A tunnel into repression


Ghost Dance art exhibit: A personal perspective.

Walking through the exhibit is like entering a forgotten passage of Canadian and world history. One that unless you try to find it, is rarely talked about.

Ghost dance takes the viewer on a journey of pain and struggle, portraying the quest of North American and foreign First Nations for achieving equal treatment, self-governance and re-claiming their land.

For those who have never heard or seen a portrayal of North American First Nations made by them, or for those who are simply interested in human rights history, this exhibit is a must see. Hurry, as it will be open until Dec. 15, 2013.

The artwork is political and pragmatic, inspiring the viewer to act. It is a combination of contemporary art and gathering of public data. You will see documents from Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) while the agency investigated aboriginal political organizations in the United States, to determine whether or not the gatherings constituted a threat to the state. This will be followed by an installation about the first indigenous woman to attend high-school in Canada.

One of the rooms shows a meeting of several incarcerated women, most of whom are aboriginal. They are all in separate phone booths singing different verses of a song into the mouth piece called: “Here I am (Bless my Mouth).” The song is about endurance and struggle. This section can be viewed as a political statement about the world-wide discrepancy among jail rates of indigenous peoples and those of the rest of the population.

There is also a part featuring media footage taken from the infamous death of an aboriginal man in police custody in Palm Island, Australia in 2004. This event raised awareness about the high rates of death in custody and discrimination towards aboriginals in the country’s penal system.

“I was taken aback… still in this day and age things like this happen, says Tahirah Hassana-Moses, the security guard of the exhibit. “It was a lot of knowledge to take in. I am from the West Indies and to see these actual documents was very moving for me… it is something that makes you sit down and think,” she says.

There are parts of the installations which one has to walk through twice to be able to notice. Secret passages with hidden messages, ready to be grasped by those with an open mind.

Hassana-Moses knows the artwork inside-out. When you go, ask her to show you the parts of the work the public often misses.

“I see this every day and every day I see something different,” she says.  “When you see it for the first time you don’t get it. But as you keep watching you start to understand the struggle.”

In a small theatre in a room facing the artwork, the viewer can watch two animated films narrating important moments of indigenous plights for their re-claiming their land such, as the Alcatraz occupation of 1969.

The films also portray the perspectives of today’s aboriginal youth. They explain the personal struggles these youth who are trying to find their path in an economic and political order so different from theirs.

For those who like happy stories, the ten-minute clips also narrate a love affair between two native youth who are both travelling in time and meet in Alcatraz.

An interesting aspect of the artwork, is the portrayal of the media, both on the TV footage and in the animated films. Journalists are often seen as a tool of the system, speaking ignorantly and stereotypically about First Nations. But in times of public revolt, the media becomes a friend, oppressed peoples’ only conduit for reaching the general population.

As you go through, you will entering a tunnel into the life of less fortunate human beings. You will feel trapped, and for a couple seconds, oppressed, even you are not part of these peoples. In the end, it may inspire you.

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