Reimagining the American White Ibis

April SGaana Jaad White uses Northwest Coast designs to reimagine this Southeastern bird.

While artist April SGaana Jaad White has depicted many birds that are significant to her people of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off British Columbia, the White Ibis, a species common across Florida, was a novel challenge. Yet in its body and beak, White, who belongs to her people’s Raven clan, saw shapes and colors compatible with formline, a design style traditional to First Nations of the Northwest Coast. The technique demands a minimalist aesthetic, but “from there, there’s a lot of freedom to make it your own,” she says.

With the ibis, she eschews symmetry—a classic formline tenet—but retains a sense of visual balance. The central bird fits within the curves of a human eye, and the echo of the ocular motif elsewhere hints that “we should be a lot more aware of what’s around us.” Other shapes represent the cycle of life: A juvenile ibis consumes a fish close to its mother’s breast, while its father peers through her wing. To inform her work, White researched ibis mythology and ecology. A former geologist, she admires John James Audubon’s keen naturalist’s eye: “He looked at the birds very scientifically, and I do as well.” —Julie Leibach

This story originally ran in the Summer 2018 issue of Audubon. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.