The REDress project and between us at Brandeis
Two recent exhibitions curated by Toni Shapiro-Phim
This fall, people walking through the Brandeis campus encountered empty red robes mounted in outdoor spaces. All were part of the REDress project, an installation of empty red dresses – often in public spaces, sometimes in galleries – that draws attention to the horrific levels of violence against Indigenous women and girls in North America. The absence of bodies in the dresses alludes to the presence that has been denied to these women and their families and communities, and, indeed, to all of us, in the future.
Last spring, the Women’s Studies Research Center invited Toni Shapiro-Phim, deputy program director of the Center for Ethics in Peacebuilding and the Arts and chair of the Creativity, Arts and Social Transformation (CAST) program, to organize an exhibition at the Kniznick Galerie for the end of 2021. Professor Shapiro-Phim offered to work with Canadian Indigenous artist Jaime Black, of Anishinaabe and Finnish origin, whose REDress project she had admired for years.
Shapiro-Phim had already introduced students to the REDress project in several classes. Each time, those who had been educated in American high schools had been appalled that they had no idea of this violence. All the students were moved and compelled to know more.
An installation designed by the students
So last fall, “Introduction to CAST” (CAST 150b) students designed and set up a public dress installation on the Brandeis campus, and further amplified Jaime Black’s art and message by contributing between us, an exhibition of Black’s other work (poems, photographs, video) inside the Kniznick Gallery. The exhibition, integrating both an absence and a presence of bodies, highlights the power of the relationship of Aboriginal women to the land.
In teams, the students created an advertisement, a postcard for gallery visitors, a display corner of their own aesthetic responses to the context of Jaime Black’s work, a short video sharing their behind-the-scenes preparation, and a website. specifically for the Brandeis exhibit with educational materials on Indigenous communities in North America, ways to take action on racial and gender-based violence, and support resources. A team designed and led the class in rituals to honor Marla McLeod’s display of beautiful black art that was at Kniznick’s gallery before Jaime Black’s, and to welcome Black’s work, especially the dresses.
On a particular gallery wall. Their handprints, which are now part of the exhibit, also confirm a commitment to action.
“Students have since volunteered to educate others,” Professor Shapiro-Phim said, “by bringing friends and family to the gallery, sharing educational resources online and directing people to relevant pieces of legislation such as those being debated in Massachusetts. and other state legislatures, for example.
To see: the exhibition between us was visible and open to the public in the Kniznick gallery until February.