As the topic of residential schools continues to be top of mind for many Canadians, Indigenous multimedia artist Tamara Lee-Anne Cardinal recently unveiled a new art instalment that honours the thousands of First Nations youth who disappeared from the schools.
The instalment, titled Coming Home, is on display at the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre (KOAC) in Springbank, and was officially unveiled on Nov. 6. In conjunction with the Loop Project, orange pulp paper shirts and red dresses were constructed with the help of a youth group, and hung in the forest on the lands at KOAC.
The shirts symbolize residential school survivors, and the red dresses represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. According to a KOAC press release, they will remain suspended in the trees until they go back to the earth, once dried.
“The decomposition of the paper dresses will represent the children going back to their mother (earth) in a good way,” Cardinal said in the press release.
Cardinal later said for individuals like herself who have family members who went through the residential school system, or who have been murdered or missing for decades, instalments like Coming Home are allowed a place to come in and help with healing.
“That has been really important for me, and I can just extend that to the community,” she said. “Right now, working with youth, thinking about the upcoming generation has been at the forefront of my mind.”
While she doesn’t consider herself an elder, role model, or healer, Cardinal said finding a better way to live to impact the next generation is an important consideration as society moves ahead.
“I can push myself to do more and do better for myself, my family, and my community,” she said. “Trying to live a healthier life while working through past traumas is what propels me moving forward.”
There are many important conversations that remain when it comes to residential schools, and Cardinal said generations of feeling guilt and shame have put Indigenous youth in a shy and closed off space, which creates a conflict around speaking up and feeling proud of where they come from.
“If they don’t see immediate close circles – and I know this from personal experience – they don’t feel as well about who they are, what they can do, and what they can change,” she said. “I think art as a way of expression can help to resolve some of these issues where we don’t have the words, but just visuals or feelings. Art is a way of expressing and releasing.”
The award-winning artist said the art and installations she creates often have an aspect of going back into the earth through the decomposition of materials, which she feels adds to the poignancy of her work.
“When looking back to traditional or ceremonial objects, when our elders or family members would pass on to the spiritual realm, they would often times be buried with their most prized possessions,” she said. “In that way of showing that everything has a life cycle, and that we can’t carry these possessions on to the next life with us, but hopefully the memories and the impact a person had made would carry on.
“Art has the opportunity to shed line on these deeper meanings and other significances.”
Done through a workshop at KOAC, the Loop Project – which is headed by Antyx Community Youth Arts Action and Diamond Willow Youth Lodge – gathered both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to participate in the installation.
The Loop Project, according to its website, is a four-season, hands-on research project rooted in connecting with the land and one another through creative hands-on experimentation and storytelling.
KOAC is located at 244034 Horizon View Road in Springbank. The centre is a year-round, sustainable, art-in-nature destination dedicated to the research, exhibition, education, and documentation of contemporary visual arts, according to its website.
“KOAC is a non-for-profit public art centre that focuses on lectures, symposia, workshops, programming, and exhibitions of local and international contemporary art,” the website stated.
For more information on KOAC, visit koartscentre.org
For more information on the Loop Project, visit closetheloop.org