Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Witness Blanket

By Laura Love
Using a traditional quilting style, artist Carey Newman not only weaves cedar together with items from residential schools and government buildings, but the memories and stories associated with them. The 887 objects that were found and retrieved from communities all over Canada relay very profound messages; connecting cultures, traditions and histories.  Like the cast off pieces of fabric from old shirts, blankets, and dresses used to make beautiful patchwork quilts, Newman has taken previously used items that became cast off to create a beautiful memorial.

Giving these items purpose again, the symbolism of many of the objects that were discarded and reclaimed have also given the Witness Blanket an alternate way to speak to Canada’s darker residential school history on many different levels.  He has taken the mundane, the everyday, and the innocent and woven them together in such a way to make us think about the people and experiences behind them. Many items hold multiple meanings – where some people may view them one way and others another. The pair of skates speaks to sports and laughter and community to some, while to others these items may reach a different, deeper meaning.  The small statue of Mary may bring comfort to some, and anxiety to others.  The bricks that are affixed to the blanket may symbolise grand old buildings, but may have been sources of intimidation to others, where terrible things happened behind their ‘beautiful’ facades. Some children even carved their name into them as a way of remembrance of who they were…
Braided hair within the Witness Blanket
The physical objects are woven together by photographs, survivor testimony, newspaper articles and legislation. Some are harder to see and read than others, further developing the symbolism of the Residential forgotten story, emphasizing the struggle to see what was happening in our own country. With faded photographs, and the small, almost illegible text on select tiles, Newman has increasingly created a tough narrative to read, but one that piques our need to understand, encouraging us to try to decipher what the items say. As an artist and one whose family experienced residential school history has been able to articulate the increasingly important story of the Canadian Residential School system using artistic interpretation and personal involvement with survivors. The artistic quilting of these objects create and inspire conversation that help us document and share the Residential School story.
Like the traditionally stitched quilt that is passed down from generation to generation, Newman has given Canada a new blanket to appreciate and pass down to future generations.

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