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Indigenous art on billboards part of Canadian MMIWG awareness campaign

Billboards across the country have been adorned with the work of Indigenous artists, part of a campaign to honour and raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

The campaign, organized by the national group Artists Against Racism, emerged in response to the federal report from the MMIWG inquiry that was released at the beginning of June. Lisa Cherry with Artists Against Racism said the goal was to centre the weeklong awareness campaign around National Indigenous Peoples’ Day on June 21, and add to the group’s longer-running Eagles Rising project showcasing Indigenous artwork.

“We decided to put this together to help create awareness across the country while people are thinking about it, to spur people to take action,” Cherry said.

In Regina, a billboard at the corner of Park Street and Victoria Avenue displays a piece by Métis artist Christi Belcourt. A painting by Indigenous artist Donna Langhorne, entitled Respect, overlooks the corner of Idylwyld Drive and 23rd Street in downtown Saskatoon.

Twelve Canadian cities will have a billboard up until Monday, when the weeklong campaign ends. Langhorne said she’s already been hearing and feeling the impact of the project.

“I’ve had people ask me questions about what it means, what it’s all about,” Langhorne said. “That’s exactly what I created it for — to get people talking … to bring these issues to light.”

The final report from the national inquiry was released on June 3. Its use of the word “genocide” drew widespread attention and prompted some public debate.

Since the report was released, various politicians and experts have weighed in on the findings. Cherry said Artists Against Racism wanted to make sure the issue remained in the public eye after the initial response to the report died down.

“Things are in the news, and then people forget about them,” Cherry said. “We wanted to keep it in peoples’ minds.”

Langhorne’s painting on the billboard in Saskatoon is one in a series of seven she created with funding from the Saskatchewan Arts Board. She said this one seemed the most appropriate for the billboard campaign, which she hopes will have a lasting impact.

“Art can be so powerful,” she said. “It can have a powerful voice … it can create awareness and change. And I believe that’s what these billboards can do.”

The campaign began on June 17 and is set to last until June 24.

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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