Body in Crisis

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Screaming Shaman #4
shaman, figures, faces, open mouths, hands, paint, warning, fear, humanoid figures, picture plane, photograph,oil paint on panel, mixed media posing for a photo, reality, contrived reality, disguised reality, versions of reality, colour,pattern,European portraiture

In Screaming Shaman #4, the first elements that we are likely to notice are the two faces confronting us, with eyes and mouths wide open.  This could be the scream that the title addresses. The two figures seem to have their hands thrust forward, with their palms facing us, as if they are warning us to stop or to turn back.  It is unclear whether this is because they are afraid of us or they are warning us.

start quoteI'm not afraid to take on social issues. It's interesting that these paintings are the ones that I've become known for, not any peaceful ones of landscapes. It's tough art and it pricks the social conscience, but people have accepted it.end quote
-- Jane Ash Poitras

There are a number of other human-like figures in this work - the nine tall, blue-legged figures in a row across the picture plane, the red and blue  figure1.  The form of a human, an animal or a thing; most often referring to an entire human form.  2.  A person of note (i.e., an important figure in history...)  in the upper-middle section of the piece and the figures in the photograph.

The figures in the photograph are the most curious, because they are posed in the  traditionTradition is the passing along of a culture from generation to generation, especially orally. Or, a custom or set of customs handed down in this way. The idea of heritage is related to that of tradition. Any activity — as a pattern of celebration, ritual, or other behaviour, etc. — is traditional once it is a precedent influencing comparable activities in the future. (  of European group portraiture. This suggests that the main two figures in the work are rejecting the controlled and artificial nature of the posing in the photograph. Or perhaps they are rejecting the notion that this photograph (and, by extension, any photograph) reflects reality.  Instead, it is a contrived and disguised version of reality that the photograph is showing us.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Notice the colours that Poitras has used in Screaming Shaman #4. What moods or emotions do these colours inspire in you? Why do you think that Jane Ash Poitras might have wanted to trigger these responses in her viewers?
  • Apart from suggesting that we should back away, what else might the red handprints represent? Why might Poitras have chosen red specifically?
Advanced Activity
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For more information and for teacher resources on Jane Ash Poitras, go to ARTPAD:  A Collection, A Connection at:

Studio Activity
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Emotions and moods

  • Fold a paper into four sections.
  • Think of four different moods or emotions and write them on the back of each section of your paper.
  • Now you have four mood sketches. If one or more of these are important to you, you can develop them into larger pieces.
  • Show the drawings to a friend without telling them what you wrote on the back. See if they can guess the mood or emotion you drew.

Dissecting a photograph

  • Find a photograph of a person or several people in a magazine or a book. 
  • List the things that you think the models in the photograph were told about the way they should look.
  • How were they instructed to move, or to hold their heads?
  • What facial expressions were they told to have?
  • What emotions might they have been told to simulate by acting?

Author unknown.  ‘Jane Ash Poitras, Native Artist.’  Native Art in Canada, undated.  Retrieved from the Internet on August 18, 2008 from:

Author unknown.  ‘Jane Ash Poitras.’  National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, 2006.  Retrieved from the Internet on August 18, 2008 from:

Miller, Heather Andrews.  ‘Jane Ash-Poitras: Alberta artist receives Aboriginal honour.’  Windspeaker, undated.  Retrieved from the Internet on August 18, 2008 from:

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning