After two years in the making, the staff and students at Halifax West high school have unveiled their own unique interpretation of the original Red Dress project.
A Metis artist from Winnipeg created the original Red Dress project in 2010 as an artistic expression of grief for murdered and missing Indigenous women and the initiative has grown into an international symbol of the epidemic.
All three floors of the school and the school grounds are draped with 100 red dresses that have been collected and were place around the school, to inspire conversations and questions around the tragedy of violence against Indigenous women and children and LGBTQ2 people.
Wendy Lawrence, the Indigenous support worker, says the visual aspect of the empty dresses has really resonated with students and staff alike.
“This began as a dress sticker project in the hopes that everyone would wear a red dress sticker, and it has grown into this amazing school-wide initiative to really bring voice to this really important topic,” she says.
A conductive painting profiling 10 missing and murdered Indigenous women was also made by a student. The painting has voice recordings of loved ones speaking about their missing or deceased family members.
“These are real people. And, people can be ashamed of it but it’s still something that needs to be talked about. And so, as much as we can I feel like it’s my job and a lot of people’s jobs to bring it forward and talk about it because then we can prevent it in the future and honor all the lives that have been lost,” says Grade 11 student Eleanna Zinck.
Brittany Pennell, the regional coordinator for Mi’kmaq education and services for HRCE, says she got “goosebumps” from the display.
“It is emotionally impactful. The show of the commitment of the school culture, the staff and students with creating the solidarity of the importance is an amazing feeling,” she says.
She says she hopes to see an increase in participation next year.
“It’s just a comfortability and a white fragility type of deficit thinking that, if we’re not there yet or if people are uncomfortable because they don’t know, it creates fears and we need to remove those barriers in order to make people be okay with being uncomfortable for a little while.”
The 1,500 students at Halifax West will all have the opportunity to take a tour of the school, as the display will stay up for the next month.
“I’m overwhelmed at how well this turned out. The impact is far greater than I thought it would be. I couldn’t be happier about it.” says Lawrence.