#thinkingthrough We Were So Far Away

Members of the research team at the exhibit, Nov. 27, 2015 (photo credit: Lauren Bosc).

Members of the research team at the exhibit, Nov. 27, 2015 (photo credit: Lauren Bosc).

Members of our research team visited the travelling exhibit “We Were So Far Away” on November 27, 2015 while it was displayed in the atrium of the United Way of Winnipeg (580 Main Street, Winnipeg MB). This exhibit, which features stories and photographs from eight Inuit residential school Survivors, was on display in Winnipeg from November 18-30. For more information on the exhibit, click here.

The exhibition title expresses so much with so little: We Were So Far Away – Inuit residential school students were so far away from family, so far away from their culture, so far away from hope. While Survivors’ voices are heard through the display of archival photographs alongside highlighted memories, I found it difficult to connect to the material in the chosen space (the United Way centre lobby on Main Street in Winnipeg). Ultimately, it was the accompanying exhibition book that allowed me to engage on a deeper level with the difficult and powerful stories shared in the exhibit. – Sylvia Dreaver (Dueck)

One of the things that struck me about the archival photographs of residential schools included in We Were So Far Away is that while the names of Monseigneurs, teachers and even some of the photographers appear with the original documentation, the students were often left nameless. Namelessness is itself evidence of how the students were treated as objects of regulation rather than subjects of their own experiences at the schools. The exhibit’s juxtaposition of these photos with current day profiles of survivors works to recover their agency in the face of such violent erasure.  Angela Failler

As I read the short descriptions of photographs shared by each Survivor, I was struck by one in particular that accompanied an image of a group of residential school children. Lillian Elias noted that although she thought she was one of the children in the photo, she did not recognize herself in any of the faces. For me, this comment resonated through the rest of the exhibit as the Survivors attempted to recognize themselves in the trauma of the IRS system. Lauren Bosc

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#thinkingthrough the Witness Blanket

The Witness Blanket

The Witness Blanket, detail. (image credit: Angela Failler)

Members of our research team visited the CMHR to view “The Witness Blanket” exhibit and hear the artist talk on January 20, 2016. Carey Newman (Ha-yalth-kingeme), a master wood carver of British, Kwagiulth, and Salish ancestry from Vancouver Island, is touring his work across Canada over the next 7 years. The piece includes objects collected from Indian Residential Schools, survivors, and family members in Canada from coast-to-coast-to-coast. For more on the exhibit visit http://witnessblanket.ca/

Listening to the artist speak to the layers of story and memory in his piece brought The Witness Blanket to life. His description of the emotional labour that went into working with and through the objects was as powerful and moving as the piece itself. Learning from difficult knowledge requires more than collecting information about the past. Lauren Bosc

The Witness Blanket IOS Mobile App is one of the most effective digital extensions of an exhibit I have encountered. It brings home the depth of the collection, making its objects accessible beyond the museum itself. It also raises the question of how difficult knowledge might be mediated through exhibition design. Angela Failler

To me, the braids of hair near the center of the blanket represent the notion of losing connection to culture. This detail illustrates the robbed childhood of a (First) Nation and a legacy of abuse many Canadians have yet to come to terms with. Anna Huard

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