Sarah Scout rushes around the dimly lit room, hurrying between the individual art installations. Excited exclamations float on the air as new and old friends start to appear, one by one, into the spacious conference-room-turned-art-gallery.
Traditional artifacts are scattered around the room. In the corner, a small vinyl screen hangs displaying a First Nations gathering and drum circle.
With anticipation growing as the time for the event draws closer, quiet whispers slowly become a more lively roar. A dizzying array of pain, frustration, hope and reconnection can be felt through the brilliant colours and emotional pieces being showcased in the Mount Royal University’s Lincoln Park conference room. The one night exhibition Light and Darkness, held on Jan. 17, allowed attendees to view a collection of art and listen to discussions about the ‘60s Scoop.
Some of the ‘60s Scoop survivors have come to cope with the personal trauma and experiences of residential schools in many forms but, for this group of creators affected, art is their creative outlet and expression.
From the 1960s-1980s, the government facilitated the removal of First Nations children from traditional households and placed them as wards of government.
During this time, First Nations children were forcibly stripped of cultural identity and family ties. Many of these children, later self-referred to as “Scoops”, would come to be collectively known as “The Lost Tribe.”
These First Nations artists have put on the exhibition to showcase their personal traumas of the past and reconnect with a lost community.
For Scout, this event means more than just organizing featured artists. She herself survived being scooped at an early age.
Scout was separated from her family and taken to the United States where she was bounced around the adoptions system for many years.
She eventually made her way back to Canada after her mother was able to legally adopt her and some of her sisters. Unfortunately, she had to leave her youngest sister behind in the US, as she had already been adopted by another family.
Scout’s choice of artistic expression is zines, or realistic photocopied artwork. Her work consists of real photos of a person or situation and text superposed onto it, producing an impactful graphic.
Through the process of photocopying, Scout can overlay large text on a real photo or artwork creating a contemporary take on the traditional artwork. Scout’s zines express her personal experience through the anonymity theme of her art.
“Just as I was aging out of foster care, my high school sweetheart got me into making zines.”
One of the primary artists included in the exhibition is Michael Fatt, an advocate and survivor of the residential schools. His art is a vibrant collage of swirling artistic talent and passion. Each canvas is a representation of a spiritual reconnection with the land, earth and sky.
These paintings also represent the cultural isolation felt by Fatt through his years in the residential school and foster care system.
“The majority of my art represented another world for me. Through all the turmoils and traumas that I have gone through in my past, I find myself doodling and drawing, basically finding a place of comfort … It rescues me from my problems, pains in the world and this is how I talk.”
Erin Saloman, the event’s only volunteer, says the Light and Darkness exhibition is a platform for a conversation on reconciliation and potential government reform.
“I think that the federal government needs to be more in touch with our frontline advocates, since they are the ones on the ground doing the work, making the connections with our people and know what the needs of First Nations are.”
Scout agrees, noting that just as art has been a medium to unite other groups, events such as this show can bring more visibility to the diverse and marginalized First Nations groups in the area.
“The thing about Calgary is that it attracts a very multicultural group of people. Aboriginal people from all different backgrounds have come. We are all here.”
While for many in the First Nations community the traumas caused by residential schools and scooping may still be fresh. However, it’s through events like this that help build awareness.
Editor: Polly Eason | firstname.lastname@example.org