A mural for Reconciliation

Photo courtesy of Port Coquitlam

Even though Reconciliation can be a daunting and confounding subject, Port Coquitlam’s Riverside Secondary School’s art department decided to engage with it after hearing about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. The school asked students to work collaboratively on one call to action, and to come up with one way that they as high-school students could rise to action.

Around two dozen students replicated local Indigenous artist Kurtis Johnson’s image of the Coquitlam River on their chosen piece of mosaic, adding symbols representing their individual participation in reconciliation, while acknowledging the occupation of First Nations’ unceded ancestral territory. Their endeavours are reflected in a mural titled River of Reconciliation.

The collaborative artwork that addresses many aspects of Reconciliation is on display at The Leigh Square Community Arts Village in Port Coquitlam May 2–June 9, 2022.

How to create a Reconciliation-inspired mosaic

To spearhead the project, the students were asked to first familiarise themselves with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. The budding artists then used Johnson’s digital painting to recreate a section in the form of a mosaic and add to it their newly acquired understanding of Reconciliation. This has allowed each individual’s understanding of land and Reconciliation to be depicted while still remaining faithful to the original artwork.

Sharing these collected perspectives with the community has allowed students to enact many of the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning as per the B.C. curriculum.

Gestation of an art project

When Riverside Secondary School asked their students before the art project began if they had a “personal action plan for Reconciliation,” 97 per cent replied that they did not. When the school also asked if students felt comfortable with talking about Reconciliation with people outside of school, most said that they weren’t. Consequently, one of the art project’s goals was to address the situation and change it.

The original artwork by Kurtis Johnson.| Photo courtesy of Port Coquitlam

“With an awareness of space and place, we thought to create this image of the land by enacting collaboration and reciprocity,” the students explained in their statement.

The school intends to re-survey their students after the opening night of the show, and ask them the same questions they did before the project began: “Do you have a personal action plan for Reconciliation? Do you feel comfortable talking about Reconciliation with people outside of school?”

While visiting the exhibition, visitors too are welcome to ask students about Reconciliation. The school is hoping that the artwork will inspire further discussion on the topic in order to bring about change at large.

River of Reconciliation exemplifies the power of art, and the means that individual students have to address Reconciliation on a personal level.

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