Submitted by: Sydney Luther, SCC Communications Assistant
If you are a student, instructor, or employee of the University of Saskatchewan, you may have noticed the 130 red dresses that are hung around the campus. What you might not know, however, is the great significance these red dresses hold. The REDress Project is an art installation by artist Jaime Black, running from September 17 to October 5, 2014. The project “is a critical response to the hundreds of reported cases of murdered or disappeared Indigenous Women across Canada. Through the collection and public display of empty red dresses, the installation seeks to create space for dialogue around the gendered and racialized nature of violence against Indigenous women” (event poster). The red dresses have been installed in the Agriculture, Arts, Education and Geology buildings, as well as in The Bowl on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon.The work is described as “creepy” by some, but this emotional response is the core of the exhibition. When Black began the project in 2011, it was estimated that over 500 Aboriginal women had gone missing or had been murdered in Canada. The exhibition is a manifestation of this gruesome message.
However, according to a recent CBC news article on the topic, “The RCMP recently confirmed there are 1,186 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada” (CBC news). This is more than double the original estimated number of women, a fact which grants even more importance to this project. This issue is of concern because the rate of violence and disappearance of Aboriginal women is much higher than that of any other population in Canada. Black, who is of Anishnaabe descent, manages to portray this chilling message through her work.
Black specifically chose red because of the symbolism of the colour. As told to the Star Phoenix, Black stated, “I’ve always thought red was a really sacred colour. It’s the colour of lifeblood, and it’s also conversely the colour of blood spilled. There’s connotations of the violence that these women are facing because they’re indigenous” (Trembath, “Red Dresses”). Black’s project has been able to continue thanks to the donation of hundreds of red dresses over the four years that the project has been in motion.
Since the start of the project, Black has installed the REDress Project across Canada, beginning in Winnipeg where she resides. After the University of Saskatchewan, the project is headed to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. In a review of the exhibition, Wendy Haines writes, “Somehow the dresses embody both presence in their representation and absence in their emptiness, so you feel a connection to the lack of these women you never knew” (Haines,“Egocentrix”). The pieces ask you to consider the individuals who have disappeared, but also the magnitude of their similarities. There must be a reason why they all belong to this specific population. This issue is tied to both issues of gender and of race, as stated above.
Maps of the exact locations of all the dresses are available at the Aboriginal Student Centre on the U of S campus, in Marquis Hall. The exhibition runs until October 5. There will also be a ‘Research Round Table & Community Discussion’ on the topic of ‘Taking Action to End Violence Against Indigenous Women’ on October 2, 2014 at 7 pm at Station 20 West (1120 – 20th Street West), as a response to the exhibition. Please attend if you would like to have your voice heard or to simply learn more about this topic.