This week the archive I work at hosted a sewing action as part of the (official denial) trade value in progress project. This project engages people in discussion and reflection relating to reconciliation, truth telling, and Canada’s history of colonialism and Residential Schools. This interactive art project stimulates discussion about Canada’s history while allowing participants to engage in a tactile activity.
The work initiated by Leah Dector and curated by Jamie Isaac, features a 12×14 feet composite of Hudson Bay blankets sewn together, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2009 statement that “we also have no history of Colonialism” sewn at the center of the blankets.
At exhibitions and public showings of the work, the general public is invited to write down their responses to the piece in an accompanying book. These responses are then taken to sewing actions, where participants can choose any response and hand-sew it onto the blanket.
The interactive component of this project means that the visual appearance of the Hudson Bay blankets are constantly evolving based on what participants decide to sew into the blanket. The project reflects the thoughts and decisions of the sewing participants and the visitors who wrote down their responses to the work. The interactive component of this project resonated with me in terms of educational programming and public history.
The individuals who participated in the sewing action this week talked a lot about history based topics while sewing their chosen words into the blanket. Much of the discussion revolved around Residential Schools, land rights, the history of the Hudson Bay Company, the continued marginalization of Indigenous people, and a variety of other historically informed topics.
The sewing action actively engaged participants in an interactive art project, Canadian history and engaging discussions about Indigenous rights in Canada. Learning in a less structured environment combined with a tactile activity has the potential to be much more memorable than a traditional lecture about Canadian history or presentation about the Hudson Bay Company. It’s great to see creative projects engaging people with the past.