Every summer there are some unique art installations down in the Forks area of Winnipeg. I was meeting my cousin for lunch at the Mon Ami Louis restaurant on the Provencher bridge this week and walked through one of the installations called Floating Flowers. Situated with a view of both the iconic bridge and the stunning Human Rights Museum the fantasy garden is in the perfect spot. It was created by Hugo Bertrand and Noel Picaper. The flowers come in many different shapes and sizes and small bells are attached to each petal.
Sun Dogs and Steam
I stopped on my way home from work yesterday to take photos of the newest art installation in my neighborhood. It is called Bloody Sunday and is located in front of the Pantages Theatre. The steel and glass artwork was created by Noam Gonick and Bernie Miller.
Image from the Manitoba Archives
The sculpture recreates a pivotal moment near the end of the Winnipeg Strike of 1919. The strike had first begun on May 15 when 30,000 workers walked off the job and took to the streets. They wanted better working conditions, recognition of unions and higher wages. On June 1 10,000 returning World War I soldiers had marched on the legislature to show their support for the strike. They were concerned about massive unemployment and inflation. On Sunday, June 21 strikers gathered once again to protest the arrest of their leaders and the closure of the strikers’ newspaper. A streetcar being operated by workers who had replaced the strikers approached and the strikers surrounded it rocking it from side to side and trying to tip it over. Eventually, they smashed the windows and set the streetcar on fire. That’s when the North West Mounted Police moved in and a violent clash led to two of the strikers being killed and twenty- seven injured. Ninety-four strikers were arrested. Just five days later on June 26th the strike ended. The new sculpture is located just across the street from the Winnipeg City Hall. At the official dedication of the sculpture Mayor Brian Bowman said the sculpture is easily viewed from the window of his office so it will act as a constant reminder to future mayors of an important event in the city’s history.
Strike- The Mural
I Live in an Art Gallery
The Winnipeg Strike- Fact or Fiction?
After seeing STRIKE at Rainbow Stage last week I was reminded of a mural that used to be on the south wall of what is now The Palomino Club on Main Street. Painted by Tom Andrich in 2006 it told the same story as the musical, its illustrations giving life to one of the most memorable events in Winnipeg history, the strike of 1919. In May of that year, some 30,000 workers walked off the job because of poor working conditions and a lack of employment opportunities for World War I veterans. Union organizers had been passionately advocating for an eight-hour workday, collective bargaining and the need for employers to pay a living wage. Mural artist Tom Andrich chose to highlight nine of the strike leaders. The woman right in front is Helen Armstrong. Nicknamed Wild Woman of the West she was a union organizer who championed the cause of working women. Born in Toronto and married to a carpenter named George she moved to Winnipeg with him in 1905 where Helen became the leader of the Women’s Labor League. Her leadership helped bring a minimum wage to Manitoba. I was glad to see that Helen was given a major role in the musical Strike and was played in a strong and brilliant fashion by Andrea Del Campo a veteran of the Winnipeg acting scene. During the Winnipeg Strike Helen organized kitchens to feed female strikers and harassed strikebreakers who were crossing the picket line. She encouraged women to boycott stores where the workers were on strike and challenged them to join the men who were on strike. She was arrested and jailed for inciting people to strike, disorderly conduct and encouraging the abuse of strikebreakers.
Winnipeg business owners organized a Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand to oppose the strikers. They blamed foreign immigrants for the strike and some were deported. The majority of the strikers, however, were British. In the Rainbow Stage production, A.J. Andrews who was the mayor of Winnipeg during the strike and one of the founders of the Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand is played in a properly villainous fashion by actor Kevin McIntyre.On June 21, 1919, war veterans organized a parade to protest the arrest of labor leaders. They were also upset at the government edict that the labor movement newspaper could no longer be published. 6,000 people gathered in front of City Hall. When a streetcar, operated by strikebreakers came by the protesters overturned it and set it on fire. In the Rainbow Stage production, a replica of the streetcar makes an impressive appearance on stage.
The federal government had sent out the Royal North West Mounted Police to help put an end to the strike. Carrying clubs and firearms the North West Police charged into the crowd after the streetcar was overturned. They began to fire their weapons.
June 21, 1919, became known as Bloody Saturday because the North West Mounties killed two strikers, wounded thirty-four and made nearly a hundred arrests. Tom Andrich’s mural on Main Street had a portrait of one of the men who died. His name was Mike Sokolowski. Although almost nothing is known of Mike Sokolowiski beyond the few often contradictory details recounted by Winnipeg newspapers reporting on his death, he is the main star in the Rainbow Stage production of Strike and is played by Cory Wojcik. After Bloody Saturday the strike organizers fearing more violence called the strike to a halt and the strikers went back to work on June 26th. I took these photos of Tom Andrich’s strike mural on September 15, 2012. I captured the artwork just in time because later that same month a wicked rain and wind storm ripped the vinyl mural from the wall and damaged it beyond repair. Thankfully in this hundredth anniversary year of the strike, there are plenty of other ways to learn about its events. Many media stories have been written about the strike, books for young people published and of course, there is still time to see the lavish retelling of the story at Rainbow Stage.
Note: Tom Andrich the artist of the Winnipeg Strike mural died last year. You can read more about him on The Murals of Winnipeg site.
The Winnipeg Strike- Fact and Fiction
Rubbing Mr. Eaton’s Foot
Celebrating Our Marriage History in a Historical Building
Rosa Parks by Tony Scherman
“Look at her face. See the way the artist has painted all that darkness around her but her face is in the light?” A member of my tour group at the Winnipeg Art Gallery was responding to a painting of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Another tour member added, “Knowing what a good person she was, I’d say the light is coming from within, from inside her.”
The two people having that conversation live on the streets of Winnipeg. 1Just City is an organization that runs three drop-in centers for folks as their website says, “who have no place to call home.” Earlier this week they brought a group of their regular visitors to spend an afternoon at the art gallery. It was such a pleasure showing them around. They were so genuinely excited about the art. They had so many questions! They were so ready to offer opinions and share their ideas.
The group was drawn to this sculpture on our rooftop called The Poet by sculptor Ossip Zadkine. One woman pointed out the way the face looked much like something Picasso would have made, and a man in the group asked all kinds of questions about the Russian artist who’d created it.
Woman and Polar Bear by Johnny Kakutuk
Another woman was looking at this sculpture and I asked if she would like me to tell her the legend the piece was based on. Everyone listened intently as I related the story of an elderly woman who cares for an orphaned polar bear that becomes like a son to her. Their story takes a sad turn and they are separated but eventually reunite. There were several moist eyes in the group when I was done.
Androgeny by Norval Morrisseau
We spent a long time looking at this piece by Norval Morrisseau. His life story was of great interest to my group.
The Dakota Boat by W. Frank Lynn shows indigenous people observing the arrival of a boat carrying immigrants at the Upper Fort Garry site in Winnipeg
One woman was intrigued by this artwork and asked me all about it.
I loved taking the group around the art gallery. They were delighted to be there and were genuinely curious about everything. I told them I hoped they would come back. Their visit capped off one of those dream days at my job.
In the morning I’d given a tour to a group of high school students from a rural community about a 90-minute drive from Winnipeg. Their classes were officially over but they’d showed up at school early that morning to make the trip into the city. None of them had ever been to the Winnipeg Art Gallery before. They were so excited about all of the art. Once we’d gotten started they basically guided the tour, moving from one artwork to another that piqued their interest and asking me questions about it and making comments. They were so intelligent and knowledgeable and supportive of one another. I thought, “our world is in good hands if these kinds of young people are going to lead us in the future.”
I always enjoy my job at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, but some days are a little more challenging than others. This week I had one of those days when everything was a pure joy from start to finish. It was a dream day at work.
On the Evening News
Siloam Mission at the Winnipeg Art Gallery
I bought a new wallet and while cleaning out my old one discovered a bookstore gift card that hadn’t been used. I decided to splurge on the hardcover graphic novel version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with art by Renee Nault.
I’ve read the original The Handmaid’s Tale four or five times, seen the movie, have attended a Royal Winnipeg Ballet performance of the story, and have watched the first season of the television series based on the book. That makes it hard to assess whether the graphic novel would have given me a good understanding of the plot if I was reading it for the first time. I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the graphic novel version nearly as much if I hadn’t recently taken a workshop with David Robertson where I learned about the kinds of details to look for and appreciate in a graphic novel.
That being said, the graphic novel version of the book was for me a powerful retelling of a familiar story. The scenes in the present are illustrated primarily in stark black, white, red and grey colors contrasted by soft full-color illustrations of the past. The most violent scenes in the novel are portrayed in full-page spreads without text, the individual panels in slanted frames juxtapositioned erratically and drawn in an edgy way that clearly makes you understand the fast and furious nature of the action. I was pleased that the text consisted of words drawn directly from the novel. Many scenes from the novel are enhanced and have added meaning because of the illustrations. One example is when the commander and Offred are playing Scrabble and you can see every word on the board, each rife with meaning.
It was interesting to learn that the graphic novel was actually planned for release years ago, but an injury to artist Renee Nault’s hand slowed down the process. This probably worked in favor of the graphic novel’s success because The Handmaid’s Tale has exploded in popularity in the last while thanks to the scary rise of religious fundamentalism in the United States that resulted in the election of Donald Trump. It is exactly such a scenario that Margaret Atwood describes in her novel and is why the red dress and white bonnet the women in The Handmaid’s Tale wear has become an international symbol for the oppression of women.
Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is coming this fall. It is entitled The Testaments. Reading the graphic novel version was a good way to review the first book’s content in a new, popular and unique format as I await the story’s next installment.
Thoughts on the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Performance of The Handmaid’s Tale
I Could Cry I’m So Happy To Be Canadian
In May of 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a formal apology in the House of Commons for the 1914 actions of the Canadian government when they refused entry into Canada to nearly 400 British citizens, mostly Sikh men, who had traveled from India to Vancouver on board a Japanese ship called The Komagata Maru. After spending nearly two months in the Vancouver harbor the ship was forced to return to India at naval gunpoint. British soldiers boarded The Komagata Maru upon its arrival in Calcutta and a riot ensued during which twenty passengers died and many were arrested. The Canadian immigration rules at the time discriminated against people from South East Asia, rather favoring immigrants from England, Europe, and the United States. In 1914 British Columbia was home to some 2000 people from India mostly Sikhs from the Punjab who had come to work there. Other citizens who knew very little about India, its historical achievements, religious diversity, or rich culture, worried they would eventually become outnumbered by Indian immigrants. The Canadian government had put all kinds of rules and regulations in place to make it very difficult for people from India to enter Canada but the passengers on board The Komagata Maru claimed the rules didn’t apply to them because they were British citizens. Their pleas were rejected.
Don’t Forget About Us by Jagdeep Raina 2014
I learned about The Komagata Maru because of a current installation at the Winnipeg Art Gallery that is part of our Vision Exchange exhibit. It contains work by Jagdeep Raina an artist from Guelph Ontario who used archival documents from Kashmiri and Punjabian Sikh diaspora communities as inspiration. His mixed media exhibition includes a drawing based on a 1914 photograph of men who had traveled on board The Komagata Maru. He has entitled it Don’t Forget About Us.
Wikipedia photo of the passengers on board the Komagata Maru
In his apology in the House of Commons in 2016 Prime Minister Trudeau said that The Komagata Maru passengers were no different than millions of other immigrants to Canada. They were simply seeking refuge and a better life for their families. They had much to contribute to Canada and we failed them utterly.
Nimrat Randhawa, the great, great granddaughter of Gurdit Singh the man who organized the attempt by the Komagata Maru passengers to gain entry into Canada. The photo was taken at the time of Canada’s formal apology to the Komagata Maru passengers.
During his apology the Prime Minister urged people not to forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community in Canada. Jagdeep Raina’s artwork is a good reminder of the Prime Minister’s request. You can read more about the Komagata Maru incident on the website of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
A Carpet Conversation About the Universe
Sports Equipment and Salt
At the Three Gorges Dam. I am furthest to the left.
When I visited the Three Gorges Dam site in China I discovered this sculpture showing farmers wrestling. It was meant to depict how for thousands of years farmers have had to fight the flooding waters of the Yangtze. I immediately thought of that art piece in China when I saw….. this artwork at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It is called Farmer is A Wrestler. It was created by Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra. It is part of the current Vision Exchange exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The artists wanted to show the struggle it is to farm in India today. In an interview, they talk about the crippling debt of many farmers in the Punjab region in northern India and how their financial crisis has sometimes led to the farmers’ committing suicide.
The sculpture I saw in China was related to the Yangtze River. In their installation, Thukral and Tagra have included light fixtures that echo the shape of the River Beas which flows through the state of Punjab.
I’ve written before about how new texts become meaningful when we can connect them to previous texts we have experienced. The installation Farmer is a Wrestler took on new meaning for me when I thought about the similar artwork I had seen in another Asian country.
Now We’ve Been to Sister Cities
Three Gorges Yangtze River Project