Redress?

Can we heal our wounds? And to do so, must we relegate them to oblivion or consign them to a form of liberating reconciliation? In recent years at the political level, we have seen the Canadian government issue apologies to various communities who have suffered from the state’s past indiference. Financial compensation often accompanies these apologies. For example, Justin Trudeau’s government recently committed to pay close to 800 million dollars to Indigenous people who suffered great cruelties due to the assimilation policies of the 1960s.1 Thousands of children were taken from their biological parents and forced to live in residential schools and receive a Western education. In this case, the trauma they experienced involved losing their traditional language and culture. Can public apologies and financial compensation redress the wrongs of the past?

Unfortunately, human history is riddled with troubling events in which groups of individuals have had their right to a free and peaceful existence taken away due to their cultural or social differences. History is full of injustices done to those whose faces are excluded from the imperialism of the Same.2 Yet, since the apology, the acknowledgement of the wrong done to the other is essentially an ethical issue, what can art do to redress injustice? In the field of aesthetic representation, how can an artistic gesture bring relief to the spirit? Certainly artists have always denounced the atrocities committed and the pain experienced. The exhibition All Too Human: 20th and 21st Century Artists and Suffering, presented in Geneva in 2014, is a good example.3 It brought together many visual artworks — painting, sculpture, photography, and video — that represent “suffering inflicted on others.” The exhibition showed the importance, for certain artists, of condemning violence in which the victims are often innocent. While representations of suffering can raise awareness, can they also redress what history has inficted upon individuals?

According to art critic, Jacinto Lageira, “redress in art is a material and symbolic operation.”4 It is not restoration — we cannot redo what took place — but rather a new understanding of history, the one told by facts and which, henceforth, will be related to fiction, to the desire to recount in another way. In Tout ce qui reste – Scattered Remains, an exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Algonquin First Nation artist Nadia Myre presented several works illustrating this approach.5 For example, the exhibition features work from the Indian Act series (2000-2002), based on the act drawn up in 1876 and amended in 1985, which gave the Canadian government legislative authority over land reserved for Indigenous peoples. Created through a collaborative process, Indian Act denounces this colonial policy through a traditional and artistic beadwork technique. There is also recent work such as Code Switching,6 in which fragments of commercially-produced European pipes symbolize the code switching that had a significant impact on the Indigenous way of life. Used as currency, these pipes shifted the sacred use of tobacco to a strictly commercial one. This phenomenon of acculturation is the result of interaction between Europeans and Indigenous peoples, yet it also asks us to reflect on the intercultural relationship that needs to be established so as to make true exchange possible.

In this issue, in which the theme is “Wounds,” Édith-Anne Pageot also refers to Nadia Myre’s work, particularly The Scar Project (2005–2013), a collective work about scars — the visible marks inherent to the process of healing — while also writing about other artists, such as Rebecca Belmore, Jaime Black, Hannah Claus, Maria Hupfield, and Sonia Robertson. The author focuses on the art actions of Black and Claus concerning the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women. With reference to philosopher Paul Ricoeur, Pageot asks whether an effective use of the wounds of memory exists? This is precisely why one should not underestimate the constructive power of healing. By exhibiting “the scar to mourn the original wound more properly,” art appears to be a way of restoring memory. Florian Gaité discusses this in his essay with respect to work of French-Algerian artist Kader Attia. By focusing on the image of the wound in his work, Attia believes in the “psychotherapeutic benefits of art.”

“Redress in art” takes a different form in the work of artists Emily Falencki and Eric Fischl, as Ray Cronin illustrates in his essay. A Canadian artist whose grandparents were Polish Jews, Falencki continues to represent the human suffering caused by war. An American artist, Fischl sculpts the body of a woman who was a victim of the New York terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. In her text, Léa Barbisan focuses on the work of Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere, which was on view in 2011 at DHC/ART (Montréal). The author believes that the wound as De Bruyckere represents it can be seen as “the beginning of a metamorphoses that could be providential.” While the wound seems inherent in human nature, the fact remains that the moment it is a mark of the violence inflicted on people because they are Indigenous women or transgender people, this wound is quite simply inhuman. In an essay featuring the work of Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, Sydney Hart writes of “feminicide,” among other issues, while thoroughly discussing the work presented as part of the exhibition Mundos7 at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in 2017.

Mirna Boyadjian completes the feature section with an essay that also looks at the work of Kader Attia, in particular Reflecting Memory (2016), a film exploring the sensations caused by a “phantom limb.” Boyadjian also presents the work of Martinican artist Jean-François Boclé, titled Tu me copieras (2004). In this video installation, we see the artist copying on a blackboard the Code Noir (The Black Code), which Jean-Baptiste Colbert drafted, defining the conditions of slavery. For Boyadjian, Boclé’s performative action holds the power to examine “a painful memory” and “produce a new sensibility” that differs from the normative processes of redress taken up by the state. Also related to the theme of “Wounds,” in the “Interview” section, Marion Zilio outlines his thinking behind the exhibition Newwwar, It’s Just a Game? on view until mid-June 2018 at Bandjoun Station (Bandjoun, Cameroon).

In addition to the “Reviews” and “Books/Selected Titles” sections, this issue o ers, in the “Events” section, critical commentaries by Anaïs Castro and Chloé Grondeau on documenta 14 in Kassel and Skulptur Projekte in Münster, which took place in the summer of 2017. Lastly, dear readers, you will notice that the essays in the feature section have not been translated, as is usually the case. For the benefit of all, we greatly hope that this situation is temporary.

Translated by Oana Avasilichioaei.

 


1. Hélène Buzzetti, « L’enfance et la culture volées de milliers d’autochtones », Le Devoir (Octobre 2, 2017), section A, page 3.
2. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, translated by Alphonso Lingis (The Hague: Martinus Nijho Publishers, 1979).
3. See the catalog Trop humain. Artistes des XXe et XXIe siècles devant la souffrance (Geneva: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, 2014).
4. Jacinto Lageira, L’art comme Histoire. Un entrelacement de poétiques, Paris. Éd. Mimésis, 2016. In particular Chapter 5, “Réparations,” 203–241.
5. The exhibition Tout ce qui reste – Scattered Remains (curator: Geneviève Goyer-Ouimette) is part of Woman. Artist. Indigenous, a season devoted to contemporary female Indigenous artists. The exhibition runs until May 27, 2018.
6. Sponsored by the MMFA, Code Switching was produced during an artist residency at the Darling Foundry (Montréal) in 2016–2017.
7. The catalogue of this exhibition is reviewed in the “Selected Titles” section.