#hopeandhealingcanada Indigenous art installation at St. Lawrence College

Métis installation artist, Tracey-Mae Chambers, creating an art installation on the St. Lawrence College (SLC) Kingston campus. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist

Métis installation artist Tracey-Mae Chambers was in Kingston on Thursday, Sep. 8, 2022, creating an art installation on the St. Lawrence College (SLC) Kingston campus. 

The installation, part of a multinational exhibit, entitled #hopeandhealingcanada #hopeandhealingusa, is intended to raise awareness for Canada’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, and to address the subjects of decolonization and storytelling. 

Chambers has created over 100 installations from Vancouver Island to Halifax since beginning the exhibit in June of 2021, and each piece is different because every one of the sites is different.

The foundational elements of each installation are large, premade crocheted and knitted pieces formed from red yarn. Chambers explained, “Red is powerful, and it is also the colour of blood, anger, and passion — and it’s a racial slur.”

“I use a lot of circles within the pieces,” Chambers added, as she worked away at weaving between tree branches, “If you look at these ones, some of them are full weavings, and some of them are partial weavings, and some of them are empty. But no matter what, looking at the sky through those three lenses tells different stories — some stories are partially written, some stories haven’t been written yet, and other stories are too late, as the teller has gone to the spirit world.”

Chambers’ visual “stories,” told in the colour of blood, anger, passion and racism, are striking representations of individuals, families, and communities who have struggled because of colonization. “To me, that’s what these things represent,” Chambers expressed.

She reacts and adapts her artwork to the environment of each space. She pointed out that, at that precise moment in her installation process, a good breeze was blowing as she wove her art through the branches. “Which is great. I like that,” Chambers smiled. “I like that little tiny bit of stress.” 

The site-specific art installations are located at residential school historical sites, cultural centres, museums, art galleries, and other public spaces. 

Chambers has already completed one installation at the SLC Brockville campus and will do another at the college’s Cornwall campus on Friday, Sep. 9, 2022. These installations can take all day, as they are unique to the space that each inhabits.

The Kingston installation is outdoors in trees adjacent to the main entry to SLC, while the installations at the two other campuses will be indoors. All will be on view until October 30. 

Some circles are fully-woven, some are partially-woven, while some remain empty, representing different stories and perspectives, the artist explained. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Once dismantled, the work itself will be returned to Chambers to be reworked and repurposed at another site somewhere in North America. The stories from each participating venue will culminate into a book and travelling exhibition. 

“Many (but not all) of these public spaces serve to present a colonial viewpoint and primarily speak about the settlers who arrived and lived here, but not the Indigenous people that were displaced along the way,” Chambers notes on her website. “The decolonization of such places is a ponderous task and must be shouldered collectively.”

Her artist statement continues, “The discussion of reconciliation and decolonization is hard to start and harder still to maintain. Therefore, I am hoping to use my work to help bridge the gap between settlers and Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit people by creating art that is approachable and non-confrontational, so we can start. As I am part Métis and European, I am conscious of the privilege my ‘whiteness’ affords me and bridging this gap is in fact a form of self-education and self-healing.”   

SLC Knowledge Keeper, Helena Neveu Waasaa Biidaasamose Kwe, was also on hand to talk about the installation. She said that SLC applied for funding through The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation component of the federal Celebration and Commemoration Program. This program aims to increase awareness of the history and legacy of residential schools, honour children who did not return home, survivors, their families and communities, and provide an opportunity for survivors, families, and communities to share their stories and advance intergenerational healing and reconciliation.

“We applied for funding for it and we were one of the very lucky ones who were chosen, and this is how we’re doing it. [And we are hoping] some conversation starts today, but the exhibit will go out for almost two months. And we’ll have whole classes and community members and families that can come out to have that conversation, because the installation will be here for two months.”

With the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation coming on Friday, Sep. 30, 2022, Neveu noted that the timing is ideal for community engagement and reflection on these challenging issues. “The idea is for the conversation to start on how people feel about Truth and Reconciliation, about decolonizing, about your atonement in the cause about what we can do to make positive change in Indigenous ways of knowing and being,”

Follow the progress of Chambers’ past, present, and upcoming installations by visiting her website.

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