C/O Georgia Kirkos
#HopeandHealingCanada installation by Tracey-Mae Chambers reflects on how we recover from the weight of the pandemic and ongoing tragedies
How do you mend a broken world under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing tragedies in the news? How do we hope and heal again in these times? Métis sculptor and installation artist Tracey-Mae Chambers created #HopeandHealingCanada after contemplating these questions and recognizing the need to reconnect society.
#HopeandHealingCanada is an installation project Chambers began this summer to promote conversation, reflection and reconnection between people and with the environment during the current pandemic. The only material used in the installation is a vibrant red string. The string is intermingled and merged with the surrounding environment and it is up for only a limited amount of time—usually constructed and taken down on the same day.
One of her latest installations of the project can be found outside of the McMaster Museum of Art and it will be up throughout the fall semester. This is Chambers’ 18th stop out of 63 venues she will visit. The project was originally intended to be showcased only in Ontario; however, it has since gained great attention and will now be displayed in locations across Canada.
The string used in the piece illustrates a tangible connection in a time when many are deprived of real, physical interactions. The colour red, as the colour of blood, symbolizes powerful emotions such as passion, courage and anger that unite people together.
“During [the] COVID-19 [pandemic], the community became very small for us . . . and I felt like I didn’t know how to get back to the community at large,” said Chambers.
Through her work, she wanted to emphasize not only reconnection with friends and family, but also new connections with strangers. As part of this narrative, she also reuses the string to build the next installation after it is taken down and unravelled.
“So, the string itself is actually travelling the country too and I like that because the stories themselves that happen at each place go with the string,” said Chambers.
The string has already travelled to multiple parks, galleries and art museums. Chambers sets no limits when it comes to the kinds of environment she is willing to work in and no two installations look the same. In fact, the painstaking and transformative nature of the project is part of the message: to adapt to the new realities of the pandemic.
Before the installation at each venue gets taken down, she documents it through photographs. At the end of the project, the photographs will be used to create an art exhibition as well as a book. Additionally, each photograph will be accompanied by a story related to the location.
For example, in the photograph of her installation in Black Creek Pioneer Village, the red string can be seen forming a long house over rows of desks in a classroom. The classroom is located inside a residential school which was the template for the model of residential schools Egerton Ryerson had designed and promoted. The composition of the installation represents the lost and forgotten children being brought back to their homes and communities. Building the installation at historic locations such as this is one of the ways Chambers has found opportunities to heal from the intergenerational trauma experienced by her Indigenous community.
Stories of the Indigenous communities are important to the project because there is still much awareness that needs to be raised and healing to be done from the history and treatment of First Nations communities in Canada. When the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Chambers felt confused by Canadians who were surprised by the news.
“I think settler culture is feeling this massive guilt and shock, but the Indigenous communities knew those graves were there, so it’s shocking to me that Canadians didn’t know that,” she said.
However, for both sides involved, the settler culture and Indigenous community, Chambers hopes her exhibit will be part of the healing and conversation. For Chambers personally, the project has been important to managing both the pandemic and processing the long, painful history of her ancestors and community. It has also helped her to feel more powerful, get back on her feet and realize the importance of finding support, connection and community.
Looking ahead, Chambers is excited to travel across the country with her project and capture more pictures of the installation in the winter. When #HopeandHealingCanada is complete, she wishes to continue to explore the stories of residential schools. Currently, she is still trying to make sense of the way in which lost Indigenous children are being discussed, as though they are abandoned and left unprotected.
“There is a lot of information to try to sort through and come to terms with, but it’s a thought in process that will end up in something,” said Chambers.
Chambers’ installation reminds us of hope and healing amidst global unrest. More importantly, it provides a space to reflect about our past and future relationship with the Indigenous community. It can feel difficult to reach out to communities you do not belong to or feel unwelcomed in. However, Chambers and her art relay the message this does not need to be the case. She encourages students to visit Indigenous art centres or friendship centres and reach out. As illustrated by #HopeandHealingCanada, there are new connections waiting to happen all around us.