Sedna is the goddess of the sea in Inuit mythology. Though the details of the myth vary according to different sources, the main story arc remains the same. Sedna is a beautiful Inuit woman who refuses all of her suitors until a wealthy-looking stranger arrives at her house, and she is convinced to marry him. He does not show his face. After the ceremony, Sedna’s new husband takes her away to her new home. High up on a wind-battered cliff, he reveals himself: he is a raven.
Sedna is miserable with her raven husband. Her new home is a rough nest of sticks and mud, teetering precariously on the edge of the cliff. Her husband leaves every morning to catch her food. She begins to hate the fish he brings her. She cries often, and calls out to her father to rescue her. She thinks her words are lost in the wind, but one day, her father arrives. Seeing how unhappy she is, he bundles her into his boat and begins to paddle her home.
Sedna and her father are far out to sea when she looks back and sees a black speck in the sky. It is her husband coming after them. As the raven approaches, he flies low and, with his massive wings, beats the water into waves. The little boat pitches and begins to fill with water. In an effort to save himself, Sedna’s father throws Sedna out of the boat. This does not stop the waves. The raven continues to whip the water into a furious storm. Sedna grabs onto the gunnels of the boat, pleading with her father to take her back into the boat; to save her. Instead, he chops off her fingers one by one until she slips into the sea.
But Sedna does not drown. Instead, she becomes the most powerful goddess of the sea, with the head and torso of a woman and the tail of a fish. Her severed fingers become whales, fish, walruses, and all the other creatures of the sea. When she is content, she allows the Inuit to hunt and fish successfully, but her moods change suddenly, and if the Inuit do not properly honour her, she will starve them. When Sedna is especially angry, the Shaman turns himself into a fish and swims to the bottom of the sea. There, he soothes her; combs the tangles out of her long black hair.
Many of David’s pieces are inspired by the myth of Sedna. Notice the lack of fingers, the fish tail, and the tangled black hair swirling around her, gathering force, anger, and energy like a storm cloud. Notice also the black square, which David says is a portal into the world of myth. Portals often appear in David’s work. They are usually a uniformly coloured rectangle or square, and they alert the viewer to the presence of a symbolic narrative running through the piece. The portal opens into the world of myth, which in turn opens into the world of interpretation—and that is the fun part. Is the Sedna myth about female sacrifice? Empowerment? Is it used to explain the existence of sea life? Or the volatile nature of the ocean? Is it about renewal? Death? Fear? Trauma? Or healing?
Maybe each time you think of Sedna at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, the Sedna myth takes on a new meaning; maybe it shifts like the currents she commands.