A local artist’s 12 metre installation called the Witness Blanket has been sent to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) for restoration work.
Carey Newman’s piece is a long wooden scaffold providing cubbies for artifacts, which are arranged to give the appearance of a patchwork. Although not resembling an actual blanket, the artwork draws on the symbolic importance of the blanket in Indigenous culture.
Newman, whose father attended two residential schools, painstakingly added 800 items from individuals, churches and 77 residential schools to highlight the scale of the events that transpired.
For Newman, a local project developed into one with national significance.
“It turned into something so much bigger and so much more filled with emotion and meaning than I could have imagined,” he said.
Through the experience of inspecting the many details of the blanket, Newman hopes it becomes a historical artifact that provides a reference point for conversations about the cultural damage committed during a dark period of Canadian history. He hopes it will spark debate about reconciling two sometimes opposing world views within a modern, developed country.
CMHR plans to restore the piece, before exhibiting it in the future. A replica of the blanket has now also been created, which will be toured around Canada in the original’s place.
A former UVic music student, Newman is currently the Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest, in the Department of Visual Arts at the university. He was the master carver for the Cowichan 2008 Spirit Pole and his piece “Dancing Wind,” featured at the 2010 Olympic Games. For over 20 years, he owned Sooke’s recently closed Blue Raven Gallery and is a board member at Pacific Opera Victoria.
The cedar-framed Witness Blanket was accepted by Winnipeg’s CMHR and is the subject of a unique agreement, with input from UVic’s new Indigenous Law Research Unit. The agreement combined elements of Indigenous and mainstream Canadian law and is not being called a loan, instead the museum says, “CMHR is not taking ownership or temporary custody of the blanket. Rather, what is unique about the agreement is that no-one is deemed to own it or have the rights to loan it. We jointly care for it in mutual respect for what it represents.”
When the blanket arrived at the museum, speeches were made and a 90 minute film about its construction was screened by Victoria company Media One called “Picking up the Pieces.”
For more information visit witnessblanket.ca.