At age 8, Joel Isaak watched a television program about Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica. The film juxtaposed images of the artwork with those of the village bombed during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso’s cry of anguish and rage at the violence of war left a mark.
Isaak was young, but he understood the message the painting sent. His paternal grandfather, a doctor, served in World War II, and Isaak remembers hearing discussions of the days of pain, sorrow and horror.
“The story and the images associated with the painting evoked strong emotions in me,” Isaak said. “I could relate to the idea of people being displaced by force, being judged by how they looked. As a person with Native heritage, I understood that pain.”
Isaak is now an artist himself. His works incorporate elements of both his Native and his European heritage. His love for working with live materials, such as roots, bark, and skins, came from a desire to pursue the historical materials and processes used by his Athabascan ancestors. But Isaak credits the European part of his heritage for the realization of art’s power to express emotion and to communicate.