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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Action Through Art

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday September 18, 06:03 pm
REDress provides a haunting commentary on a national disgrace

REDRESS

Runs to Oct. 6

U of S campus

Last year, the RCMP revealed that there have been 1,181 missing or murdered aboriginal women since 1980 – 1,017 of those being confirmed homicide victims, and 225 being unsolved cases (as of November 2013).

Yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stated that crimes against aboriginal women should not be viewed as a “sociological phenomenon” and he has been resistant to any thoughts of conducting a national inquiry.

So why are the rates of violence against these women so high? And why has this issue been neglected?

In 2011, Winnipeg-based artist Jaime Black began to address these exact issues with her installation art project, REDress. The project is an aesthetic response to the critical national issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women across Canada, consisting of red dresses installed in public places as a reminder of the number of women who have gone missing. Black hopes to draw attention to the crimes, as well as marking the absence of the lost women.

From Sept. 17 to Oct. 5, All Peoples University Collective at the University of Saskatchewan welcomes the REDress project, and will install over 100 red dresses around the Bowl, and in the Agriculture, Arts, Education, and Geology buildings.

Joan Borsa, a professor of Art and Art History and Women’s and Gender Studies, along with Tasha Hubbard, will be curating the event. Borsa spoke on the importance of bringing these missing women into our consciousness.

“When aboriginal women are increasingly violated in such large numbers across the country, I think we need to pay attention. What are the everyday politics that make something like this happen? How do we tell this story in ways that people will listen and pay attention? It’s time for us to make sense of this,” says Borsa.

“We have so many myths and stereotypes that are in circulation. When non-aboriginals take up roles and take this seriously, when they start to add their voice and concern, and take action, we might actually get to a place where we can see something like an the inquiry that people have been calling for for ages.”

The reason for the neglect on a national level, Borsa says, might stem from some underlying prejudices.

“What is underlying all of this seems to be some attitude that certain people’s lives don’t have value as much as others. And so I don’t want to be seen as a white woman who doesn’t have to deal with these issues in her family. We have to move from complacency to another form of action. I think to sit back and to not participate is, in some ways, contributing to the problem.”

Borsa says it’s important to bring projects like REDress to the campus, where we can find ways to animate these issues in new ways.

“I think that to have it on campus where we have a student body that is younger, you’re thinking about an audience, how many people can you come into contact with, and how it will generate [discussion]. When you do this kind of work, you don’t know if the effect is going to be immediate or it’s going to be generative. I think in this case it could be both,” she says.

And REDress, through art, may be able to bring a new kind of resonance to this national tragedy.

“I think that art is a type of common language that has an ability to move across borders and differences, and through symbolism and metaphor, and through evocative visual images and sensations. And maybe we hear things just a little bit differently, and maybe it will resonate in a different way,” says Borsa.

“[REDress] functions in one way as a memorial; it has a quietness about it, but that quietness is its power. When you’re confronted with such a symbolic representation of a person’s life and the loss of a person’s life, I don’t think you can just look at it and say, ‘Oh, there’s just another red dress.’ I think the emptiness of the dress is going to conjure up a lot of emotion. I think this kind of work has a haunting quality, and I think that haunting quality breaks the silence that surrounds the issues. It has the potential to move people into some notion of solidarity with the issues, and moving further, to becoming part of the solution and breaking the complicity.”

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