Bead art commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women makes Canadian debut in Toronto

An art installation meant to bring visibility to murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls and LGBTQ community members is making its Canadian debut in Toronto on Friday.

Cannupa Hanska Luger: Every One & Kali Spitzer: Sister will be on display at the Gardiner Museum starting Aug. 30.

The piece is made up of over 4,000 massive clay beads that were handmade by communities around Canada and the United States, as a visual representation of data estimates of MMIWG.

“Each bead represents a body,” said Cannupa Hanska Luger, a New Mexico-based artist who is of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian and Norwegian descent and was raised on Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.

The idea for the piece came from a conversation between Luger and Kaska Dena artist Kali Spitzer from northern B.C. about how to create more visibility around the issue.

On June 3, the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls released its final report. The report said the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA individuals was a Canadian genocide driven by disproportionate levels of violence.

In 2016, women’s groups estimated the number of murdered and missing was around 4,000, higher than the 1,200 figure the RCMP had previously released in a report.

Luger said quantifying the scope of the issue is important in a political system to help facilitate change, but said it has a double edge.

“It’s dehumanizing to reduce a life to a digit,” he said, especially when it’s rounded up or rounded down to get a whole number.

“That’s brutal in the relationship to it being a life — you’re either killing more or not representing.”

There are 4,096 handmade clay beads in the artwork the piece that create a pixellated image of Spitzer’s photo Sister.

“Having the photograph that Kali took, called Sister, helps humanize it in a way that we are dependent on seeing faces to care,” said Luger.

Luger began creating the beads on his own, which he said was a cathartic experience because during the process he was also looking at the data on the murdered and missing.

Luger posted a call-out video on social media asking for submissions and within three months had received enough beads from around Canada and the United States to begin assembling the piece.

In some of the boxes that he received were letters, which he describes as a kind of alarming, but not surprising. They would say things like, “out of the 22 beads we made, one of them represents a sister, a mother or an auntie.”

“The overall piece weighs a literal ton and it’s so much heavier than that,” he said.

Cannupa Hanska Luger: Every One & Kali Spitzer: Sister will be on display at the Gardiner Museum until Jan. 12, 2020.

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