Artist imagines 'man-to-man' chat between Riel, Macdonald on Parliament Hill

Visual artist David Garneau appeared on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday wearing a hood and gesticulating at a statue.

David Garneau performed piece in front of Macdonald's statue Monday afternoon

Visual artist David Garneau performs his piece Dear John, Louis David Riel in front of the statue of John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 19, 2017. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Métis artist David Garneau could be found on Parliament Hill Monday afternoon wearing a hood, gesticulating at a statue.

It may sound as if the University of Regina professor had been out in the hot sun a bit too long, but it's actually a performance piece called Dear John, Louis David Riel — in which Garneau, as Riel, holds a silent conversation with the statue of John A. Macdonald.

"There's a recent tradition with a number of artists, Indigenous artists ... who have been working with statues," Garneau told Alan Neal, host of CBC Radio's All In A Day, before the performance.

"Indigenous folks do believe that material objects actually have spirits, have some sense of communion. And it's not just Indigenous people — non-Indigenous people erected this statue because they believe the same thing, that there's something there. It's not just a hunk of metal."

Louis Riel, left, was executed in 1885 on treason charges brought forward by Sir John A. Macdonald, right, following the Northwest Rebellion. (Library and Archives Canada)

Macdonald charged Riel with treason

In 1885, Macdonald charged Riel with high treason for leading the Northwest Rebellion — a five-month insurgency that was the culmination of escalating grievances Métis and Indigenous peoples had with the Canadian government.

Garneau says there's an emerging trend of contemporary artists interacting with statues. (David Garneau/Facebook)

A hooded Riel was executed by hanging later that year. 

"I found myself imagining Riel, who really would have liked to have had a dialogue man-to-man [with Macdonald], what would that have been like?" Garneau told All In A Day. "So [that] led to this character."

Garneau performed the piece three years ago in Regina in front of that city's John A. Macdonald statue to mark the 129th anniversary of Riel's death.

His 25-minute performance Monday was part of the National Arts Centre's Canada Scene festival, and took place at 5:30 p.m. on Parliament Hill, near Macdonald's statue. 

Dozens of people gathered around the statue to watch the performance, which also featured traditional drumming. Canada Scene runs until July 23.