins working on her art, she says her creative process varies depending on what type of project she is doing. 

“I pray before I work on anything. I don’t just come up with it. I think about it for a while,” she says. 

“Sometimes I’m sleeping, and it comes to me in the middle of the night, and I get up to write something down. Or first thing in the morning, as soon as I wake up. But that’s only happened a few times.” 

As Atkins’ exhibit will be featured at the gallery until Dec. 11, she says it’s important to share her artwork with the Surrey community.

“Surrey is our unceded traditional territory,” says Atkins. “That’s shared territory with Kwantlen First Nation and Semiahmoo First Nation.” 

“It’s important for people to know [about] creating that opportunity for people to learn more about Kwantlen, more about our artists, creating that dialogue in a positive way through art and sharing artwork.”