Powerful art installation honours missing, murdered women
- Judy Bird | November 26, 2013
Danette Exner thought about her sister while she beaded a special pair of moccasin vamps this past summer. Exner's youngest sister, Darrelle, was murdered in Regina in October 1996 at the age of 14. She had just started grade 9, was out with her friends, and walked home along a familiar route. She never made it home.
"I dont know if people realize I think about her every single day," she said.
The vamps Exner beaded are part of an art installation commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women. Walking With Our Sisters is showing at the First Nations University of Canada's Art Gallery in Regina from November 25 - December 13. Each pair of unfinished moccasins represents an unfinished life.
Métis artist Christi Belcourt came up with the idea for the art exhibit as a way to honour Indigenous women who have gone missing or were murdered. She put out a call for 600 vamps, and 1,725 were submitted. Most came from Canada and the United States, but some from Australia, New Zealand, Europe and other parts of the world.
When Exner learned of the project, she knew right away that she had to take part. Her sister was on her mind with each bead and stitch. She thought about her mother, and her strength to carry on after losing a daughter. She fought to block the sad memories, instead choosing to focus on good.
"It really got me thinking more about the things that I remembered about her that made me happy or that made me laugh, or made me cry that silly cry or happy cry rather than the heart-breaking part of it. I think so much about what kind of an aunty she would have been to my daughter, and for my nieces and nephews," she said.
For Judy Anderson, creating a pair of vamps was a generational tribute. Her son designed them and she beaded them. He also helped with the colour choices.
"Theyre in honour of my nohkom, my grandmother, her name is Jane Mary, mostly known as Jenny. She was murdered when my mother was 12 years old so I didnt actually get to know her," she said. "I think about her all the time. I think about what it would be like to have had her in my life and I think about the loss to my mom when she was 12-years-old. It was sad (making the vamps) but I really wanted to do it because she's been on my mind for most of my life. I've always wanted a grandmother but sadly she was taken from me."
Visual artist Katherine Boyer created her pair of vamps as a larger tribute. Together the vamps represent a map of central Canada, and each red dot represents a location for the case of a missing or murdered aboriginal woman.
"The red dots become pock marks, it's such a plague on our land. It's part of a disease, part of an injury to our land," she said.
Looking at the exhibit, Exner and Anderson feel a connection to the people who made these vamps, and their loved ones.
"It's pretty overwhelming," said Exner. "Just knowing that none of those women are forgotten. To me, thats really important."
"I have to remember that we also need to celebrate," said Anderson. "If we stay in this role, this really sad, depressed role, it's not going to take us anywhere. I think that this exhibition takes us somewhere because it shows us that we're all concerned about this, and that if we band together, we can make a difference."
For more information, visit the Walking with Our Sisters website.