Watch them flutter in the wind
Tamara Cardinal’s “Coming Home”
Her fleeting and powerful installation symbolized children from Residential Schools going back to Mother Earth.
On a chilly afternoon last November, a large group of art enthusiasts from Calgary’s community attended a ceremony presided by Elder Pablo Russel in the sculpture grounds of KOAC. Following a circle of reflection, the Elder honoured with prayers and songs, the land of the plains and the spot where Tamara Cardinal’s ephemeral and symbolic installation took place.
All those present that day experienced a highly emotional remembrance of the suffering of residential school children by hanging tiny coloured paper dresses from the balsam poplars and trembling aspens that populate KOAC’s forest. The little dresses symbolized the missing and buried as well as the survivors. It also paid homage to murdered indigenous women and girls.
The delicate paper dresses remained suspended in the trees for several weeks until they fell to the ground once the harsh winter dry-froze them out. Their decomposition represented a brief moment of symbolic closure for layers of intergenerational trauma. “Children travelled back to Mother Earth in a good way,” said Tamara. She explained why this project, titled “Coming Home,” is very close to her heart: “My mother and her grandparents and their parents were forced to go through the system, as many others of my family members (aunties and uncles) attended Blue Quills Residential school near St. Paul, Alberta,” Tamara described.
The project’s two-week collaboration to create the dresses with young participants of both Indigenous and non-indigenous backgrounds was a full-fledged learning experience for the group of teenagers. They learned to make paper pulp, craft dresses and shirts from it, reconnect to the land, learn about its medicines, and share stories while creating art. The workshop is part of the year-long “Loop Project” headed by Antyx Community Youth Arts Action (@antyxarts) and the Diamond Willow Youth Lodge (@diamondwillowyouthlodge).
Cardinal’s work is a reflection of the teachings absorbed along her journey. “Over the last year, I’ve been steadily building my knowledge of paper as a medium to understand better how the materials I incorporate into my work can become the catalyst for decolonization through art,” she says.
Her work ties in with the goals of the KOAC programs. Since its opening in the middle of the pandemic, the Centre has formed partnerships with community groups and offers free programming opportunities that connect marginalized groups with contemporary artists while shedding light on their challenges and hardships.
In a recent social media post, Tamara published the video we share with you below, and she had this to say:
“The number of children whose bodies have been found in and around the Residential and Day School sites has continued to climb since July 2021. Tribal nations and community members have known of these burial sites since they were created, while many did not listen.
As family members, and individual survivors of these imposed systems, as well as those who are grieving loved ones who have become a part of the Missing and Murdered, these case counts do not come without heavy spirits.
The final number of relations found, cannot be our focus. When we pray, hold and attend ceremonies when allowed, and live as close to a healthy life that they would be proud of – we are doing our best to honour them.
Be kind to one another and oneself. Learn about our shared histories.
We will never forget.
This is my offering that stemmed from the Loop Project’s Phase One | Year One, Fall Sessions. It would not have come to life without the help of: Alia Shahab @alia.binte.ahmad.shahab, Lane Shordee @laneshordee, Jordan Baylon @sssssssssauce, Elder Pablo Russel, Katie Ohe, Harry Kiyooka and their Arts Centre Team @kiyookaoheartscentre namely Ricardo Castillo Argüello and Kelly Rae, Antyx Community Arts @antyxarts, miskanawah @miskanawah and the Diamond Willow Youth Lodge @diamondwillowyouthlodge, the Genesis Centre @genesiscentre, Telus Friendly Future Foundation @friendlyfuturefoundation, the Canada Council for the Arts @canada.council, our amazing videographer Danny Samaco of Made Collectively @made.collectively.yyc, and of course all of the Loop Youth and community members who came out on November 6th to partake in the installation.
Thank you to all those who are doing their part in bringing awareness to current day issues, and also to those who are focusing on their own healing journeys. We need you.
Tamara Lee-Anne Cardinal is a multimedia artist and community activist, and he recipient of the 2020 Lieutenant Governor’s Most Distinguished Emerging Artist Award, the 2017 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artists Award, and the national BMO 1st Art! Competition Award in 2015.
Tamara graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design in 2015, where she studied under Katie Ohe during Ohe’s last year of teaching sculpture at the institution.
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