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Tuesday June 16 2015 19 ARTS CULTURE VISUAL ARTS A rtist shares resid ential school ex perience through paintings B y M E AG AN W O H L B E R G Artist Robert Burke returned to his home- town of Fort Smith last week to show a set of paintings that share for the first time his 10- year ex perience at residential school. Theseriesoftrypticsorlargethree-paneled paintings take onlookers through the chro- nology of indigenous children being removed from their families through the school days to being recognized as survivors and ending with the adjudication that resulteed in the In- dianResidentialSchoolclassactionsettlement. Burkenow71saidmuchofwhatCanadians know about residential schools comes from static black and white photos of children in lines with nuns in the classroom. But when that was happening these pic- tures of static individuals nobodys talking about the psychological implications of that wholedynamichesaid.Theaudiencegetsto seethedynamicsofresidentialschoolthrough the imagery Im using. Many of the paintings show a mix of the positivesandnegativesoftheschoolingex peri- ence. Some show the students playing hockey during winter while another called Fun and Games shows a child being shocked in an electric chair by white men in robes. Thoughtheex periencesofresidentialschool survivors have been brought to the forefront over the last few years through the workings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission TRC Burke said the exhibit is wholly repre- sentative of his personal ex perience. Everything I did is my story. Its my story. Its not from books I read not from people I talked to. Its my story said Burke who now makes his home on Vancouver Island. Its a voice that hadnt been heard by anybody. Im representing a lot of Aboriginals that all went through the same thing and we just went on about our lives. Some of us never went back and thought about it but others like myself I had an opportunity to think and paint about it so I did. While the show follows on the heels of the TRCs final report Burke said the timing is purely coincidental though fortunate. As long as the public is thinking about it its a good time to put that imagery out he said. Things are no different now. Indians are ust as poor today as 50 100 years ago. P rejudice is just as rampant as it used to be. Things havent changed. So youve got to keep painting this kind of stuff educating people. Burke said its the latest but not the last of his shows depicting social issues that im- pact indigenous peoples. For his nex t show he plans to paint about the Aboriginal ex pe- rience of the correctional system. Thats a significant aspect of our lives. Y oure always in and out of the newspapers youreinandoutofTVyouseesomeguybeing handcuffed here and there but theres a lot of prejudice that has to be ex posed as part of that he said. The Aboriginal is a f -up but so is the system thats affecting them or charging them. P rior to The R esidential S chool E x perience Burke painted a series called The S ilent B reed depicting the history and personal events of his childhood as a mix ed race child of a Dene woman and African American soldier who was stationed in Fort Smith during the con- struction of the Canol pipeline throughout World War II. Though much of the imagery deals with dif- ficult sub ects Burke said he tries to make the paintings beautiful and colourful and to keep the conversation positive. This is just one series of events in my life. Im not going to paint residential school for the rest of my life he said. This is just one series of events and once this is done essen- tially Ill forget it. TheR esidentialS choolE x perienceisondis- playattheNorthern ifeMuseumandCultural Centre in Fort Smith until July 28 after which it will travel to the P rince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.PhotoMeaganWohlberg Painter R ob ert B urke stands b efore one of his tryptics F un and G ames currently on display at the Northern L ife M useum and Cultural Centre in F ort S mith.