Empty dresses honour missing, slain women

A Winnipeg artist wants to collect 500 red dresses and hang them from trees in the city to draw attention to missing and slain aboriginal women across Canada.

A Winnipeg artist wants to collect 500 red dresses and hang them from trees in the city to draw attention to missing and slain aboriginal women across Canada.

Métis artist Jaime Black says the colour red represents not only a woman's power, but is also symbolic of being aboriginal. And an empty, hanging dress can be a powerful image, she added.

"It is able to evoke a feeling of presence, even when there's nothing inside of it, so it's sort of an eerie feeling," she said.

The REDress Project will also be featured at other outdoor public installations, in gallery exhibits and in conjunction with vigils and protests organized around missing and slain women, said Black.

One of those vigils was held Monday night at the fountain behind the Manitoba legislative building. It included a performance with over 30 women clothed in red dresses as part of the project.

So far, Black has gathered just a few dozen dresses but she is trying to get the word out through Facebook and other means.

The dresses she has collected are in her house, already evoking the type of emotions she hopes will resonate with the public.

"They … have kind of a ghostly presence, so it feels as though my room is filled with people who are no longer here. And that's the really powerful thing about an empty dress," she said.

Black is still trying to decide if she will hang the dresses in one location or in several places around the city. She hopes to have all of the dresses collected by the end of October and have them up before the snow flies.

Vigil held at legislature

More than 300 people attended the Monday night vigil on the legislature grounds. It was one of 84 vigils, called Sisters in Spirit, held simultaneously across the country.

"Just not knowing literally what has happened to your loved one, it's horrific. It's not a good thing to have to live through. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy," said Matt Bushby, who attended the Winnipeg event.

His fiancée, Claudette Osborne, went missing in July 2008.

Osborne, who also goes by the name Penny, was last seen in the area of Selkirk Avenue and Charles Street, in the city's North End neighbourhood.

Her family has acknowledges that Osborne lived a troubled life. A young mother of four children, she became addicted to drugs, and work in the sex trade soon followed.

"No matter what your station in life is, everybody has value. Claudette, she was amazing," said Bushby.