Accepted Paper:

We Are All One: Residential School Art Collections and Survivor Communities  


Andrea Walsh (University of Victoria)

Paper short abstract:

Collections of children's art from residential schools in Canada challenge museums by their refusal to fit existing ethnographic classifications, and their primary connection to individual persons versus collective identities. So being, they may reveal their potential for healing/truth telling.

Paper long abstract:

In 2013 the University of Victoria repatriated a rare collection of mid-20th century paintings to Survivors of the Alberni Indian Residential School that they created as children. The return and subsequent collaborative exhibition work between the university and Survivors brings forth challenges to the curation and management of collections of children's art from Canadian residential schools. Collections were often created by former teachers and staff of the schools with little or no documentation as to their acquisition of the art, thus raising issues of ownership and power-over authority of children in the schools. The collections were created mostly as personal or professional mementos, and not as exemplary pieces of regional styles. The collections range in media from graphite pencil and poster paints on paper, to quillwork, carving and beadwork, for examples, depending on the locations of the schools. As such, they do not easily fit into ethnographic categories of traditional cultural, economic, or ceremonial objects. Given the schools held populations of children from mixed cultural backgrounds, approaching the artworks as the intellectual property and creative legacy of individuals who attended the schools is appropriate following the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to record the stories of individual Survivors. However, even when names are available for artworks, and Survivors can be located and they give their consent to the art's exhibition, the potential for the art to be a form of truth telling must be considered alongside ethics of exhibiting children's art created in contexts of trauma.

Panel P050
Re-thinking Source Communities: Plural, Urban Indigenous Communities and Cosmopolitan Objects