Leah Decter & Jaimie Isaac, "(official denial) trade value in progress," 2011-16, image courtesy of the Mackenzie Art Gallery



Since 2010, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Indian Residential Schools has worked to document the stories of former pupils (“survivors”) and to begin to educate the Canadian public about this history. The TRC’s 2014 conclusion, however, in no way represents an end to these twin processes. Rather, it affords the nation with an opportunity – to borrow a phrase from Commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair – to think ‘beyond the TRC.’ How might scholars, residential school survivors, and members of the general public continue the work of reckoning that must shadow the ongoing impacts of colonization in Canada? How, furthermore, might we reconfigure – or even replace – the notion of ‘reconciliation’ that has dominated the national discourse? By fostering critical and creative collaborations between leading Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scholars, artists, curators, and students, this project will generate an innovative conversation about the possibilities of decolonization in Canada.


In developing a series of multidisciplinary collaborations, we aim not only to produce innovative research and artwork about the impacts of residential schools but also to learn – from the process of collaboration itself – about both the challenges and the possibilities of creating respectful working relationships. The results of these collaborations will be shared with a wide and varied audience through the media of artistic exhibitions, two conferences, an exhibit catalogue, and three edited collections, all of which will be complemented by an online multimedia platform. In this way, we aim to involve not only scholars and artists but also residential school survivors and members of the general public in the dialogue. Furthermore, we are committed to seeding a critical conversation that will continue beyond the granting period; to this end, the project involves significant opportunities for student researchers and for emerging artists.


Weaving together several preexisting research alliances that have focused on the ideas of Aboriginal art, apology, and reconciliation, this project’s collaborative methodologies draw upon practice-based and applied research across the arts. In staging critical/creative workshops, we emphasize Indigenous research principles of relationship and responsibility by requiring scholars to enter into dialogue with artists and to consider carefully the impacts of their work beyond academic circles. We benefit from the extensive critical literature around the concept and practice of reconciliation both in Canada and in international contexts, and we will also examine how concepts of ‘sensate democracy’ (Butler), politics of aesthetics (Rancière), politics of the sensation (Panagia) and relational modes of artistic practice (Lacy, Kester, Bishop, Jackson) might be applied toward the engagement of concepts beyond the notion of reconciliation.


At a time when the nation turns its attention to the ‘next steps’ in the process of grappling with its colonial history, this project will generate a range of critical and artistic materials – as well as a series of meeting spaces – to provoke and enhance that challenging conversation. While our activities prioritize the work of Indigenous scholars, artists, and students, a range of dissemination strategies ensures that a variety of audiences will have access to the results generated. By liaising with the Shingwauk Residential School Centre, the Centre for Innovation in Culture and the Arts in Canada, and a parallel Australian initiative, this project will nurture ongoing education and innovation in critical and artistic practice relating to colonial reckoning and the possibilities of restitution.


Image credit: Leah Decter & Jaimie Isaac, (official denial) trade value in progress, 2011-16, courtesy of the Mackenzie Art Gallery.