A local artist and Vic High students are shining a spotlight on missing and murdered indigenous women, LGBTQ and mental health issues in the community.
The group has created a mural, located outside the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria on Moss Street, featuring the silhouette of a person. In front of them is a thought bubble thinking about the Highway of Tears. It also includes blue tears with the faces of the 19 missing women and 20 empty tears representing unidentified women who have gone missing on the highway, and stencils saying “No more stolen sisters.”
Inside the silhouette is a multi-coloured brain representing LGBTQ, anxiety, depression and mental health issues.
The Vic High students, paired with Fairfield artist Valarie Salez, said they wanted to focus specifically on the Highway of Tears, a notorious stretch of highway between Prince George to Prince Rupert where more than 30 aboriginal women have gone missing.
“There’s a lot of people who have died and not many people pay attention to that, but we should because it’s important and we should put a stop to it,” said Grade 9 student Hannah Hunt, adding family members have gone missing on the highway.
Grade 9 student Emmarie Webster agreed.
“I feel like they (aboriginal women) don’t have much support,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people hate on them. We want people to remember this is actually happening.”
The mural is part of the art gallery’s New Extreme program, in which local artists and educators are paired with youth to explore a range of artistic practices and ideas.
This is the third year Salez has been involved with the program.
“I like working with youth and I like introducing new and unusual ideas,” she said. “I haven’t thought of the Highway of Tears in a while and I’m glad that they reminded me because I feel it is directly related to the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.”
The project has been an emotional one for the group, as they searched for images of the missing women online.
“It was intense. I just thought I had to go on the computer and print off some faces, but it was heavy,” Salez said.
This year, groups from the LAU, WELNEW Tribal School, the Youth Empowerment Society and Royal Bay Secondary are participating in the program, using a number of a different artistic mediums.
“(I want them to take away) a sense of being heard, that their voices really matter, a sense that this art gallery and arts and culture institutions are places that really want to hear about what questions and ideas are most on the minds of young people,” said Jennifer Van de Pol with the art gallery.
Artwork from the five groups will be on display at the gallery (1040 Moss St.) from April 7 to 24.