Violence Against the Land, by artist Nancy King – Ogimaakwebenes, Chief Lady Bird
A total of 16 artists from Simcoe County took up the quest for truth for the exhibition, Call to Action #83. Eight were Indigenous and eight were non-Indigenous. What they all found is that learning the truth of how Canada has treated Indigenous people in the past and how it continues to treat them is painful.
The coordinator, Mary Louise Meiers and one of the non-Indigenous participating artists said, “Reconciliation is shocking. It’s painful when you become conscious of the truth.” Meiers is a board member of the Barrie Native Friendship Centre who sponsored the project.
The 16 pieces in the show contain the power of the truth, but they are also full of hope. Pain has been transformed into beauty and in doing that, the artists show the potential for reconciliation. At the show’s opening in Toronto, Wendy Clarke, President of the Barrie Native Friendship Centre said as she looked around the room, “Every one of them is beautiful. Look at them! They’re amazing!”
The project started with a Sweat Lodge Ceremony at the Rama First Nation, home of lead Indigenous artist, Paul Shilling. Following the ceremony, the artists drew lots to determine the order in which they would create. Meiers explained the process.
“The first artist does a piece, hands it off after 14 days to the next artist who’s inspired by it and does their piece in 14 days. Then they hand it off to the next artist who has their 14 days gestation, and so on,” she said.
The artists did not see any of the work except for that one piece. Also passed from artist to artist were a white eagle feather and books about Indigenous history and culture. The eagle feather from Springwater Park was presented to the project by Jeff Monague of Beausoleil First Nation. Monague, a co-manager of the Park joined the artists as one of four Elder Advisors.
Non-Indigenous artist, Xavier Fernandes, started things off.
In his woodcut print entitled, Hope, he has “…darkness and the light of a full moon, an eagle flying through the crack of dawn giving people a chance to right what is wrong…,” explains Fernandes. “From my reading of stories, I found the seven fires are burning and create hope for all mankind to choose the right path. If there is hope, we can create the world we want.”
Beausoleil First Nation artist, Clayton Samuel King, depicts the healing power of the moon and the water in G’chi Manidoo Giizis (Big Spirit Moon). A Nibinabe Kwe (or Mermaid) is shown with her back to us, half out of the water, arms extended upward. We are left to imagine the beauty of her face. It is during the Big Spirit Moon, said King, “that the power of Nookmis’s light purifies us and helps heal all creation. This process of healing can take a few days or a few months. Just like any healing journey, patience is always required.”
King was inspired by Jennie Clarke’s poignant piece that acknowledges every little girl who was robbed of her cultural identity by having her braids shorn and her traditional clothing burned upon arrival at Residential School. Her block print, The Healing Dress, is a child’s dress made with 16 shell buttons to represent the water or life, as well as the 16 artists within the circle. The second print, Missing, is the absent dress symbolizing the lost child.
Participating artist Nancy King from Rama First Nation says the depth of the work exceeded her expectations. “I was a little bit worried that it was going to be one-dimensional, that it was just going to be residential school images, but it’s very dynamic,” said Nancy King.
Barrie City Hall will host the exhibition in the Rotunda in September 2016.
MUSKRAT is an on-line Indigenous arts, culture magazine that honours the connection between humans and our traditional ecological knowledge by exhibiting original works and critical commentary. MUSKRAT embraces both rural and urban settings and uses media arts, the Internet, and wireless technology to investigate and disseminate traditional knowledges in ways that inspire their reclamation.