Kyle Ethan Fischer





Tabua are polished sperm whale teeth that were traditionally given as gifts of atonement  and important items used in negotiations between rival chiefs. Originally only available from whales that had been beached, the availability of these teeth became more so when whaling was developed into a widespread industry beginning in the 17th century and developing the art of scrimshaw. Bone and ivory carving has been apparent since prehistoric times and has crossed all cultures. As a child I visited many museums and living history parks like Mystic Seaport where scrimshaw, whale bones, taxidermy and objects from exotic countries were collected. Growing up on sub bases in coastal towns and having a father that was “out to sea”, I was familiar with the feelings that family members of the whalers must have felt. During the 80’s during the height of the cold war I was the son of a senior chief and imagined my father in a situation similar to the film the Hunt for Red October. Our current political climate domestically and the interference of foreign governments and the economic interdependence of the global economy echoes the Western empire building of the last centuries, the rise of nationalism during the past world wars, and the near extinction of whales.


Tabua (which sounds/looks like taboo) is my attempt to create objects that explore the distorted political and social landscape we are all navigating. Having just plastered and painted a replica whale rib for a motion picture called Where’d You Go Bernadette I was further inspired by the works of Inuit artist Bernadette Saumik. In my research I was inundated with ads by auction houses showing elaborately carved rhino horns and other antiques exemplifying time past. The scrimshander would make these carvings or designs at night since whaling was dangerous and would have varying levels of skill. Subject to the movement of the ship, it was often times done with a crude sailing needle. The scrimshander was often anonymous and subject matter ranged from activities heralding the ship or its bounty, emblems, important events, or items for aesthetic value.


I am concerned with cultures insistence to deny conversation; whether it is class, gender, race or history, we at once espouse the individual as a value; but dehumanize and classify as groups. The world is both carved in terms of positive and negative, black and white in color. The remnants of dead ideas and near extinct ideals are rediscovered and popularized.  Industries and practices we know cause harm to the environment and culture are encouraged again as if we are not on the same voyage that our ancestors have made; that their struggle did not count, that generations do not matter. My great grandmother told me that she and her brother crossed the great ocean; the great ocean being Lake Michigan, in a canoe together escaping a massacre at the turn of the century. Their tribe and family had been killed for the resources of the land they were on. She escaped with her life and knowledge. Am I not in that canoe with them? My struggle is not the same and I am here because she survived. I cannot forget her story and the story of others in times like these. It is with hope I will remember the absence of home and the faith in future. With passion I will focus on the gray light of torrid waves. I will acknowledge and feel the sting of the wind on water and the calm ashore. All I can do is seek to bring the viewer on a journey, to put you in the boat with me and perhaps escape together, generations relating and living together.



Kyle  Fischer Art © 2014