‘REDress Project’ on display at Whatcom

By Madison Roper

Five red dresses in front of Baker Hall are meant to bring attention to the missing or murdered aboriginal women of Canada.
The REDress Project, a project created by artist Jaime Black in 2011 was installed May 19.
“It is an installation art project, based on an aesthetic response to this critical national issue,” said Black, on the project website.
“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.”
Black started the project in Winnipeg, but it spread to the U.S. to call attention to the lack of reporting, data, and justice for Native American women.
According to the Urban Indian Health Institute, the number of missing or murdered women was reported to be 5,712 in 2016.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that murder is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women.
The dresses were donations from native staff and students. The installation was created as a collaboration between WCC’s native staff, and The Equity Project. Terri Thayer was one of the lead people on campus to get the installation up.
“It’s been a part of conversation around Indian country for a long time. I’m Native and aware of this project and kind of how things have happened,” said Thayer.
According to Thayer, the average ages of the victims are 15 to 29 years old.
“This movement happens quite a bit on reservations. Around domestic violence awareness months or women’s history month or if there has been a loss, then red dresses will be hung for various times for those reasons,” said Thayer.
“We’re victims at high rates, and it just doesn’t seem to be out there as much as it should be. We need to fix that, and the only way to do that is by becoming visible. That means we have to speak out a little louder and do things like the REDress Project.”
“It definitely attracted my attention. It’s a great way to create exposure,” said Laurence Cordeau, a student looking at the installation.
Cordeau first heard of this issue in northern British Columbia, and found it interesting that it is being talked about in the US as well.
“It definitely needs to be talked about, instead of sweeping it under,” he said.
The original project sought to collect 600 red dresses by community donation. These dresses were installed in public spaces throughout Winnipeg, and across Canada as a visual reminder of the lost women.
In Black’s artist statement, she said, “my work is informed by, and emerges from the places where the social, cultural, political and personal intersect… I aim to provoke and incite dialogue around these issues, by making work that provides viewers with the opportunity to approach them from a different perspective.”
“As a Native woman, it’s easy when you leave your community or work outside that population of Native peoples, to be invisible,” said Thayer.
“It seems easy to forget that as Native peoples, we have just as strong a contribution to the community as anyone else. There are so many Native women missing, and have been victims of abuse and other kinds of atrocities, and yet we don’t see that anywhere on mainstream media.”
The installation will be on display in front of Baker Hall until May 25.

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