Sedna

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.

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31 thoughts on “Sedna

  1. Hi Allegra,
    Enjoyed your first blog posting with the story of the Sedna and the insight into the use of portals as part of the imagery in David’s work. Funny, I happened to be studying our wall piece with the Sedna today, and thinking about the kind of company it should have on our shelf…so now I’ll go check for portals. Always enjoy the work from your studio, this serves to enrich it. Thanks.

  2. Allegra! What a fine first piece: clear, informative and intriguing (the Sedna myth continually changing each time we bring it to mind). I never knew about Sedna, nor did I know that it inspired David’s work so much. I will haul out the pieces we have collected and look at them freshly! Especially those portals. The photos complement your writing beautifully. Thanks, my dear. Mary Lou

  3. Moral of the story : fathers, never cut your daughter,s fingers. You never know: she could become a talented writer and an unexpected and precious partner in your life’s project.
    Congratulations Allegra.

  4. I am embarrassed to admit that although I have admired David’s pieces for many years now, it never occurred to me that there was a real story line behind them — “story arc” is a new term to me. Like many others commenting here, I will look forward to re-viewing David’s pieces with fresh, informed eyes — thanks to your narrative and commentary.

  5. Hi Allegra,
    Great writng, the story of Sedna explained so clearly, with beautiful language.
    I learned this myth in Art history classes years ago. Mike and I love Your Dad’s work and will take another look for Sedna and Portals.
    I amvery new at Blogging etc.
    Thanks
    Mary Sproule

  6. I have just bookmarked your blog; I enjoyed your first post and look forward to those that are to come. I have pieces – that I treasure – by both Maureen and David, and reading about the inspiration behind them will only add to the pleasure that the pieces give me. Keep up the good work!

  7. Thanks for this Blog; I am so drawn into the “portal” concept. It lends an ethereal element into
    such a hard medium. The mythological presence helps to take one beyond
    this seemingly solid surface.
    I really want to thank you and have fun with your Blog

    • Thanks for your comment, Marie. I hadn’t thought of the contrast between hard surface and ethereal myth. It’s a really interesting observation. I’ll pass it on to David. Thanks for reading!

  8. This is an intriguing and beautiful blog Allegra. Thanks so much for the insights into both your parents’ work.
    Before this, I had no idea Sedna was swimming around on these pots. What about the goat? I’ve always assumed it’s David but is there a more complete explanation pending?

  9. Thank you so much, Allegra, for letting us travel into the minds of those mysterious artists. I wonder how many comments on those black squares David heard from prospective customers and never said a thing? A strange and wonderful breed..

    • Thank you, Annick. I’m happy you were able to learn something new. I would have thought after all these years, you would have a pretty good sense of those mysterious artists! Thanks for taking the time to reply.

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