Blanket statements about us: installation invites comments on PM's remark

A Canadian conversation about colonialism and denial threads its way through Kamloops Art Gallery today in the form of Hudson's Bay Company blankets that hang four metres high.

The touring exhibition, "(official denial) trade value" by Winnipeg artist Leah Decter, invites public responses to a controversial statement made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

At a G20 summit two years ago, Harper told delegates, "We also have no history of colonialism, so we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers but none of the things that threaten or bother them."

His remark sparked reaction from those who see it as an official denial of, not only historical fact, but present-day reality.

Decter and curator Jaimie Isaac saw it as an opportunity to engage Canadians in dialogue about that sort of denial as the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission continues to probe human rights abuses in the Indian residential school system.

In this sense, her work is not a statement but a platform for dialogue.

"It's about where we are at this point and how we move forward with questions of reconciliation and decolonization," Decter said Friday when the work was on show at TRU. "It's gauging the lay of the land."

The installation, first shown as the commission held its inaugural hearings in Winnipeg, has skipped across the country since then. The artist describes it as a dialogic process in layers.

The blankets are iconic and symbolic, a metaphor for the mythology of Canadian identity, yet they were also objects of trade, exploitation and - the artist contends - the deliberate spread of disease.

"The blankets don't speak specifically to truth and reconciliation but more to the wider experience of colonialism in Canada," Lecter said, noting that Harper's statement came only 18 months after he delivered Canada's official apology for residential schools.

"The reality is that it came out of the same mouth as the apology."

In each community, they invite reactions to the statement and the piece in the form of written comments. These are then stitched into the blanket by public participants.

"We don't censor people in their responses," Isaac said. "And so it evolves in a particular way."

"(Official denial) trade value" hangs at KAG today only from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. before heading to Toronto, but Lecter welcomes others who are willing to host an installation.

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