The art at Glanmore is part of a series on the subject of decolonization

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Chambers creates an installation using red thread Tuesday on the veranda of Glanmore National Historic Site in Belleville. She has produced over 80 such works as part of her Hope and Healing Canada series. Photo by Luke Hendry

An intricate art installation in a Belleville museum has people thinking about the much more complex subject of decolonization. June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada.

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Hamilton-based Métis artist Tracey-Mae Chambers creates thread art installations across Canada and completed the latest at Glanmore National Historic Site on Tuesday. This was the latest in her rapidly growing series, Hope and Healing Canada, which now covers over 80 sites.

“Starting the conversation about decolonization is tough, so an installation like this is a gentle conversation starter,” Chambers said.

She crafts each piece from red thread, covering large spaces with webs of dreamcatcher-like patterns full of symbolism. Chambers said she believed Glanmore was 83rd.

“My biggest hope is for people to move away from this by considering how people can change their own view of the world,” she said. She added that she also hopes people will tell their friends, relatives, fellow worshipers, etc. and “reflect on things that happened before that are still recent history” but are part of colonization.

“Instead of pointing fingers, have a discussion. …Start from a place of mutual respect.

“It’s a difficult but necessary discussion.”

She said she was both asked to install her art in certain locations and invited to others.

More inclusion needed

Choosing the locations, Chambers said, “There is no malice directed at anyone.”

“Spaces like this tell a colonial story and often don’t include the indigenous (peoples) who were here.”

Decolonizing them is about “adjusting the narrative to include everyone.”

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“We want to be part of this decolonization movement,” said Glanmore exhibit development coordinator Danielle McMahon-Jones.

She said the discovery of the graves of children who had attended residential schools sparked an ongoing discussion in the museum community about how to make museums more inclusive.

“We are trying to be part of the solution.”

Glanmore is the former home of Harriet Dougall Phillips and her banker husband, John Phillips. Construction took place in 1882 and 1883. Its large rooms and exhibits show how the wealthy family lived in Victorian times.

Harriet Dougall Phillips received the land from her grandparents, who were United Empire Loyalists, McMahon-Jones said. The grandparents had received it from the British Empire.

“The British Empire was a global colonial force,” McMahon-Jones said. She said it is unclear how the British got the land.

At the time, she explained, the Mississauga people inhabited the area, which had previously been Mohawk territory.

“What we’re trying to do is be more inclusive in telling the full story of the land Glanmore was built on and the story of the area it now occupies.”

The “minimum very first steps” of the museum involved drafting an acknowledgment of land now awaiting city approval. It will be displayed around the building and spoken at the opening of events, etc., McMahon-Jones said.

Glanmore was a 2021 stop for a traveling Inuit oral history exhibit.

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“Part of the misconception is that decolonization takes something away. It’s more of an add-on,” McMahon-Jones said.

In Glanmore’s case, she said, “having more Indigenous-centric stories here would help us move forward.”

Hard work

Chambers spent much of the day working on the veranda, creating two large teardrop shapes suspended in the network of yarn strands. Each contains a group of small circular Chambers patterns like doilies. She said they represented ties to family or community.

“The complex design represents colonization, which is a complex structure,” Chambers said.

“I had to learn how to crochet and knit and stuff like that and I don’t like it. But it’s the right medium.

Using wires makes it easier to start conversations smoothly, she said. All installations use red wire. She also uses beeswax.

Chambers said red represents a racial slur but also passion, blood, anger and more.

A common misconception among casual passers-by is that work is enjoyable.

“It’s a complex and serious discussion, so no, I’m not having fun.

“It’s cathartic – and it’s stressful.”

Chambers said she worked in hot weather and the whiteout conditions of a minus 23C snowstorm.

She said the response to her series has been “awesome.

“People are fabulous.”

When they ask questions, she says, it “makes me happy.”

Even when viewers are conflicted, she said, “Positive things always come out of it because that person keeps thinking about the things we discussed.”

The installation must remain in place until September.

For more information on Chambers’ work, visit his website at www.traceymae.com. Visit glanmore.ca to learn more about the museum, which is located at 257 Bridge St. E. at Dufferin Avenue, 613-962-2329. Glanmore is wheelchair accessible and is currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission fees apply.

  • The National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) offers support to survivors of Canada’s former residential school system and their families.

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