About the REDress project

Artist Statement

My work is informed by and emerges from the places where the social, cultural, political and personal intersect. I use my work as a tool for exploring, connecting and questioning our current and historical socio-political framework and the ways in which we behave within that framework. I aim to provoke and incite dialogue around these issues by making work that provides viewers with the opportunity to approach them from a different perspective.

My current work: The REDress Project, focuses around the issue of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. It is an installation art project based on an aesthetic response to this critical national issue.  The project seeks to collect 600 red dresses by community donation that will later be installed in public spaces throughout Winnipeg and across Canada as a visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are no longer with us. Through the installation I hope to draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence.

Interview with Jaime Black

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us where you are from?

I’m Jaime Black, I am an artist and art educator originally from Thunder Bay and later from Regina and later still from Winnipeg, where I’ve been since I was about 12.

When creating a new piece, which materials do you gravitate towards and why?

I have no particular preference towards specific materials, often my ideas or, more accurately, the message I’m trying to put across is what dictates the materials. There is a point where an image or idea is in your head and you just use what you can of the material world to make that idea/image exist in reality, its always a process of trial and error, which materials best work physically and aesthetically to convey an idea.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by all the artists, all the women, all the indigenous women, all the activists– all the community workers, I guess in short, by all those who are seeking justice, trying to educate and inform and imagine a better world.

Can you tell us what motivated or inspired this piece?

I suppose the idea was inspired by many factors: my work at Urban Shaman Gallery, meeting influential artists like Bonnie Devine, KC Adams, Lita Fontaine, Rebecca Belmore, beginning to see how artists can create spaces for critical dialogue around contemporary social issues. The REDress Project was also inspired by my work as a teacher in Opaskawayak Cree Nation, also known as The Pas, where Helen Betty Osborne was brutally murdered while walking home one night by two young men who were not charged or sentenced until years later. And by a group of 300 women in Colombia who had the courage to create a moving 4 hour performance piece to protest their missing and murdered loved ones in the main square in Bogota. By a female Aboriginal scholar at a Canadian Studies conference in Germany standing up to remind everyone of Canada’s colonial past and present.

What would you like viewers to take away from viewing ‘The REDress Project’?

I hope that the dresses allow viewers to access a pressing and difficult social issue on an emotional and visceral level, before they put up their guard, before they dismiss. We live in a world where we must make choices about the information we wish to internalize and that which we don’t. We develop defenses and ways of deflecting information, emotional barriers, it’s really for survival. I think the symbol of the red dress is both subtle and compelling and also very very simple and accessible. People are attracted to the dresses and often connect to them before learning what the project is about, what the dresses represent. When they do ask or find out that the dresses represent missing and murdered Aboriginal women in our country they are often overwhelmed. A police officer came on a tour of the installation at the University of Winnipeg and by the end of the tour he had tears in his eyes and he shook my hand for a very long time, thanking me for allowing him to understand these women as women, as loved and valued and missed and not just as statistics. That was one of my proudest moments, that is what I want viewers to take away from viewing the project.

Does ‘place’ or the context in which the installation is exhibited play a role within ‘The REDress Project’? Where has the piece been presented– gallery/public spaces?

Originally I had planned the project as more of a Guerilla Art Project, to be installed quickly by night and taken down a few days later, but it seemed difficult to inform the public what the project was about that way. The main goal of the project is to reach as many people as possible, people who are not necessarily artists, or activists or Aboriginal, so I chose to show the work in publicly accessible spaces, outside of the gallery context.
I have shown it at the University of Winnipeg campus, The Manitoba Legislature and am scheduled to show at the university in Kamloops in October 2011 and the university of Alberta in march 2012.

Did the location’s context change or influence the piece (if at all)?

The university is not a totally accessible space and if you are not a student there can be significant barriers to walking into a university setting. Myself and those I work with aim to overcome or at least minimize this barrier through connecting with local community organizations and offering tours and talks and activities that are tailored to their needs. But ideally I imagine the dresses taking over public space, streets and parks and trees covered in empty red dresses, until the whole city is mourning the loss of these women, until something is done.