Students at the University of Toronto found themselves on a campus full of red dresses this week.
The school’s downtown campus, including Hart House Circle, Philosopher’s Walk and the sidewalks around Robarts Library became the gallery for an art installation by Jamie Black, who is currently a guest artist in residency at the school.
Bright red dresses blowing in the wind – symbolizing the 12,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women – will confront people walking through #UofT’s downtown Toronto campus now through Wednesday. Learn more about artist and U of T alumna Jaime Black’s powerful installation, the #REDressProject, by visiting bit.ly/REDressUofT.
Black’s installation aims to bring a visual representation to the 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Black explains the intent of the project on her website, writing “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.”
The installation features 600 red dresses that have been collected through community donation from across Canada. First launching in 2010 in Winnipeg, The REDress Project is currently lining a specific path on the U of T campus, which marks where a creek once ran that served as an important fishing location for Indigenous people.
“The flow and reality of Indigenous culture is literally paved over. I think that’s a metaphor,” says Black. “I’m interested in activating that site by bringing back traces of that story.”
The installation has appeared throughout Canada, with a number of the dresses now on permanent display in Winnipeg at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
The installation first appeared on the U of T campus on March 17 and is scheduled to remain until March 24, with school officials now considering extending the installations’ presence. Black, whose U of T guest residency includes lectures and performances, says this installation is the biggest yet of the REDress Project.
Speaking with The Star, Black says “People are really moved by the dresses, you know, they have their own presence. They inform people who are not affected and create space for people who are affected to have their voices heard.”
In 2014, the RCMP conducted a study finding that while Indigenous women make up only 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, they account for 16 per cent of women murdered in this country and 11.3 per cent of missing females in Canada. The 2014 murder of 15 year-old Tina Fontaine helped bring some attention to the national epidemic, but overt visual demonstrations like Black’s REDress Project are crucial to ensuring the issue remains in the headlines and receives government involvement.
At the University of Toronto, hundreds of red dresses are hanging to represent the 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women. The path these dresses are found on was once a river that indigenous people used for fishing and gathering. Their culture and traditions were quite literally paved over. It was very powerful to walk through this installation