The Witness Blanket has served as an eye-opener for some and drawn out strong emotions in others, but for artist Carey Newman it simply brought him closer to his dad.
Newman’s father is a residential school survivor and the Sooke native feels the process of creating the Witness Blanket, which incorporates photos, letters and even structural pieces of former residential schools, led to a deeper understanding of what his dad went through.
“Through the process of collecting the pieces and the stories and having him there with me throughout, it really helped me have a better understanding of him as a person. And through that it helped me understand myself better,” said Newman, who traces his paternal roots to the Kwagiuluth and Salish bands.
Getting a chance to see the impact the project has had on others is also rewarding, he noted.
The 12 metre-wide piece, which can be disassembled into a series of panels for transportation purposes, has travelled across the country, from Cape Breton University in Sydney, N.S., to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. This month the piece will be on display at Royal Roads University, and Newman agreed that the conversation and education it has elicited from individuals across the country is deeply satisfying.
“For some people it’s sad and for some people it’s empowering, but that’s part of what the whole thing is about. I tried to be as honest as possible with the way that I represent things and the way I put things together but I also tried to soften the edges so that it wasn’t so stark and traumatic for somebody that was in a school,” he said.
The large-scale piece included help from a team of 15 to 20 people and is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission project.
“There were a lot of things that came together to make the blanket a reality and you don’t get opportunities like that very often in life and particularly as an artist,” he said.
This is the exhibition’s first visit to the Royal Roads campus. It will be on display at the library until Sept. 5.
“It’s an opportunity for us to deepen our understanding of what truth and reconciliation mean for us in the school and across the university,” stated school of leadership studies director Catherine Etmanski. “This art installation provides an important entry point for discussing inidigenization as a leadership topic both in Canada and around the world.”
Newman will host a public presentation at the school’s library on Aug. 11 (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) where he will discuss his experiences and challenges in building the blanket, as well as some individual stories behind pieces that were incorporated into its design.
“It sort of fits into the context of what I’ve learned about what reconcilliation means in Canada,” he said of his talk.
For more information on the exhibition, visit witnessblanket.ca.