By: Prof. Elizabeth Sheehy
In honour of Red Dress or REDRESS day, calling attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women, I am sending this gentle reminder that the Walking With Our Sisters Collaborative Memorial installation at Carleton University’s art gallery continues only until October 16th, when it moves on to another city.
Wakefield feminist artist cj fleury wrote to me last week, describing her experience of the work:
Hello from cj:
This is an amazing installation that will be on till the middle of October!
You have probably heard about the project already? The entire effort is volunteer, meaning minimal poster/postering; so I humbly extend this news your way. There is more info, w/links below....
I had the opportunity to experience the space, one of many folks helping set up. In my first walk through the partially-assembled installation, I could have spent an hour every 3 feet. It was soooo incredibly moving, and beautiful, majestic, powerful, humble, deep..important, unique..timely! The work, more than art, is amazing in so many ways.
Through ceremony, the installation becomes a sacred space and it will be...is... nothing like I have ever witnessed in any gallery before.
I wish for you the chance, the time to experience this space...besides the stunning visuals, to see the amazing way the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls have been honoured; to see the pain of loss, abuse and disrespect transformed into a magnificent work of peace, beauty and hope.
My partner, my daughter and I visited Walking with Our Sisters, reviewed this week by Peter Hum, yesterday. The minute we walked into the space a wave of grief washed over us. The room is charged with energy, but the protocols in place help to manage the intensity. Drummers and singers were finishing a song as we entered. Removing one’s shoes, as requested, and walking without them on a cold floor is both grounding and a physical link to the vamps—the upper portion of moccasins that the exhibit is composed of—left unfinished to represent women’s lives cut short, fragments of shoes unable to guard against the cold and rough terrain. An elder was there to smudge us before entering, and we were given small bags of tobacco to hold near our hearts—close enough to smell as you walked though the exhibit.
The vamps were arranged in rows around the perimeter of the room, on one strip of white cloth and a parallel strip of red cloth. Were the two lines meant to represent the Two Row Wampum—the oldest treaty relationship between Indigenous peoples and European settlers? Another display of vamps was in the centre of the room on cloth shaped like a canoe. In the far corner was another display of vamps of children’s shoes—the children who never came home from residential schools. Fresh cedar boughs and small bags of medicines as well as several ceremonial displays punctuated the vamps.
And the vamps: all made by volunteers, many memorialize individual women, with their names, photographs and date of disappearance. Others are designs—crosses, flowers, birds, animals, and abstract designs, embroidered, painted or fashioned of beads, felt, ribbons, pinecones, shells, fur and feathers. With the (incongruous) exception of two identical sets of Ottawa Police Service vamps (using their insignia) each set is individual and unique. Some are exquisitely beautiful, like the delicately beaded robins; some are political, like the set that used a nametag on each, one reading My Name Is and the other reading Who Cares?; and others are playful—one set has felted 3D frogs squatting on the vamps and another uses Superman’s symbol.
Together the 1763 pairs of vamps evoke a collective loss of Indigenous women’s lives and futures. At the same time, this installation captures the dignity of their differences and their individual lives—some very young, others old, from all the regions of this country, speaking many different languages and coming from different peoples, some confirmed dead, others still missing. By holding together both the collective wrong—what unites these women, their disappearances and our neglect—and the respect and care devoted to each woman’s life, the vamps that constitute Walking With Our Sisters remind us that mourning and working for change walk hand-in-hand.