The fourth circuit of the Blackwood Gallery’s Take Care exhibition series focuses on ideas and practices of care in relation to land, territory, and water. The circuit aims to undo hierarchies between human and non-human structures in society, and calls attention to how anthropogenic impact has degraded our environment and displaced the voices of many Indigenous peoples.

As part of the exhibit, the Blackwood Gallery hosted an “audio-based endurance performance” by three Indigenous artists: Ursula Johnson, Cherish Violet Blood, and Rosary Spence. Surrounded by a circle of blankets, Johnson explained that it is difficult to bring her project across provinces and “to sing for a land with so much trauma.” Johnson is referring to the numerous Aboriginal land claims in the area, including from members of the Mississaugas of the New Credit over 200 years ago. Recent negotiations with the Federal Government have come to the conclusion of a $145 million settlement, with each of the New Credit First Nation members receiving $20,000 in cash as compensation.

Johnson continued to describe the artistic process behind her project, in which she asks her collaborators to choose a piece of land that holds significant personal value to them. She would then create a line illustration of that land which they would interpret together as a sound wave in the form of their pitch, tempo, or recurrent melody. She hopes to posit her music as a “force that brings people together.” Nodding in agreement, Spence adds her belief that “song is a universal language and very much alive.” Her main message and purpose for performing is to offer an apology to this land and to heal it through her song.

The performers began the song by creating a beat with their handheld instruments. Johnson and Blood played small drums while Spence shook a wooden rattle. What followed was a procession of soothing but powerful, and almost cathartic sound.

Spence started a melodic cry and as if it were a call and response. Johnson and Blood joined in by repeating her melody. At times, they would rest their voices but always kept the strong beat going. Halfway through, Johnson began to sing a lyrical refrain. Soon, the trio reverted to their original melody, even prompting audience members to join in.

The performance cumulated on a note that I felt was more joyous in tone and celebratory of the land. Johnson encouraged viewing the current exhibit, #CallResponse, to absorb the Indigenous artwork on display and begin the notion of reconciliation with the natural world.

#CallResponse runs at The Blackwood Gallery until January 27.

This article has been corrected.
  1. January 18, 2018 at 12 a.m.: Subtitle changed to outline Indigenous artists are from many nations.
    Notice to be printed on January 22, 2018 (Volume 44, Issue 16).
  2. January 18, 2018 at 12 a.m.: Corrected “woven tapestries” to “blankets.”
    Notice to be printed on January 22, 2018 (Volume 44, Issue 16).
  3. January 18, 2018 at 12 a.m.: Context changed to show that the Mississauga were one of many nations with Aboriginal land claims.
    Notice to be printed on January 22, 2018 (Volume 44, Issue 16).
  4. January 18, 2018 at 12 a.m.: Corrected “acapella routine” to “song.”
    Notice to be printed on January 22, 2018 (Volume 44, Issue 16).
  5. January 18, 2018 at 12 a.m.: Lyrics removed.
    Notice to be printed on January 22, 2018 (Volume 44, Issue 16).