NET-ETH: Going Out of the Darkness
An exhibition of First Nations Artists, Residential School Survivors and their Descendants
Curated by Tarah Hogue and Rose M. Spahan
Held at three locations: Malaspina Printmakers Society, Concourse Gallery at Emily Carr University, Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery in Skwachàys Healing Lodge.
“NET-ULH: Going out of the darkness, at first daylight, when you pray and cleanse your tools to make them strong. Listen, we must listen, an important process of opening up to the light, opening up to intergenerational trauma so we all heal together.”
– Ti Te-In, Shane Point Siem, Musqueam Elder
I had the tremendous opportunity to co-curate an two exhibitions in 2013 about the history and legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential School system and how artists are contributing to and partaking in healing from this experience. This is the first of two posts I will make with some documentation of the exhibitions, the other being Witnesses: Art and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.
Unfortunately, I have little photo documentation of the NET-ETH exhibition but have included a link to download the full 96-page catalogue above. These are also available for purchase through Malaspina Printmakers, who organized the exhibition.
Curating this exhibition was an incredibly rewarding and challenging undertaking. Working with students and staff from ECUAD, First Nations artists living and working in the Downtown Eastside as well as professional artists from across Western Canada created a fertile ground from which to begin this difficult conversation. My talented and strong co-curator, Rose Spahan made every effort to meet with and include works by artists who might not otherwise have the opportunity to share them, including a non-indigenous retired teacher and mental health worker who worked with residential school survivors in Tofino. Many of the works in the exhibition were raw – full of emotion, pain and suffering. These works elicit visceral responses from the viewer and, for this reason, were often difficult to curate, discuss and write about. I felt these same emotions, along with confusion, sadness and anger from student groups as I toured them through the exhibition and from artists and community members during our panel discussion. I was often overwhelmed by these responses (as well as my own) and found language often faltering in such moments.
I was often concerned about the risks of both exhibiting works about the residential school experience and the responses it might elicit but I also believe that this affective quality gave the exhibition its tremendous impact. It was incredibly heartening to see the number of classes engaging with the exhibition, at least in the Emily Carr location, as well as many of the delegates and visitors from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when it took place in Vancouver shortly after the exhibition opened. The need for education around the history and continuing issues created by the residential school system is so great that to even have the opportunity to do this exhibition points in a positive direction. The question remains, of course, as to the response of the Canadian government and the broader populace to the needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people as the political, social and economic realities facing many of these communities is one of continuing marginalization. On a personal level I feel that the exhibition was a success despite the larger problem set that it inhabited and have come out of the experience both exhausted and impassioned.
Setting out to make artworks about Indian Residential Schools is a risky endeavor. It is an emotional subject and a political subject. Each artist took risks in creating this work. I will be blunt about this—taking a risk means potentially causing harm. This means the artist could find creating the work traumatic, rather than healing, although the work may be successful in evoking healing for viewers. Or a piece may be cathartic for an artist and yet does not provide a similar effect for viewers. NET-ETH requires the artists to risk themselves, and they undertook those risks. As a whole, we might be able to say the exhibition creates a start to a healing process. The artists’ willingness to take on the painful subject provides a visible process for our own examination of history and its role in creating our present circumstances.
– Lara Evans, “Curatorial Statements”
Our collective memory is like a weathered house post that we unearth from beneath luscious green moss, or a treasured woven basket with gaping holes but still carrying the perfect intricate pattern of loving hands.
We can either see destruction, feel pain, carry defeat or seek and find the treasures and rebuild with what we find. We need our personal power to heal ourselves, we need each other to heal our people but most of all we need to search for the story in our mind and heart and spirit. With this common story in the light of day, we can be a part of a solution.
– Maxine Pape, “Healing from the Residential School Experience”
The IRS system was a massive effort between church and state to eradicate indigenous culture through assimilating children into the Canadian body politic by replacing one set of worldviews with another. It was, in other words, a form of ontological warfare meant to separate children from their roots in language, cultural practices and oral narratives that fundamentally inform the way in which a person interacts with their environment.
– Tarah Hogue, “A Shared and Difficult History”
Bernard, Stephanie, “Coming out of the darkness: The NET-ETH exhibit at Granville Island works to heal,” The Peak, September 30, 2013, http://www.the-peak.ca/2013/09/coming-out-of-the-darkness/
“For more than 120 years…” Coastal Art Beat, http://www.coastalartbeat.ca/?p=2489
Godman, Chloe, “Emily Carr’s Brenda Crabtree and Lou-Ann Neel Discuss the ‘NET-ETH: Going out of the Darkness’ Show and Other Truth and Reconciliation Events,” http://woopublication.tumblr.com/post/63630505062/emily-carrs-brenda-crabtree-and-lou-ann-neel-discuss
Sproule, Michelle, “SCOUT LIST: 10 Things That You Should Absolutely Do Between Now & Next Week,” September 10, 2013, http://scoutmagazine.ca/2013/09/10/scout-list-10-things-that-you-should-absolutely-do-between-now-next-week-59/
Turner, Michael, “Swarm Celebrates Vancouver’s Artist-Run Autumn,” Canadian Art, September 25, 2013, http://www.canadianart.ca/reviews/2013/09/25/swarm-vancouver/