September 30th is Orange Shirt Day. This project was organized to bring attention to survivors of residential schools; to honour each story, and to keep the reconciliation process alive. Residential schools were a program initiated by the Canadian government to “assimilate” Indigenous populations. This Catholic mission run school took children from their families and removed their language, culture and traditions and resulted in profound and lasting hurt to individuals and their communities. The project is inspired by Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, who had her new orange shirt taken away from her at age six when she arrived at her first day at the residential school.
Today I would like to highlight the work of Robert Houle. Houle is an internationally acclaimed artist, curator and critic. He was born in Manitoba, Canada and his family belongs to the Plains Ojibwa, or Anishinaabe Saulteaux. As a child, he was forced to attend the residential school located in his community. His time at the residential schools had a profound effect on him, and his art. He has explored topics such as; defining Indigenous identity, impacts of colonialism, land claims, and the impacts of residential schools. His series Sandy Bay Residential School Series, 2009, consists of 24 drawings that explore the trauma of suppressed memories from his time at the school. They depict the playground, dormitory beds and various religious figures. These images are highly personal and were deepy difficult for him to complete. He experienced great emotional exhaustion, but recognized that releasing these images from his mind were critical in the healing process. Houle is an important figure in changing the Canadian art landscape, as he led the way for the inclusion of Indigenous artists and curators.
For more information on Orange Shirt Day please visit; https://www.orangeshirtday.org/about-us.html
For more information on Robert Houle and his work
Robert Houle; Life and Work by Shirley Madill; https://aci-iac.ca/art-books/robert-houle
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