When Catherine Lafranchise set out to plan her first program as director of the DRAC, a contemporary art gallery in Drummondville, she discovered a problem she knew she wanted to correct.
Across 600 exhibitions over four decades of the gallery’s history, fewer than five presented Indigenous artists - and this despite the gallery’s location on historically Abenaki land.
“This is the context in which the exhibition was set up,” said Lafranchise.
I hear your warm whisper through the cold mist strives for a reset with a showcase of three Indigenous artists until December 18 at the DRAC.
“All of our work just blends well together,” said Kahnawa’kehró:non artist Carla Hemlock, one of the three artists whose art is being presented. The others are Christine Sioui Wawanoloath and Glenn Gear.
Hemlock’s multimedia installation, In the Arms of the Natural World, is a response to the 2021 discovery of 215 unmarked burials at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“This work took a big bite out of me,” she said. “It was emotionally draining, but I am pleased with how it all came together.”
The installation, which is being presented for the first time, requires a 30-foot wall to display. Three tall quilts hang down, with the middle one anchoring the work. A spiral of a turtle, representing the Earth, is encircled by children in ribbon shirts and ribbon skirts who are linked by their arms. The quilt’s lettering reads “Holding you tight until you are found.”
Quilts on either side are a poignant rebuke of Canadian and American abuses of Indigenous children at residential and boarding schools. Photographs of children who attended the schools are embedded in the pieces.
Two videos between the quilts explore the sites of former residential and boarding schools, paying close attention to the natural world that envelops them. These films were produced in collaboration with Hemlock’s son, Raohserahawi Hemlock, to whom she outlined a general tone and feel.
“Raohserahawi did an incredible job with his interpretation,” said Hemlock. “He captured everything I could have imagined and more. The two films are told through a pair of eyes. The eyes represent the energy and essence of the universe that have been keeping watch.”
Last weekend’s opening gave Hemlock an opportunity to glean the response of the DRAC’s visitors.
“Judging by the reaction of the viewers at the opening, it had an impact,” she said. “That is what I was hoping for. Do not forget that there are so many of our children that have yet to be found. Keep them in the forefront and demand their return home.”
Among the visitors to the exhibition was Hemlock’s sister, Chellie Goodleaf.
“It was startling and it took my breath away. So many emotions hit you all at once,” Goodleaf said.
“An incredible amount of detail can be seen in her hand-sewn quilts, and the Mohawk beadwork she adds makes her work so unique.”
The exhibition’s curator, Camille Larivée, sought to include artists whose work encompasses poetry, love, and the changing of seasons. More accustomed to curating public art projects, she was mindful of the importance of space and place.
“I really wanted to create a space where people can just take a moment and breathe with the artwork,” she said.
This aligns with the vision of the gallery’s director.
“I like the fact that people will come here, expect just to see art, and maybe leave thinking about these issues and maybe address them with their friends, with their community, everything,” said Lafranchise.
“We feel really lucky to have (Hemlock) in Drummondville,” she said.
I hear your warm whisper through the cold mist runs at the DRAC, situated in the Maison des arts Desjardins Drummondville, through December 18 and is free to attend.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door