The 60% Triptych Painting Project

Artist: Bruce Barry (brucebarryjd@gmail.com),   Current to: Dec 2018

60% tweet

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I was in Calgary at the conference [with part of my Silhouette Project] when he made his comment about ‘the Monster’ – if you have never heard Justice Sinclair speak, he is most engaging, worth the time to listen to, and very approachable, a strong traditional bit of bedrock for our world.

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If I ever get the resources for this 60% Triptych project, and it works great, I thank Senator Murray Sinclair. If it goes sideways, I’ll blame him (that is a joke). His comment re the 60% is the spark/inspiration for this art idea. If the item$ are obtained, it will take about a year to create . . .

THEME & IMAGE

We Ojibwe People are a People of stories; they define us, teach us and protect us.

“The 60%” Triptych Painting Project is a multidisciplinary artistic response to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission statement of the 60% mortality rate of Indigenous children forced by the Canadian Dominion Government into the Indian Residential Schools[i]. This art creation is a polyptych[ii] of three panels – folded out to 20 x 8 feet – combining images along with historical documents relating to the subject of the schools. This triptych[iii] will immerse the viewer within the Residential School experience that will be dramatic, empathetic and realistic.

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NARRATIVE OF PROJECT

Concept

The overall concept is that “The 60%” triptych be the center of a travelling exhibition. The final images and documents have not been determined yet; however, they will be based in part on the attached colour sketches (see Schedule ‘A’), and related historical information on the Residential School experience.

Images based on actual people.

I propose to utilize various people to model for the images. Why? Because it makes for better art and this topic is a live issue with considerations of reconciliation and is, historically and presently, involves actual sentient people. The Indian Residential Schools were cataclysmic for our entire society and all peoples; but this project is not trauma porn, nor an Indian reality show. So I will use actual living people as models for the images. It is interesting the reaction, and interaction, between myself and some of the people I used as models in the colour sketches below.

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For a few, Residential Schools were, amazingly to me, unknown to them. And as this project has a cogent research base wherein documents from the residential schools are referenced (see notes re the back of the Triptych), many of the people appeared to undergo some sort of insight.

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I was explaining the Canadian Residential School System to a Chinese Graduate Student at the University of Alberta. While I was talking, she was looking through the various handouts and documents and read them, putting her finger up a few times to silence me as I was not used to students actually reading all of the material. Our discussion wondered into various other policies, for example, how ‘Indian Women’ morphed legally into ‘White Women’ when they married a Whiteman, but not the reverse when a White woman married an Indian man. She looked at me over a sip of tea in ‘that look’ most women, regardless of country of birth, seem to have where they think you are ‘having them on’ or engaging in ‘bovine scatology’ ("bullshit"). She put her cup down and said, “People complain about the Chinese Government, and the evil it has done?”

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A youth I was talking to became very concerned when in response to her question ‘Why didn’t the kids parents stop them from being taken away?’, I told her often the Police would take them, or sometimes parents wanted the kids to go. Her ten year old brain sloshed that around for a bit and said ‘Why would anyone think that was a good idea?’  Exactly.

Creating Art is about creating change, always at a personal level, one-on-one.

‘White = Bad’ and ‘Brown = Good’?

Does this mean ‘white = bad’ and ‘brown = good’? No, because the issues are so much more complex. I also intend on using persons of various ethnicity, origin and such intermingled as representing both Indigenous and non-indigenous actors in the piece. Also, as part of the exhibition we are considering possibly mini videos where the individuals who modeled for the imaginings speak on the project and their reflections on the experience and subject matter.

People may well take the accusation that “white people, they are now appropriating our pain!” – this is fallacious, it is trite and naïve. Racism, colonialism and a zillion other ‘isms’ cause pain for everyone collectively and individually, white, black, brown, two spirited and otherwise. This subject matter is a mess of contradictions.

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There are many disenfranchised who are not part of the 1%, all in various shades, beliefs, hopes and challenges. The Indian Residential Schools were part of a mindset that still exists today and is actively removing Indigenous Children by use of the Child Welfare Systems, the mindset that states is everyone was just like us, they would be fixed, i.e., colonialism and imperialism.

Why a Triptych?

The canvases will be fashioned onto wigwam shaped frames akin to medieval Catholic Church triptych usually with images of saints. The basic idea for doing this is, in part, to redeem that spirit of the church corporate and other religious organizations which for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples alike, caused and continues to cause many to live in a state of subjugation, to travel along a grim road through darkness, betrayal and depravity: yet, as a people, Indigenous and other, we all survived with our collective humanity intact, albeit a bit torn and disfigured. But not all devout are evil and destructive.

This piece is not tone-deaf to the clerical, nor revisionist history. ‘The 60%’ will explore the incongruency of the religious, those organizations and collection of people which, notwithstanding well-documented historical evil, continue to create extraordinary transcendent art, music, and also many devotees who are good kind people who many of us would like to have as a neighbour.

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People attending the exhibition will be invigorated by the art and contemporaneously educated about this part of Canada’s history. The vision is that when the viewer enters the gallery show room, the viewer sees the triptych and on the walls are some of the colour studies (see below), the wings of the triptych will be on wheels which make it easier to open and spread out to view the three panels of the triptych inside.

Ojibwe Wigwam

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When closed, the triptych is in the shape of an Ojibwe Wigwam, a shallow cedar relief carving greets the viewer, then when opened up, the three panels present a bright kaleidoscope of colour that creates a journey speaking of courage, despair, lost and hopefully a few steps towards reconciliation. Once opened, the viewer can walk around the triptych and see on the back of the main panel, adhered under a protective polymer covering, true copies of archive documents related to the images on the front of the open panels.

The arched frame to stretch the canvas will be custom built of steamed and bend strips of western red cedar, a studio frame for the finished painting will be made at the same time. The substrate of 12 oz. duck canvas will host mixed media artwork, mainly acrylic, but also natural medium that the artist has used on other works with success, including wasp nest, sweet grass, paper made from cedar bark, hawk feathers and red willow bark.

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This medicine painting, reading it from left to right, takes us from the image of a traditional Indigenous family, whole and joyful, standing in front of their wigwam, we see the parents and their four children, of note an adolescent boy sitting behind them on a horse, he has a red blanket, proud and full of youthful energy and optimism. The father holds a toddler in his arms, and two other young children, another boy and girl, stand free in front of their parents.

The viewer then journeys across the narrative and sees the children being removed and forced to be more ‘European like’, vanquished is traditional hair, clothing and every last shard of traditional spiritual foundation to protect and sustain.

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The visual journey ends at the far right where we see what remains of the family as they pose in traditional European fashion. The father sitting on a chair, his wife standing behind in a paternalistic fashion, both are now in front of a wood frame house. Of the initial 4 children only 1.6 remain. In the lower right hand corner of this panel the paint is textured, rough and chaotic, like the world became for the indigenous people, mutilated and disfigured, a world of scars and lesions.

We look back slightly to the left and see the oldest son, having walked on from this world, crossing between panels #2 & #3 on his horse, we see the red blanket initially a source of adolescent pride and vanity, now faded in colour (Image #9). His face is pock marked from small pox, both he and his horse, void of colour and substance. Even in death, not all of him is in existence.

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He is not the only image riding left to right, we see his sister (image #12), no longer of this world, laying on top of a white buffalo, escorted by blue wolves to protect, she is holding a papoose (from the Algonquian papoos, meaning "child") with an infant in it. All three, brother and sister, and a new child, are the only persons in the triptych, optimistically trying to ride back towards a world they once knew, back to the start of the narrative.

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Archive Documents

With the triptych fully open or closed, the viewer can always walk around the back of it, and sees adhered true copies of archive documents related to those in the front. For example, government documents outlawing the Sun Dance, the Potlatch and such. It will include excerpts of the Bryce report, which set out a growing death rate of Indigenous children in the schools due to tuberculosis. As the Medical Inspector for the Indian Agencies, Dr. Bryce documented that the increased deaths of Indigenous children (50% in Alberta) were caused by Residential School practices. The response of the Department of Indian Affairs Superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott was to abolish the post of Medical Inspector for Indian Agencies in February, 1919. Consequently, the result was that death from tuberculosis among Indigenous children in the residential schools skyrocketed. Attendance in these death-trap "schools" was then made compulsory for all native children in Canada, under a federal law passed in 1920.

Making it all very legal, but none of it right.

They were just trying to do what they thought best

 

It is not that children ‘got educated’ that makes the Residential School Experience valid or okay. The sin committed by the Government of the day occurred at the moment the first child was removed from it’s family, as the State had a positive duty of protect and promote the family as a unit. It did not do this:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

Preamble: Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

. . .

Article 16.

. . .

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

As we go across, parts of the children slowly dissolve and mostly omitted from the images, a slow transparency that continues across until we are at the end of the 3rd panel and back to the first image. As noted above, when the viewer arrives at the third panel, 60% (2.4) of the children and major parts of the parents are missing. Two of the children (the brother and sister) are completely disappeared; they are attempting to return to the world as it was. For one of these two children all that we see, where the child is in the first image, is one moccasin by itself, traditional footwear half covered in dirt, stains around it. Next to the shore, just under the water we see the toy the child was holding in the first image.

Controversial Images?

Student on Student Abuse and Nursing Nuns.

First off, the fact that the whole residential schools happened is offensive, when one explains the idea to someone who is unaware of this history, they look at you like you are making it up. Art is about truth, while all art is representational; it has as its core genuineness. When New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art received demands to take down their painting entitled, “Thérèse Dreaming[1]” (1938), a spokesman for the museum stated:

moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present, and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression.”

Or as Eugène Ionesco tells us - “Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.”

Student on Student Abuse

There will be an image of two female children bullying another by pushing and hitting a third smaller girl, student-on-student abuse, what is termed in the Canadian Courts ‘SOS’. This is the reality of the experience[2] in the residential schools and art ought not engage in revisionist history. Art, true art, is not about fantasy; it is representational like all art, with images that are unpretentious and authentic. In the referenced Aboriginal Healing Foundation, one of the participants is quoted:

When this participant was asked if facing the issue of student-to-student abuse will help communities heal, the reply was:

“That is a part of it. We can’t just do parts of things, we need to embrace everything. We need to feel safe to be able to look at everything, and to be able to feel comfortable and safe to talk about everything. That [student-to-student abuse] is a part of it for sure.”[3]

Nursing Nun

We also see a Nun; her breasts exposed as she nurses a toddler Indigenous child. What is this image about, why is it here? The nun is here because not all religious are evil, they may well be misguided and lacking the capacity for critical thinking, believing that the schools were a good idea, but we all are conflicted and within each of us is a core of decency and empathy. Breast-feeding is not merely an act of nourishment between a woman and a child, but also one of comfort, bonding and natural human interaction. Did the Nuns in the schools nurse children? Not that we know of, yet some of the Nuns nourished the personalities of the children, some offered compassion, some did bond with some of the children, and in an asexual fashion, some did in fact care and comfort many of the Indigenous children who were stolen.

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So here at the end, after journeying across the triptych, the viewer comes to understand that “the survivors” are no longer recognizable from the first image to the last. They are scarred and disfigured, ravaged by psychological trauma, their spirits cut by physical and sexual abuse, disfigurements caused by the forfeiture of culture and language. One child stands apart from the parents, to the side, no longer connected, wandering, unable to break free from the tyranny of colonialism

From the last image we see we all to some degree still live in a state of subjugation, both the parents and children, and to some extent also the viewer of this painting, after having journeyed, in fact force-marched down and across a grim road through gloom and duplicity. Upon arriving at the end the painting - 60% of the first images the viewer saw - the people, animals, nature – they all, in whole or part are now extinct.

This medicine painting is at the end one of optimism and hope. As an example, we see the ‘wandering’ child looking over to his parents, looking to his culture and traditions to save him, to redeem what was taken.

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What is left of one of the other child looks up to her father, one traumatized human to another, hopeful.

We see that as a people, Indigenous and other, we are living in a time and in a world not of our making, with people perhaps not of our choosing, metaphorically carried by a current down a river in a canoe we didn’t create, unable to steer to a shore, disembark and if one wishes to separate. We are like the students in the Residential Schools, forced into situations and pressures that we are unable to avoid or forsake.

The following colour studies are done for purposes of discussion and development. I am currently seeking a competent research resource person who has some expertise in this area, accordingly the images will respond and likely add to or morph as a result of input by this person.

 

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The colour sketch studies below are not finished images, nor ones that will be in the final triptych, but are here to contribute to the discussion of the concept.

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 ABOUT ME

My ‘legal’ name is Bruce Barry — my Ojibwe name is Giizhig Aanikanootaagewinini [Sky Interpreter/Speaker] – Giiz for short; I am a Midewiwin, a pipe holder and a member of the Crane Clan, one of the seven original Ojibwe clans. More notably, I am the 4th born son of Manidooke Moshwe Ikwe-niimi - [Sacred Shawl Dancer Woman], her authenticity, influence, spirit and guidance account for any beauty or wisdom one finds in my art — faults and weaknesses I’ve managed to craft, myself. My mother’s noble soul, reached past her own imperfections and struggles, and albeit lives with Creator in the spirit world now, she still holds my soul, guiding me for the last 62 years, insisting I not allow the world to diminish my impulse to create. Her ‘job’ is now taken over by Matowaykanchantewashte (Sacred Bear Spirit Good Heart), her first born, my oldest brother and First Proctor of our clan. My sacred debt to both is yet unpaid, but telling our Ojibwe stories and truths is some recompense toward the obligation, and I am honoured to contribute to our story. Other lives I live in addition to visual artist — parent, published writer, academic, community activist, filmmaker and screenwriter, graduate of the University of Alberta and the University of Windsor Law School. I am currently finishing a book of short stories entitled ‘The Rez Diaries’ with an expected publication date in late 2018. Living an artist’s life requires - and acquires - various keepers of ones art soul, these human and animal helpers are the greatest artwork we create with the aid of the Creator, she who blesses us all in our struggle with our callings.

[1] Created by the French-Polish artist known as Balthus, born Balthasar Klossowski de Rola,

[2] See the Aboriginal Healing Foundation publication Bombay, A et al, ‘Origins of Lateral Violence in Aboriginal Communities: A preliminary study of Student-to-Student abuse in Residential Schools (2014)       http://www.ahf.ca/downloads/lateral-violence-english.pdf

[3] ibid, page 126

[i] Residential Schools – how many students, how many schools, why?

Initially, about 1,100 students attended 69 schools across the country. In 1931, at the peak of the residential school system, there were about 80 schools operating in Canada. There were a total of about 130 schools in every territory and province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick from the earliest in the 19th century to the last, which closed in 1996.

In all, about 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.

What went wrong?

Residential schools were established with the assumption that aboriginal culture was unable to adapt to a rapidly modernizing society. It was believed that native children could be successful if they assimilated into mainstream Canadian society by adopting Christianity and speaking English or French. Students were discouraged from speaking their first language or practising native traditions. If they were caught, they would experience severe punishment.

Throughout the years, students lived in substandard conditions and endured physical and emotional abuse. There have also been convictions of sexual abuse. Students at residential schools rarely had opportunities to see examples of normal family life. Most were in school 10 months a year, away from their parents; some stayed all year round. All correspondence from the children was written in English, which many parents couldn't read. Brothers and sisters at the same school rarely saw each other, as all activities were segregated by gender.

According to documents obtained by the CBC, some schools carried out nutritional experiments on malnourished students in the 1940s and '50s with the federal government's knowledge.

Nutritional experiments were carried out on malnourished aboriginal people in the 1940s and '50s with the federal government's knowledge, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

Minutes from a House of Commons committee show it approved a request from researchers to continue their experiments on aboriginal people in Norway House in northern Manitoba in 1944.

The experiments started when an Indian Affairs doctor, along with two others from New York and the University of Toronto, visited the reserve and linked malnutrition to a tuberculosis epidemic and cases of blindness. Instead of improving the food available to all 300 Cree in Norway House, the doctors decided to give nutritional supplements to just 125.

Two years later, researchers noted an improvement in the health of the group given the vitamins.

Recent research by Canadian food historian Ian Mosby revealed that at least 1,300 aboriginal people — most of them children — were used as test subjects in the 1940s and '50s by researchers probing the effectiveness of vitamin supplements.

When students returned to the reserve, they often found they didn't belong. They didn't have the skills to help their parents, and became ashamed of their native heritage. The skills taught at the schools were generally substandard; many found it hard to function in an urban setting. The aims of assimilation meant devastation for those who were subjected to years of abuse.

Accessed February 1, 2018: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-history-of-residential-schools-in-canada-1.702280

Accessed February 1, 2018: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/aboriginal-nutritional-experiments-had-ottawa-s-approval-1.1404390

[ii] A polyptych (/ˈpɒlɪptɪk/ POL-ip-tik; Greek: poly- "many" and ptychē "fold") is a painting (usually panel painting) which is divided into sections, or panels. Specifically, a "diptych" is a two-part work of art; a "triptych" is a three-part work; a tetraptych or quadriptych has four parts; pentaptych five; hexaptych six; heptaptych (or septych in Latin) seven; and octaptych eight parts. Polyptychs typically display one "central" or "main" panel that is usually the largest of the attachments, while the other panels are called "side" panels, or "wings". Sometimes, as evident in the Ghent and Isenheim works, the hinged panels can be varied in arrangement to show different "views" or "openings" in the piece. Polyptychs were most commonly created by early Renaissance painters, the majority of which designed their works to be altarpieces in churches and cathedrals. The polyptych form of art was also quite popular among ukiyo-e printmakers of Edo period Japan.

[iii] A triptych a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works intended to be appreciated together and as a work of art is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works. Traditionally with triptychs the middle panel is typically the largest and it is flanked by two smaller related works, although there are triptychs of equal-sized panels. The form can also be used for pendant jewelry.