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The hands seem to represent both cries for help – pull me out of this place – as well as invitations of friendship – come, hold my hand. One-hundred-and-seventy-eight cement hands are reaching out of a white wall. Above them are photos of children and, written in black type, a series of questions. “Whose stories remain silent, and whose are forcibly told?” asks one. And another: “What stories hide themselves at the outer layer of the picture frame or under the innocence of these children’s precious faces?”

The installation, which features faces and stories belonging to children who were sent to St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission, B.C., is a solemn introduction to the exhibition it accompanies – There Is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Day Schools – which has just opened at the Museum of Vancouver.

The hands, part of Semiahmoo artist Roxanne Charles’s work The Strata of Many Truths , immediately engage the viewer. They seem to represent both cries for help – pull me out of this place – as well as invitations of friendship – come, hold my hand.

“I think there’s a lot of curiosity out there about residential schools,” says Sharon Fortney, MOV’s curator, Indigenous Collections and Engagement. “This is kind of a gentle introduction to the topic.”

There Is Truth Here was organized by the University of Victoria, following many years of research by anthropologist Andrea Walsh, who curated the show in collaboration with survivors and their families. It offers a different way into this dark chapter of Canadian history, where Indigenous children were taken from their families and sent to these schools with the objective of assimilation. Abuse was rampant. The exhibition first opened in Victoria in 2017, at the University of Victoria’s Legacy Gallery. But some children got a bit of distraction from their difficult lives, thanks to teachers who allowed them to express themselves artistically.

The exhibition first opened in Victoria in 2017, at UVic’s Legacy Gallery. “Some of the feedback that was given at the Legacy Gallery … was because There Is Truth Here focuses a lot on the children’s art work, a lot of people took that as the norm,” Fortney says. “They said ‘Oh, look, it wasn’t all bad. They were making art.’ So we felt we needed to address that up front.”

Hence Charles’s striking installation at the entrance to the museum. Working with archival photos from St. Mary’s, the artist has isolated the images of a girl staring through a barbed-wire fence and a boy holding a plate of grapes, making them sort of welcome figures as you walk into the space. There you encounter her 178 cement hands, one of which belongs to Charles’s grandmother, Slhalokowut, a survivor of the residential school.

It’s a pity that Charles’s installation will only be up for the first month of the show, as it provides important context what follows.

There Is Truth Here unfolds in three parts. It begins with work by students of Anthony Walsh, a kind teacher who worked at the Inkameep Day School near Oliver, B.C., between 1931 and 1942. The works here include a fascinating series of paintings on cedar-roof shakes representing the Stations of the Cross. The images of Jesus are similar to common visual representations of Christ – although he is dressed in buckskin – but the people around him, including Pontius Pilate, are Indigenous. There Is Truth Here unfolds in three parts. It begins with work by students of Anthony Walsh, a kind teacher who worked at the Inkameep Day School near Oliver, B.C., between 1931 and […]

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