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Star Horn: Painting to make sense of the world

Mohawk artist created popular Google doodle honouring Mary Two-Axe Earley
June 2, 2022
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By Julie Barlow, MA 94

Star Horn “I guess it’s my own way of sorting things out. I’m not a writer, so this is how I make sense of things,” says Mohawk artist, illustrator and designer Star Horn, BFA 92.

When Google approached Kanienʼkehá꞉ka (Mohawk) artist, illustrator and designer Star Horn, BFA 92, to draw a doodle honouring Mohawk activist and Kahnawake native Mary Two-Axe Early, she thought it was a hoax. “I almost deleted the email!” says Horn, whose first name is a translation of “Otsisto” (oh-dzis-doh) in the Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) language.

When Google published Horn’s creation on June 28, 2021, the artist was surprised by the reaction. “Google said it was one of their most viewed doodles. People were proud her story was being told,” says Horn, who grew up on the Kahnawake reserve, south of Montreal, and now lives in British Columbia with her family. “We weren’t taught about her growing up, so I learned a lot about her and what she achieved.”

Horn’s doodle features Two-Axe Early wearing a traditional vest and her trademark horn-rimmed glasses, framed by rainbow-like rings where young women hold hands, their arms raised in victory.

“The girls in the background represent the women whose lives she changed. It shows every generation that she affected. The rapids on the bottom represents the water in Kahnawake,” says Horn. (Kahnawake means “by the rapids.”)

star-horn-google-doodle_1920 When Google published Horn’s creation on June 28, 2021, the artist was surprised by the reaction. "Google said it was one of their most viewed doodles. People were proud her story was being told."

 

Two-Axe Earley spent over two decades fighting against the sex discrimination in the Indian Act, which stripped Indian women of their Indian status if they married non-Indian men. On June 28, 1985, Canada passed Bill C-31, an amendment that restored Indian status to women who had lost it through marriage.

Over her career, Horn has produced painting, jewellery and graphic art. She learned to make jewellery — including beaded earrings and bracelets, and as well as Nez Perce-style and breastplate necklaces — from her mother. She also designs fanciful, craft-beer labels for local companies.

‘My own way of sorting things out’

Outside my Window “Outside my Window” (1990) depicts Horn's view of the Oka Crisis, which was unfolding that summer, from the window of her house on the outskirts of Kahnawake.

Horn says much of her art is influenced by causes or current events. “I guess it’s my own way of sorting things out. I’m not a writer, so this is how I make sense of things.”

In 1990, when she was studying at Concordia, she painted “Outside my Window,” which depicts the view of the Oka Crisis, which was unfolding that summer, from the window of her house on the outskirts of Kahnawake.

“There is the tank that was parked across from my house with the barrel pointing at us,” Horn says.

“There’s a row of warriors in the background. In the tree beside my window, I etched a ‘false face,’ a ceremonial image brought out to ward off sickness and bad spirits and to protect people.” 

My 2020 “My 2020” (2020)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Horn painted a series of self-portraits featuring masks.

In one, she is wearing antlers. “It’s about that hairy feeling you have when the world is a little too much and things are going crazy in your head.”

Another, called “COVID me,” shows the virus floating around her head, mixed with bits of birchbark to represent nature.

COVID Me “COVID Me” (2021)

“It’s about the clatter and fighting amongst those who would claim that climate change had no part in the virus, and those that understand the link between humans’ treatment of Mother Earth and the sickness it brings upon us.”

Transmitting the values of the Indigenous world

Horn strives to transmit values of the Indigenous world in her work, including the strong sense of family, community, identity and respect for the land. “Some of my work may speak of anguish and pain earned by the daily struggle to co-exist within the dominant society. Other works speak of the beauty and respectful relationship that all humans should strive to have with each other, the animals and the earth.”

Horn says her years at Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts were a time of freedom. “I had a few years to just do art, which was fantastic!” But she also recalls feeling isolated during her studies. “There were no other Indigenous students in the arts program that I knew of. I don’t think my teachers were aware of my background. And there wasn’t an Indigenous hub at the time. That would have made a real difference.” Today, Concordia’s Otsenhákta Student Centre helps Indigenous students find community and support.

Horn feels hopeful the world is becoming more attuned to Indigenous society, their historical experience and their rights. “I can’t say if people in general are more accepting of the realities of Indigenous peoples, but they are being faced with it. Children are being dug up all over Canada! Some people have no choice but to listen now.”



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