Art project addresses the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta’s law faculty has been awash in hanging red dresses this week. If you’re wondering where the owners are, then you understand the meaning of why they’re there.

Andrea Menard, director of Indigenous academic services in the faculty, says she was inspired after reading an article on Manitoba Métis artist Jaime Black’s Red Dress project, an art exhibit reflecting on murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada. Menard worked with a number of faculty students to mount a collection drive of red dresses from across campus and beyond for this event. Each of the red dresses in the “recognizing the forgotten” display represents a missing Aboriginal woman.

 “It really impacted me,” said Menard.”Recognition has to happen in terms of the missing and murdered Aboriginal woman across our nation. We have to draw attention to that fact.”

With roughly 600 such women on this list, there is approximately one dress for every 10 women. Symbolically, Menard points out the empty red dress connotates the missing woman as well as the beauty and strength of the women (red in First Nations culture denotes strength). Pippa Feinstein, a law student who was responsible for mounting the display, took great efforts to maintain the integrity of the original project. Her previous experience with installation art coupled with a personal interest in the subject matter compelled her to become involved.

“I loved the concept of making it fill up space and felt like it was ‘denied space’ in society- legally, socially, all different ways,” she said. “I like the concept level of taking up a lot of space this week and maybe people can’t see out the window properly because there’s this dress blocking you, there’s this issue stopping you from conducting the daily events in your life.”

Feinstein notes people are becoming aware of the issue through this display and their reception to it has struck a chord in people and made it “particularly strong.” Feinstein has been in touch with the artist who is eager to be part of next year’s event. She and Menard both hope that this will become much larger than the inaugural event.

“She (Black) is very excited about becoming part of the project next year,” said Feinstein. “As an activist she wants to spread the message as big as it can get.”

Menard and her Aboriginal counterparts in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, who will be mounting the Red Dress display in their space next week, felt strongly about this project and its underlying message. The dresses are getting people talking and thinking about the problem, which was her goal in proposing this initiative. Menard hopes that it will promote dialogue and inspire students to keep the issue alive as they start their law careers.

“I wanted to focus on the women, legally and academically,” she said. “That’s why I brought this in this setting, so we can tackle this issue and I can inspire and influence students to tackle this issue when they get out in their practice of law.

“If I can bring their attention to this, maybe they can go out and focus on this area.”

If you would like to make a tax deductible gift to support the Indigenous Law Program, please click here.