Artist responded to ‘violent and racist’ online comments with art

The multimedia exhibit is open at the Khyber Feb. 2-4

Raven Davis is the art and activism resident at NSCAD University.
Raven Davis is the art and activism resident at NSCAD University.   Emily Rendell-Watson

Raven Davis nails a Canadian flag to the floor as a video loops on the wall. The sound of tin shaking on Davis’s jingle dress rings throughout the room as Davis dances to the rhythm of “Strong Women’s Song.” At the end, the room is completely silent.

This live performance was part of the opening reception for Davis’ new multimedia work at the Khyber Centre for the Arts on Monday night. The piece is based on a video that Davis published on Dec. 10, 2015. It is a response to acts of violence toward Indigenous women and abusive comments posted on articles of major news outlets.

The video, “It’s Not Your Fault,” was created by Davis, an indigenous artist and activist from the Anishnawbe (Ojibwa) Nation in Manitoba. Originally from Toronto, Davis has lived in Halifax for three years.

Davis, who prefers the pronoun “they,” was sitting in a coffee shop on Dec. 8, 2015 when the federal government announced its intent to open a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. Davis’ social media feed was filled with news releases, each one accompanied  with hateful comments.

“No Indian, dead or alive is worth looking for.”

“It figures Trudeau would spend millions more on these parasites.”

“Indian girls leave the reservation because they’re tired of being raped by their own kind and not just the young braves.”

Davis gathered all the comments and chose the ones that affected her the most to include in the video.
Davis gathered all the comments and chose the ones that affected her the most to include in the video.   Emily Rendell-Watson

“A lot of what I was reading was really violent and really racist,” said Davis. “It made me feel horrible and scared.”

Davis said one site had 200 comments within 10 minutes of being published, and only three comments were in support of the inquiry. Davis left the coffee shop immediately and went home, unable to understand why “the media allows for this violence to be perpetuated.”

Davis recorded and edited the video the day the inquiry was announced and now says it was difficult to create visuals expressing adequate feeling and  sadness.

“I wasn’t expecting it to go this far. It was just something I wanted to do personally so that I could feel better about the situation in my heart,” said Davis.

A journey of healing

The title of the video, “It’s Not Your Fault”, aims to address how society often blames the victim.

“Stop blaming women who are sex workers or women who choose to drink. No one deserves to die, no one deserves to be raped, tortured or abused,” said Davis.

Davis says they have experienced emotional, physical and sexual violence, and said “it requires a lot of compassion and understanding from people around us to understand the effects of what that violence does. It is a lifelong journey of healing.”

Part of the performance included Davis stomping on the Canadian flag as a part of a dance.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the government have so many rules about protecting the flag while there’s such a lack of of protection of indigenous people in this country,” said Davis. “This was my response to them not protecting us.”

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People who attended the reception were invited to write prayers or messages for missing and murdered aboriginal women, and those still in abusive and violent situations. The messages were tied onto Davis’ regalia with red ribbons.

Davis hopes the event will encourage people to think about how they can stand in solidarity with aboriginal people and engage in critical discussion about aboriginal issues. The performance and video visibly affected the people in attendance.

“When I saw the video for the first time, I was in tears,” said Melissa Marr, a Halifax artist. “Dealing with this kind of truth and intensity is very powerful. There is so much work we have to do as a society.”

Camila Salcedo, an interdisciplinary art student at NSCAD, also attended the reception.

“It was very emotionally charged and seeing someone stomp on the flag like that is a real symbol of the violence indigenous people have gone through,” said Salcedo.

The performance document and screening will be available to the public Feb. 2-4 between 12-5 p.m. at the Khyber.

“It’s Not Your Fault” by Raven Davis

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