UBCO Showcases Sylix Artist's Painting

Written on 06/28/2021
Staff Columnist

A Syilx artist and community leader is contributing his painting to the University of British Columbia - Okanagan's (UBCO) public art collection - IndigiNews reports.

Sheldon Pierre Louis's painting is called cax̌alqs, translated from the Syilx language, nsyilxcən, means "red dress," and it showcases the power of Syilx women.

"The red dress is a symbol for the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S) movement," Louis told IndigiNews. Not only does he paint, but he is also a councillor for the Okanagan Indian Band.

"[I was] essentially really wanting to capture the strength in our Syilx women and our Indigenous women to really just showcase … the amount of horrible stuff, I guess, that our women have to endure in today's society and culture," added Louis.

"I really gravitated towards imagery of showing a resistance."

In a UBCO press release, Louis said, "As a Syilx artist, I have always sought to use my art as a catalyst for discussion, to create spaces where uncomfortable issues can be brought forward into the societal dialogue to be given a voice."

Louis believes art is educational but can also be a political weapon. His work is motivated by ancestral roots fused with modern-day techniques.

"It takes a lot of hunting on the man's behalf to be able to collect enough of those elk teeth," he says, explaining the elk teeth that decorate the red dress. Louis says they are a symbol of commitment, worth and wealth in Indigenous cultures.

"I was taught that when our men were proposing to our women, what we would do is we would give them the elk teeth. That was, I guess, in essence, similar to … today's idea of giving a wedding band. So I chose that dress just to, again, showcase the worth of our women."

Louis initially responded to submissions for the UBCO's public art collection five years ago, but he was shut down. When the university contacted him again a few months ago, he immediately applied.

"This was the first time where I would legitimately be part of their public art collection permanently, which it was quite an honour," he added.

UBCO says it is trying to foster relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The university is seated on the unceded and traditional territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.


Louis hopes his artwork will pique the younger generation's interest in learning more about colonialism's impacts.

"Generating those conversations in a space like that, I hope what it'll do is lead to an educational opportunity to the non-Indigenous people," he says. "Where they can talk about it amongst themselves and their peers, maybe go home to their families to discuss it and start to create awareness of what's going on for our people and our Indigenous women in Canada."

(Image Credit: Sheldon Pierre Louis)