'Toughest chick in the hood': Sask. artist crafts homage to mother in billboard campaign
Billboards throughout Saskatchewan and Canada feature work of 50 Indigenous female artists
The image carries a punch, powerful and visceral, a female Indigenous warrior standing tall over a field of broken bones, crying out, "Stop the Silence!!"
For Saskatchewan artist Mary Longman, that image is emblematic of the strength of her mother, whom she depicted as she took part in a national billboard campaign entitled Resilience. Longman is one of 50 Indigenous female artists taking part.
"She was feisty until the day she passed, just the way she knew how to survive," Longman said of her mother, who lived through the trauma and injuries inflicted at a residential school.
"She really had to survive in a difficult way, in Regina, in the hood, living in poverty, living later on after nine-years-old without parents, just really having to be tough, to fight for herself," she said, noting her uncle had described her mother as "the toughest chick in the hood."
At first glance, the woman seems to resemble Wonder Woman, but a closer look reveals her Indigenous heritage, her breast plate made of bullet casings, as she clutches a ribbon for Indigenous Genocide awareness, standing on the land and gold pouring out from war helmets on either side of her. The piece is entitled Warrior Woman: Stop the Silence!!
Longman said she learned from her mother's example, having lived through the Sixties Scoop that separated children like her from her parents.
"So I've also had to be independent and tough to survive and to keep afloat without support," she said, adding from a young age, art held an appeal for her as a way to make her own better reality.
"You could create the world you envisioned, or you'd like to live in, and romanticize and dream.'
The Resilience project unveiled billboards throughout Canada on Friday. In Saskatchewan, billboards can be found in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert.
Curator Lee-Ann Martin says one of the aims of the project is to create "awareness that Indigenous women artists do this work that's diverse and complex," and that can be seen through multiple lenses, from critical to celebratory.
Many of the billboards in Saskatchewan are electronic, with the 50 images scrolling through as people pass by on their everyday routes.
"They'll see the same billboard, but they may be seeing different images every time they go by," said Martin.
For Longman, her hope is that her mother will be the voice for Indigenous genocide, of all the Indigenous people that have died through the years following a history that included slavery, scalping, germ warfare and forced famine, a history she feels can be forgotten or sometimes pushed aside.
"Ultimately I want the people to be inspired by this piece, not just by the strength it conveys, but to stand up in the face of this injustice and this non-transparent history."