Dzunukwa (Wild Woman of the Woods) by Rande Cook, Kwakwaka'wakw Nation
Rande Cook, Kwakwaka'wakw Nation
silkscreen print, edition of 85
40" x 30" paper size
Dzunukwa, “Wealthy Woman” - also known as “Tsonokwa” and “Wild Woman of the Woods” is a complex character who is often described as an old ogre who spends her time stealing young children away to her lair deep in the forest. This Legend is a popular tale, and often concludes with the children stealing Dzunukwa’s Coppers and Abalone shells, and running off with her finest of treasures – suggesting the old wretch is actually quite obtuse. Wild Woman is characterized as a disheveled old hag, who is three feet tall with hollow and sunken eyes, and lips pursed for howling while she hunts.
In ceremonies, Dzunukwa is characterized as an androgynous creature six feet tall, and so wealthy she can fall asleep at will without attracting criticism.
Evidence of Dzunukwa’s association with wealth, are the full-size theatrical, symbolic dishes used for presenting food at potlatches. Carved from red cedar and often measuring four feet in length, the deep basin of her body was hollowed out for staple foods, while a smaller bowl was hollowed out where her head would be, topped with a lid that signified her face. Two smaller bowls placed over her breasts were used for serving the highly prized “milk of life” – or Eulachon grease, which remains a cherished wealth commodity today.
Dzunukwa is often depicted with sleepy eyes and pursed lips. Her hair hangs in front of her face, and she is sometimes seen with copper shields or abalone shells. This imagery represents Dzunukwa as a wealthy woman. Other illustrations of Dzunukwa include a basket on her back, which is often full of small children. This wild woman who steals children is quite scary in mask form, with furry eyebrows, wide open red eyes, red cheeks and lips, and a haggard expression that is intended to frighten the viewer.
Kwakwaka'wakw artist Rande Cook (Galapa) (b.1977) was born in the northern Vancouver Island town of Alert Bay, BC. He spent his formative years in Alert Bay before moving to Victoria in 1991 to graduate at Victoria High School in 1995. His cultural heritage includes N'amgis, Ma'amtagila and Mamalilikala tribes. His grandparents Gus and Florence Matilpi raised him with strong cultural views and ties to this rich heritage.
Cook is a multimedia artist born in culture-rich Alert Bay. Surrounded by the beauty of the land and art, he found the passion of artistic creativity at an early age. Cook has studied under several master craftsmen to learn traditional jewellery and carving techniques including master carver John Livingston. In 2015 and 2016, Rande Cook held the Audain Professorship of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with the Visual Arts department at the University of Victoria.
While growing up, Cook observed and discussed the traditional art forms of his Kwakwaka’wakw forefathers with his grand- father, Gus Matilpi. With the strong teachings from his grandparents about culture and the sacred ceremonies of the Pot- latch world, Cook became an accomplished singer and dancer, and learned the values of life and culture that prepared him to be a strong leader for his people. He carries two chieftainships: the Hamatam/Seagull; and the Gigalgam from the ancient ancestor Kwanusila/Thunderbird. This story can be seen on the 27-foot totem pole he was commissioned to carve for the Museum Volkenkunde in the Netherlands in 2012.
In 1991, Cook moved from his tiny island life to Victoria to attend high school and college. There he was exposed to a wide range of art-forms and practices from the Western tradition. Traveling the world has also contributed to his broadening his perspectives and bolstered his desire to push the boundaries of traditional works. With his unique accumulation of heritage, knowledge and experience, Cook continually pushes boundaries to create beautiful and provocative works that challenge audiences to reconsider the role of traditional techniques for contemporary art-making.