PRAIRIE MESSENGER PHOTO | KIPLY LUKAN YAWORSKI
This award-winning drawing of the crucifixion surrounded by First Nations imagery by prisoner Curtis Eklund is entitled Hope.
SASKATOON – For Curtis Eklund, art is a path of healing, an expression of truth and a way to give voice to his hope in Jesus Christ.
"I hope to send a message that Jesus died for all who will accept him," said Eklund of his drawing of the crucifixion surrounded by First Nations imagery.
The piece was recently recognized in a Prison Fellowship International art contest for prisoners and ex-prisoners.
In remand at the Saskatchewan Correctional Centre for the past 18 months, awaiting trial on charges related to a shooting death in a small northern community, Eklund, 26, saw a poster for the art contest and decided to enter.
The contest theme Hope Inspires Change echoes Eklund's own life and conversion, as he has struggled to leave behind gangs and violence, clinging to the hope that he can escape a destructive spiral.
"I have led a life that was hopeless, and I just really thought about where there is hope. What I came up with is Jesus. So that's the drawing I did. I called it Hope," he says.
"In the beginning when I was leading the life, I wasn't in the light. My life was in darkness, and all I was doing were dark images and dark art.
"Then I heard about Jesus, and about God, and the Gospel, and how it can heal. I picked up the Bible, and I was reading it, and things started to change for me, in my life, in my heart."
That change is reflected in his art because art expresses inner truth, Eklund says. "It comes from deep inside. Art reveals a lot about a person's character, it tells a story about life, love, light. "
Eklund incorporated First Nations imagery into his image of the crucifixion, conveying the message that Jesus is for all people, despite the hurt that many may feel from the way Christianity was introduced to native people, he says.
"I believe that God has a purpose for all of us, and I was blessed with a talent as an artist," says Eklund.
As a child he came to love drawing, a talent he began to develop through the influence of an older cousin who created pictures for him. It was a bright spot in a bleak existence in a community plagued by alcohol, drugs, broken lives.
"She would draw pictures for me, and I would take them to school and show my friends. I always wanted to be like that. So I always drew."
As he grew older, however, Eklund "drifted to a group of young people struggling as I was. We started getting into crime, stealing and it escalated to selling drugs, doing drugs and drinking. I developed into a person who didn't know how to express the goodness in me."
He woke up to what he was doing.
"I began to see families being destroyed by the drugs I was selling. I saw children struggling and hungry because their parents had smoked up all the money on drugs I was selling.
"The way they looked at me, with pain in their eyes . . . I saw just exactly how I grew up. Here I was, putting them through the same thing."
Powerful and respected in the gang life, thoughts about the impact of his actions plagued Eklund. While attending Lac St. Anne Pilgrimage, he was recognized as a gang leader and felt ashamed at the way people looked at him. He wanted out.
"I just said: 'I'm done with that life.' I'm not even really sure where it came from."
The repercussions of leaving the gang lifestyle began immediately. "Word got out - I was getting calls - threats, wars broke out, rival groups started. A lot of dark things happened, lives were lost," he says softly. "I still suffer for that guilt."
"But Jesus helps to take that away. I know through faith that's there for me, because of the promises of Scripture, God's holy word. It says in Isaiah: 'No matter if your sins are as scarlet, I will make them as white as snow,'" he says with quiet conviction.
"Every time I feel I've offended my Creator, my Father, I open my Bible, I read Psalm 51, I ask for forgiveness, I ask for mercy. It is given to us freely.
"God doesn't require a perfect spirit. That's hope right there. Because I'm not perfect, I'm still healing. I'm relearning how to become a man."