Ryerson exhibition tells stories behind two young Indigenous lives lost
Shades of Our Sisters honours missing and murdered Indigenous women
Patricia Carpenter, a young mother, was found dead at a Toronto construction site in 1992. Her death remains unresolved.
She was just 14.
Sonya Cywink's death is a similar mystery — an unsolved homicide. An avid writer, she was found slain at the age of 31 in Elgin County, Ont. in 1994.
But it's the lives — not just the deaths — of these Indigenous women that inspired a group of Ryerson University students to develop Shades of Our Sisters, a new multimedia exhibition honouring the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women through two deeply intimate stories.
The installation celebrates the memories of Carpenter and Cywink through soundscapes, documentary pieces, and artifacts from their lives — be it Cywink's poetry or Carpenter's beloved Cabbage Patch dolls — either on display or woven through short films.
"The documentaries are a celebration of life," says Ryerson student Michael Rebellato, a writer and researcher on the project.
"And it is entirely about who they are, why they're loved, and how much they're missed."
The students worked alongside the two women's families to make the project a reality, by building relationships with people like Joyce Carpenter, Patricia Carpenter's mother.
Project a 'healing journey'
Carpenter praised the immense amount of "work, and dedication, and respect" that went into producing the exhibition.
"I was really honoured that they came to me and asked me to do this — a celebration of my daughter's life," she says.
Carpenter says her daughter doted on her brothers, and was a "happy-go-lucky" teen who was already maternal.
"She would've been an amazing mother," Carpenter says, adding she only got to be one for six weeks before her death.
Participating in Shades of Our Sisters was a positive step for Carpenter after so many years of pain. "I've started on my healing journey now," she says.
'They're part of our lives now'
It was a life-changing experience for the students as well — and a chance for them to give voices back to two silenced women.
"They're part of our lives now, even though we never knew them," Rebellato said.
The exhibition is running until Feb. 19 at the Tecumseh Auditorium in Toronto.
It will then make its way to the reserves of both families, first to the Alderville Community Centre in Alderville, Ont. from Feb. 21 to 22 before a final stop at Espanola High School in Espanola, Ont. from Feb. 24 to 25.
With files from Natalie Nanowski