Montreal-based Oji-Cree artist's work confronts trauma of residential schools

Oji-Cree artist Lara Kramer fuses performance art, photography and artifacts in her show which opens Thursday at MAI and runs until June 10.

Lara Kramer fuses performance art, photography and artifacts at show at Montreal's MAI

Lara Kramer's Phantom Stills & Vibrations, an exhibition and performance piece about residential schools, is at the Montreal's MAI until June 10. (Stefan Petersen/Lara Kramer)

The victimization of Indigenous women has been a theme in Lara Kramer's artwork for years, and her latest piece, Phantom Stills & Vibrations, examines the pain and aftershock of the residential school experience.

"It's very clear that there's still this shadow, that Indigenous lives are disposable," said Kramer, who is part Oji-Cree.

Three generations of her family were forced to attend the Pelican Falls Indian Residential School in Sioux Lookout in northwestern Ontario.

"Phantom Stills & Vibrations deals with the legacy of the trauma from Indian residential school and confronts the: 'What now? What will colonial society do when they wake up?'" Kramer said.

The work, part of the Festival TransAmériques, includes an exhibition and performance pieces at Montreal Arts Interculturels (MAI) on Jeanne-Mance Street in Montreal's Milton Park district.

A large canoe is one of the artifacts in the gallery. (Doriane Mazaleigue/Lara Kramer)

The performance features Kramer, a choreographer and dancer, and her partner, Stefan Petersen, inside plastic pillars as the audience walks through the gallery.

Audio, photography and artifacts complete the experience, with all the pieces linking back to residential schools.

"I am engaging with the public," Kramer said. "I gaze at the public and watch them."

MMIWG hearings in Quebec City

Kramer's show runs at the same time as hearings into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), which are being live-streamed on the inquiry's website, wrap in Quebec City.

The third part of the MMIWG truth-gathering process is focused on human rights frameworks and is hearing testimony from knowledge keepers and experts. 

Kramer says, in her view, the solution to the trauma suffered by Indigenous Canadians is clear: "Honour treaty rights, and give back the land."

"We are talking about cultural genocide. It's as if we have arrived at a place where we are patting Canada on the back for finally acknowledging that it happened," she said.

Phantom stills & vibrations is at the MAI (3680 Jeanne-Mance Street) until June 10, with performances May 17, 24, and June 2 and 7. 


Elysha Enos


Elysha Enos is a journalist with CBC Montreal.