The streets of downtown Toronto were bustling Saturday night in celebration of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2015, a contemporary arts festival lasting one night from dusk ‘til dawn.
The festival’s 10th edition drew massive crowds ready to embrace the night while exploring over 110 arts projects set up across the city. Two works in particular focused on Indigenous matters, bringing awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the legacy left behind for survivors of the Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford.
The Metropolitan United Church on Queen Street East housed The Women on the Wall, an interactive multimedia installation focused on generating a discourse on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
Curated by Cherie Dimaline and Giles Benaway, and co-produced by Diaspora Dialogues and members of Toronto’s Indigenous community, The Women on the Wall begins with visitors walking through a threshold of white walls projecting a growing list of the names of lost sisters on one side, and a video of Indigenous voices speaking out on the national epidemic on the other side. A basket of markers are left out for visitors wishing to contribute their own words of love and support on the walls before being guided into the church where a tree stands. The tree is adorned with red ribbons tied onto the branches by visitors, symbolizing their prayers and positive thoughts for the victims and their families. Two jingle dresses sit on display nearby.
Successfully stirring-up conversations about the issues of colonial violence in Canada, The Women on the Wall takes awareness one step further, asking visitors to sign a petition to make a commitment to help end violence against Indigenous women.
Hidden behind the chaos of Yonge and Dundas Square, projections of mixed media works created by students from Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School looped in the windows of the Mackenzie House on Bond Street. The works reflected the students’ artistic response to the stories told to them by residential school survivors as they toured the Woodland Cultural Centre together. The exhibit, titled Walking Together, was facilitated by Six Nations artists Serene Porter and Lorrie Gallant with the Woodland Cultural Centre, who held photography workshops with the students before having them interview survivors and taking photos of the former residential school.
“I think these stories are ones that need to be heard and they need to be told by the people that lived through them. Being a part of the tour and interview process is such a hard thing to do. But I think it makes a huge impact on the students, to actually be standing in the room where the survivors are telling their stories from just makes it so real,” says Porter. “The students get a bigger connection during that process than anything that could be taught in a classroom and to witness this and see the amount of respect and care each student has with the survivors is why we do this project.”
Although the process wasn’t easy to go through, the results of the students’ efforts displayed a positive outcome for both the youth and the elders.
“The amount of emotion and pride that came from each student while taking photos and the art making process after was such a fascinating development to witness,” Porter shares. “Not only did it show me they were listening to what I had to share when teaching them different photography skills but it demonstrated their true compassion towards each other and toward the Elders.”
Nuit Blanche has come and gone, but the Mackenzie House will continue to host the Walking Together exhibit until November 15th.