Large new artworks designed by a local Indigenous artist are being mounted on buildings at the Tsain-Ko Centre mall in Sechelt, telling the shíshálh story of a two-headed sea serpent.
Self-taught artist Manuela Salinas, 34, a member of the shíshálh Nation, said she’s been working with the iconography from shíshálh legends and stories since she was in high school.
“It was just so beautiful and mesmerizing. I was dedicated to learning it on my own,” Salinas told Coast Reporter. “I played around with the symbols, how they would work and how they mesh together and how they can form something and create something [new].”
Tsain-Ko Centre put out a request for proposals (RFP) in early 2020 to fill large blank areas of its building exteriors. “[The RFP] did specify that they wanted something related to the story of Tsain-Ko” Salinas said. “I did a little bit of research. I talked to some elders, mostly my Papa about Tsain-Ko, what it was, how the story formed in our legends and our tradition, to help me create the designs.”
(The “Papa” Salinas referred to is elder and former shíshálh chief Calvin Craigan, who is Salinas’s grandfather on her mother’s side.)
A shíshálh community vote was held in the summer of 2020 to choose from two sets of designs and Salinas’s proposal won. She had envisioned a seven-piece set of artworks centering on the original image of the double-headed serpent Tsain-ko, but using the proper spelling, ch’inkw’u, (pronounced chain-kwo).
Ch’inkw’u’s paramount quality is power, Salinas wrote in her artist’s statement. “This power is supernatural and is beyond anything represented in other shíshálh story figures,” she wrote. “Its double heads have been said to represent notions of ‘good and evil,’ which ties very closely with a longstanding Coast Salish prime directive: always seek to restore balance.”
Salinas designed six other animal figures protected by ch’inkw’u to accompany it for the project, including salmon (syanxw), golden eagle (chas’kin), frog (huham), whale (stalashen), wolf (wewekw’nachem), and owl (sxixenk’).
Each piece was created in brushed aluminum by the Gibsons company, Venture Fabrication Inc. Five have already been mounted on elevated and lighted, 8 by 12 ft. panels on store facades. Only the owl and the ch’inkw’u itself have yet to be installed. The ch’inkw’u, about 20-feet-long, will be mounted between on the wall between The Source and Shoppers Drug Mart in coming weeks.