Musée de la civilisation Marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by Unveiling the Witness Blanket a Powerful Work of Art
QUÉBEC, – A damaged shoe. Braids of hair. A hockey trophy. A wooden door. A black-and-white photograph. A fragment of stained glass. Far from ordinary, these items are silent witnesses of the residential school era and are part of the 800 pieces that make up the Witness Blanket, the masterful work created by master carver Carey Newman, member of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation and Coast Salish.
To mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in a meaningful way, this 12-meter-long impressive installation filled with emotions generated from the unique story of each piece has been unveiled this morning, at the Musée de la civilisation in Québec by its Chief Executive Officer, Stéphan La Roche. Present for the occasion were the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, museum responsible for presenting the work across the country, Ms. Isha Khan and the Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation, Rémy Vincent. People will be able to admire the work of art and reflect on it until February 19, 2023.
Inspired by his father’s disturbing residential school experience, Carey Newman wants his creation to be a collection of items that, individually, are pieces of a fading tale, but once together, reveal a strong story that carries the true story of loss, as well as strength, pride and reconciliation for future generations, tied with a message of hope, peace and truth.
“It’s a privilege to receive the Witness Blanket in our institution, especially on this important Day for the reconciliation process. Its symbolic, historical and emotional impact is perfectly aligned with our mission—that puts humans at the heart of our preoccupations—while also encouraging us to reflect on our collective responsibility to take action for the reconciliation.” Stéphan La Roche, Chief Executive Officer.
« The Witness Blanket has been to many places across this country, but having it visit the Musée de la civilisation is particularly meaningful because it is the first time that it will be in Quebec. When I completed the Witness Blanket and the tour began, our goal was to bring it back to the many places that the pieces and stories that give it meaning came from. This exhibition brings us closer to that goal. September 30th is an important day. It is a day for us to remember the experiences of residential school Survivors and reflect upon the harms of Canada’s colonial past and present. It is my hope that having the exhibition open on such a significant day will help to ensure that these important conversations continue throughout the year» Carey Newman (Hayalthkin’geme), artist and master carver.
« We are very proud to be a part of sharing the stories of the Witness Blanket with people across Canada“, said Isha Khan, CEO of the CMHR. “This is an artwork of national importance that can help all Canadians understand the truths of the residential school era and the impact these institutions still have today. Reconciliation must start with truth» Ms. Isha Khan, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, museum responsible for presenting the work across the country.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, this work of art is worth at least a thousand stories that must be shared and acknowledged, especially on this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. I hope that the work of art the Witness Blanket allows every visitor to reflect and pay tribute to the many victims and survivors of residential schools. It is by taking small, but significant action, like visiting this exhibition, that the reconciliation and connectedness between all peoples can be possible.” Rémy Vincent, Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation
- The Witness Blanket reminds one of quilts made from a multitude of small pieces of fabric that once pieced together make an enveloping and comforting object.
- The more than 800 pieces that make up the Witness Blanket were donated by residential school survivors, their families, band councils and friendship centres. Some objects were also recovered from former residential schools, churches, government buildings and cultural structures across the country.
- The website witnessblanket.ca adds a digital dimension to the work. This resource holds testimonies of survivors, profound stories inspired by some objects found on the Witness Blanket, a teacher’s guide and more.
- Carey Newman, whose traditional name is Hayalthkin’geme, has Kwakiutl and Coast Salish ancestry on his father’s side, while his mother’s ancestry is of non-native English, Scottish and Irish origin.
- The blending of these cultures has been a major influence on his artistic process. For more than a year and with the support of a dedicated team, Carey Newman collected contributions and objects that tell the experiences of residential schools across the country.
- Together, the artist and his team have gone over 200,000 kilometres, visited 77 communities, met more than 10,000 people and agreed to take over more than one thousand articles.
- To know more about the creation process of the work of art, it is possible to attend the screening of Picking Up the Pieces: The Making of the Witness Blanket, on Friday, September 30th, at 1 p.m. at the Roland–Arpin auditorium in the museum. English version with French subtitles.
- The Museum for Human Rights of Winnipeg and Carey Newman have signed an historical and unique agreement that reunites Indigenous legal traditions and Western law. This agreement defines their mutual responsibility for the ongoing care of the work and give equal importance to written documents as well as oral tradition. It confers legal rights to the work of art itself and respects its important role as the keeper of the survivors’ stories. In other words, the agreement recognizes the importance of transforming the colonial relationships and to partake in respectful collaborations as part of the ongoing reconciliation process.
- For the duration of the Witness Blanket exhibition at the Musée de la civilisation, members of all Indigenous communities of Québec and other provinces will have free access to the work of art as well as all exhibition halls of the national museum institution.
Witness blanket: witnessblanket.ca
Carey Newman: www.uvic.ca/finearts/ahvs/people/faculty/profiles/cnewman.php
Canadian Museum for Human Rights: humanrights.ca
Musée de la civilisation : mcq.org
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