I want to thank Pamela Rosi and Elaine Monds for sending me this DVD. Killer Whale and Crocodile is a wonderful documentary produced by Peter Campbell and Art Holbrook. It tells the story of a cultural exchange between two carvers; John Marston, a Coast Salish carver from Vancouver Island and Teddy Balangu, a carver from the Middle Sepik River. The cultural exchange was facilitated by Elaine Monds, the owner of the Alcheringa Gallery of Canada and Dr. Carol Mayer, Oceanic Curator of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.
In 2006 John, Elaine and Carol visited Teddy in his village of Palembei in Middle Sepik. It was then organised for Teddy to return the gesture by going to Canada through a Andrew Fellow, where he was the artist in residence at the Museum of Anthropology for 5 months.
The documentary is stunningly shot and it reminded me of the fact that I obviously have not seen everything in my own country. As the film begins and our visitors travel further up the Sepik River to Palembei, Carol begins to note the change in the carvings. It becomes apparent to her that the same look-alike carvings we see at the shops in cities are definitely more mundane compared to the unique carving pieces she is seeing on this journey.
One interesting aspect of the documentary was how Elaine spent time talking to the carvers about prices and carving valuations in the international markets. She explained that in several cases she had paid twice more than what they thought it was worth in an effort to give the carvers more value for their art. This is a sensitive area and if she is able to do that while building true human relationships with the carvers then I can see this as an example of how a more sustainable industry can be developed where everyone gets into the business with all the information at hand.
But at the heart of this documentary is the story of two people, with the same passion for carving and although from different cultures shared a very common ideal of preservation, exploration and sharing through their art form. As John put it, as he explored the work in Palembei, the only thing that was really different from what he was doing in Vancouver were the animals that they were carving. So while John is in Palembei, he begins his carvings to show his interpretation of Sepik culture through his style of carving. Then later in the film, when Teddy visits Canada, he in turn is given an opportunity to show his skills and interpretations of John’s culture by carving a totem pole.
You can’t help but smile at how both carvers absorb each others energy and cultures. Definitely a heart warming story of two peers, who after having sifted through all the differences in culture, language and geography, finally end up realising how much alike they really are. A story of two carvers and a story of a Killerwhale and a crocodile. (Watch the trailer here.)
- “Killerwhale and Crocodile records the experiences and reflections of these men. It provides unique perspectives on the relevance of traditional artistry in an increasingly globalized world; on the benefits and challenges of cross-cultural dialogue; on what it means to be a contemporary indigenous artist. For further context, Carol Mayer of UBC’s Museum of Anthropology and Elaine Monds of Alcheringa Gallery discuss changing attitudes towards aboriginal artists in both the museum field and the art market. The film is also very beautiful, with locations ranging from flooded hardwood jungle to old-growth spruce forest, from a thirty-man carving session in a haus tambaran (spirit house) to a Coast Salish welcome ceremony in a longhouse. Drawing it all together, of course, is a lot of spectacular art.”
Dan Lepsoe, Co-curator – Rhythms of the Garamut
- Contact Alcheringa Gallery to order this film on DVD for home use. For institutional or VHS copies, contact Moving Images Distribution.
- A film produced and developed by Gumboot Productions Inc. and Arthur Holbrook Productions Inc. in association with Bravo!, a division of CTV globemedia.