Dazhiikigaadeg Maanendamowin: Wanichigewin gaye Wiijiiwidiwin gii-ayaag COVID-19 / Transforming Grief: Loss & Togetherness in COVID-19: Part 2 – Student Responses to the Exhibit

Kennedy Colalillo, Geoff Crowther, Joanne Feng, Steven Fenn, Andrea Gonzalez Marroquin, Richard Griffin, Janis Angelica Hernandez Salazar, Jessica Hymers, Darrell Jose, Solaris Morenz, Susan Munn, Anya Nandkeolyar, Katia Oltmann, Laura Phillips, Faizan Rama, Kai Suzuki-Smith, Dani Wong

Part 1 of this Review is available here.

Student Responses

This is a selection of the class responses to the exhibit:

Student 1: It is a healing experience released from the people who left the pieces of their suffering on the exhibition. Each piece showed us the stages of the Pandemic Covid 19, and when I was watching this, I thought that I already forget this stage and that my son won’t remember when the world was shut down because I made this experience the best for him. We camped almost every day in the living room because it was only him and me in that one small-bedroom apartment; sometimes, we just ate popcorn because it was fun, and I did not have money to buy anything else. But he will only remember there was a time when he and his mom slept in the living room for a long time and played all video games and ate a lot of popcorn. We also heal with the exhibitions.

Student 2: I really appreciate the field trip. I appreciated Raven’s commentary – it was excellent. I had gone through the exhibit before, and didn’t “get” it. It felt a bit like covid was too recent.  I loved the quiet room [Figs. 1-4]. The best. Perfect. The wall quotes in many languages were awesome, braille, touch – all outstanding [Fig. 5].  But taking up the wall space with translation limits the amount of text commentary… So the limits of a colonial space I guess? The tools were cool. I didn’t really ‘get’ a lot of the art, I’m better with languages.

Student 3: I really, really, liked the quiet room. It was so peaceful, especially with the fountain. The boxes of medicinal plants were nice and I got to smell sweet grass for the first time. It smelled so good! The tactile nature of the exhibits was the best part for me. I liked being able to touch the paintings, the fabrics, or even just the relief of the waves on the wall. It was a level of interactivity and immersion that isn’t really available at most museums.

Student 4: Overall, I was impressed by the inclusiveness and accessibility of the Dazhiikigaadeg Maanendamowin / Transforming Grief exhibition. It is clear that the exhibition curators and staff have gone above and beyond to ensure that they are using English, French, and Anishinaabemowin in all of their materials [Fig. 6]. In addition to that, Braille is featured in all of their artwork descriptions, and they have incorporated tactile elements throughout the exhibition, enabling individuals who are visually impaired or blind to be able to learn about the artwork using Braille and all visitors to experience the artwork through touch [Fig. 7]. The attention to detail was astounding. As an example, if an individual who is visually impaired visits the museum, they can also feel the waves that we see painted throughout the exhibition, as they have been etched into a tactile surface.

Student 5: One of the most memorable pieces for me, as a Latin American woman, was listening to the audio recordings from Latinos Positivos, a group of Latin American migrants living with HIV in Toronto as they reflected on the loneliness and grief they experienced during the pandemic [Fig. 8]. I found it powerful that the community was able to tell stories on their own terms, in their native language (Spanish), and that they had a channel through which they could speak to the solitude they experienced during the pandemic, and be listened to.

The exhibition was also transformative in its representation of queer communities in museums, as they did not follow the pattern that is sometimes seen in museums where queer bodies are often made to abide by respectability politics, and only show hetero cis perspectives. Instead, as a disruptor to that Western hegemonic narrative, the exhibition showcases the rich diversity of stories from queer communities, who often face intersecting and complex forms of oppression such as racism, transphobia, and homophobia, which were in many ways heightened through the pandemic. Finally, I also appreciated that the exhibition also had a quiet room, where individuals could sit in silence or listen to the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, listen to the sounds of nature, and small traditional medicines, and reflect on the powerful pieces of artwork they have seen, or sit in silence.

Student 6: I was blown away by the attention given in this exhibit to accessibility concerns from Braille, easy-to-read text, translations, and layout of the space. It was also clear that great care was taken to engage the artists and respect their desires and their creative vision while also presenting the works in a multi-modal manner that increased accessibility for visitors to the exhibit. All the senses were engaged with sounds, visuals, tactile pieces, text, and even the scent of the traditional medicines in the quiet room. For me, the ability to touch Bombae’s dress and Malik’s ballroom jumpsuit as well as sit surrounded by Isolation Mountain were highlights.

Student 7: This exhibit was truly a testament to how easy accessibility can be when you make it a priority. The way this exhibit was assembled, and the care and attention that was put into it, should be the standard. I would like to mention that the inclusion of a quiet room at the end was incredibly thoughtful, and a great way to end the exhibit.

Overall, it was a diverse, tactile, and engaging exhibit. So much thought and care went into the curation of each installation and left viewers with lots to contemplate. Each piece was beautiful and unique in its own right while also coming together to create a cohesive, whole exhibit. They each played their own role under the theme but were tied together through a motif that left room for the installations to stand as an individual within the collective.

A white wall with black text in Anishinaabemowin, English, and French.

Figure 1: The Quiet Room, curated by Heather George. Photo: Faizan Rana

A white poster with black text enumerating exhibit contributors.

Figure 2: The Quiet Room, curated by Heather George. Photo: Faizan Rana

Photograph of a dimly lit room with black draped walls and soft cushions on the floor. There is a person in the corner wearing blue jeans, a beige t-shirt, and a black backpack.

Figure 3: The Quiet Room, curated by Heather George. Photo: Faizan Rana

A large pot full of pebbles. There are four smaller pottery cups, two on top of the pot of pebbles and two next to it.

Figure 4: The Quiet Room, curated by Heather George. Photo: Faizan Rana

A sign in Anishinaabemowin, English, French and Braille, encouraging visitors to “Touch”.

Fig. 5: Anishinaabemowin, English, French and Braille, encouraging visitors to “Touch”.
Photo: Faizan Rana.

An art piece made of colourful fabric.

Fig. 6: A Touch interactive accompanying the installation Gichi-es, Anami’e-atoopowin, gaye Izhichigewin / Chrysalis, the Altar, and Performance by Crip Collective, a group of racialized queer artists living with disabilities. Photo: Faizan Rana

Black text on the white walls of a hallway. There are windows and skylights placed evenly along the hall.

Fig 7: Exhibition text on the exterior walls of Fort York. Photo: Kai Suzuki-Smith.

A white wall with black text. There are two sets of headphones hanging on the wall.

Fig. 8: Exhibition text and audio creation Gii-dagoshinoomagak Aakoziwin, gii-maajibiisaan / When the Pandemic Came, It Started To Rain by Latinos Positivos, the community organization serving Latin American migrants living with HIV in Toronto, & David Wall, using words and sounds to share their experiences of solitude as a soundscape for their personal pandemics.

Laura Phillips is a sessional Lecturer, ischool, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Kennedy Colalillo, Geoff Crowther, Joanne Feng, Steven Fenn, Andrea Gonzalez Marroquin, Richard Griffin, Janis Angelica Hernandez Salazar, Jessica Hymers, Darrell Jose, Solaris Morenz, Susan Munn, Anya Nandkeolyar, Katia Oltmann, Faizan Rama, Kai Suzuki-Smith, and Dani Wong are students in the Master of Information Management program, ischool, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Further Reading

Acesso Cultura. 2022. “The activist museum: Going deeper. With Armando Perla and María Acaso.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2p4LsFL3ZHo

Canadian Museums Association. 2022. Moved to Action: Activating UNDRIP in Canadian Museums. https://museums.ca/uploaded/web/TRC_2022/Report-CMA-MovedToAction.pdf

Perla, A. 2020. “Democratizing Museum Practice Through Oral History, Digital Storytelling, and Collaborative Ethical Work.” Santander Art and Culture Law Review 2 (6): 199–222. https://doi.org/10.4467/2450050XSNR.20.016.13019

United Nations. 2007. “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Documents. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf.

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