Saulteaux artist Robert Houle (b.1947) created Morningstar for the Pool of the Black Star, a circular room in the middle of the Manitoba Legislative Building. The room sits directly below the building’s legislative dome and is marked by three steps that form its circumference and a black star in the centre.
Houle placed vinyl lettering of the names of sixty-one First Nations communities and reserves in Manitoba around the room’s circumference. The room’s edges were lit with coloured lights of yellow, blue, purple, and red, symbolizing the hem of the traditional Rainbow Woman’s skirt. According to Saulteaux legend, after each storm Rainbow Woman displays these colours to calm the elements.
An audio component began softly with the hypnotic sound of the water at the Narrows on Manitou Island, a place of legend known as “the place where the gods are present,” hitting rocks. Gradually it moved into beating drums, ending in a crescendo with the Grand Entry song performed by the Kicking Woman singers. For Houle, it was powerful to hear the haunting voices of women travelling across the hallways of power in the Manitoba Legislature. Received positively by politicians, staff, and Indigenous communities, the installation was the first public artwork on the premises, and it charged this political site with emotion. In creating Morningstar, Houle transformed a political arena into a healing circle.
This Spotlight is excerpted from Robert Houle: Life & Work by Shirley Madill.