The artwork in Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun's exhibit, Unceded Territories, is breathtaking, but not in the way you might think.
Earlier today, the Straight had the opportunity to preview the exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology (6393 NW Marine Drive). Many of Yuxweluptun's striking pieces shook us to our very core.
One in particular, an installation that spoke to the sexual abuse suffered by residential school students at the hand of the Catholic Church, had us struggling to find words.
Centered between two paintings of residential school children, Residential School Dirty Laundry sees piles of plain white boys' and girls' underwear laid out in the shape of a cross. Some are stained with red paint. In the centre, a plaque reads, "For this child, I prayed...", a bible verse from 1 Samuel 1:27.
We spoke with Yuxweluptun about the particular piece after he led us through the exhibit:
"How many native children were raped and molested at residential schools? The cultural sorrow that they were put through made them prisoners of residential school. The church and state, the Catholic Church, they have to pay for their sins, and so I was making this out of little boys' and girls' underwear as a symbol of all the rape and the destruction that's been done to little children. These children didn't march off to some war; these were children that are veterans of a colonial war, of rape and death and suicide.
So where do I go to remember, sorrowfully? We have no national monument to remember all the children that died at residential schools, so I made my own personal monument in honour of the sorrow, the things that they gave up for this country: their lives, their innocence. These are priests that were pedophiles. This is Canada. This is what Canada did to aboriginal people. It makes you cry.
It's a very personal piece, but it's very clear: the Catholic Church has to pay for its sins, and if they're not going to, this is what they're going to see. Colonialism is not a pretty picture. For truth and reconciliation, we have to come to terms with this. I know that native people will be upset, but it's important. This is our history. Somebody has to record history in a way that can be understood.
We have to pray for these children, these survivors. Hopefully this will never happen again, but if we don't record these things, it will continue to happen."
Of the exhibit as a whole, Yuxweluptun told us that from an artistic standpoint, Unceded Territories has much to offer.
"People like this work because it gives the opportunity to feel something spiritual in a different way. I think people get an understanding of style and the creative process, beacuse it's completely different from European painting," said Yuxweluptun.
He hopes that those who attend will "enjoy the colour, life, time, and efforts" put into the body of work, but ultimately that they understand the importance of recognizing the history of this land and its people, pre-colonialism.
Unceded Territories opens at MOA on May 10, and will run until October 16. Scroll through the images below for a preview of the exhibit.