Allan Copeland, Indians on Alcatraz, Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay, California, USA, gelatin silver print, 1970. Reproduction from the Black Star Collection at Ryerson University. Courtesy of the Ryerson Image Centre. BS.2005.255172 / 157-644

Existence as an act of resistance

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By Mackenzie Patterson

“Art is an amazing point of intersection,” says Steve Loft, standing at a podium in the main foyer of the Ryerson Image Centre. “It makes us come together, makes us think and it can be profoundly moving.”

That was Loft’s goal with Ghost Dance: Activism. Resistance. Art., a new exhibit at the Image Centre that he guest curated. The gallery, which began Wednesday, Sept. 18, explores the ongoing struggle of aboriginal communities through their art, their culture and their unique, individual stories.

“We have another history and it’s different,” explains Loft, an aboriginal curator, writer and Trudeau fellow (an honour recognizing leadership and creativity). “It comes from our customary differences, our songs, our dances, our creation stories and so many other things.”

The pieces at the exhibit serve to give the aboriginal community a voice and to make viewers feel as though they are getting to know the community firsthand. Loft and the nine artists featured at the exhibit accomplished this through photographs, multimedia pieces and other mediums.

Upon walking into the exhibit, guests are greeted with life-sized monitors of people taking part in a round dance, a traditional welcoming dance that involves holding hands and dancing in a circle.

Loft explains that round dances are used for joyous times of celebration and gathering, and can sometimes reach as many as 1,000 participants.

“Part of the piece is that, to be able to hear the sound coming from the speakers, you have to stand faceto face with the people in the video, which really makes you feel like you’re part of the dance,” Loft says.

In another piece, the viewer listens to female voices singing a comforting, soothing lullaby through a payphone while vieweing a screen that shows aboriginal women speaking on prison phones. The effect is a 30-second insight into life for the disproportionate amount of aboriginal women who are currently incarcerated.

“These women could be anybody’s daughter, sister or grandmother. The artist wanted the viewers to get an insight into their stories, their hopes and dreams,” Loft says.

The phones and monitors are in their own separate space in the exhibit, and above the installations is a mural of the sky, which attempts to recreate the view from inside the women’s cells.

Videos and audio of important aboriginal events – like the Oka Crisis and a riot that occurred in Australia when an aboriginal man was killed while in police custody – also fill the haunting exhibit.

The gallery is a glance into the struggles, challenges, triumphs and stories of aboriginal peoples.

“We are proud, strong and here,” Loft says. “We have to remember that our existence itself is an act of resistance.”

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