Living Dioramas Animate the ROM with ‘DECLARATION’
Featured Story: ARTICLE 11
ARTICLE 11 is a theatre-based organization founded by set, lighting and production designer Andy Moro and writer, performer and director Tara Beagan. The two first collaborated on In Spirit, a play written by Beagan, in 2007. Their joint goal to showcase the talents of Indigenous artists, and to expand the understanding of the theatrical form, led them to form ARTICLE 11 with the launch of DECLARATION in 2013.
DECLARATION is an ongoing, evolving and collaborative performative installation. It’s a “celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ right to engage to their fullest extent in the creation and development of arts and culture, as outlined in the 11th clause of the UN’s Declaration on Indigenous Rights.” With changing guest artists, venues, and contexts, every iteration is unique.1 Recently, DECLARATION was mounted at the Royal Ontario Museum from June 5th to July 5th 2015 as part of Toronto Arts Council’s Animating Historic Sites and Museums program. With projections, audio, two nights of live performances, and video documentation of those performances that played alongside “living dioramas,” the artists involved filled the Roloff Beny Gallery with their message.
Guest artists Lee Maracle, Plex, Kitsuné Soleil, Theola Ross and Cherish Violet Blood joined Moro and Beagan to animate the ROM. As with every DECLARATION, artists were invited to present a work in progress, or experiment with a new idea. Their presence in the ROM gave the artists an opportunity to not only present work in an unconventional space, but to comment on the Indigenous relationship to museums and their history of being misrepresented, documented and displayed. “This was an opportunity to demonstrate that change is in effect, and not only inclusive of the Indigenous perspective, but being sung with our own voices, through our self-won resources,” states Beagan.
At the entrance of the room, the viewer was immediately faced with two large projections that set the tone of the exhibit: 1) various maps of areas where Indigenous communities have been displaced, neglected, or disrupted; 2) a grid showing clips of TV shows and films featuring Indigenous appropriation. Throughout the space, an audio broadcast of Stephen Harper’s residential school apology, June 2008, played.
“The show is an exploration of how Indigenous peoples have been represented in media, from earliest tin type photography through to social media" says Tara. Unsettling images of the past give way to active creations by the participating artists. Stand out performances such as Work performed by Cherish Violet Blood, or Ask An Elder, a collaborative performance-discussion featuring artist and educator Lee Maracle, put forth a celebratory assertion of Indigenous artistry and voice.
“As Indigenous artists, we find ourselves serving as educators whether we want to or not. We are in the public eye, and so we are accessible. This inspires people to come to us with their questions and desire for further understanding. While curiosity is a great instigator for conversation, without the conversation, no knowledge is gained. With Ask An Elder, we focused on this reality, and served it up with the inimitable candor of the great Lee Maracle, beautifully conducted by the lovely and irreverent Doug “Plex” Bedard. It was a beautiful duet, and one we hope to repeat.” Maracle sat on an elevated sofa chair enthusiastically answering questions from the audience that ranged from “What do you think is the highest priority of the Truth and Reconciliation declaration?” to “How do you feel about being called an elder?” Maracle’s response to that was, “Well, you got to get old at some point.”
The ROM came alive with these performances, which inspired active contemplation of both the past and the present. The diorama was on display, but it was inhabited by living Indigenous artists representing their own artistry and voice. An artist statement of a work entitled Dioramas/Living Memory by Andy Moro and Tara Beagan, concludes with the words “This project is an expression of the ROM’s commitment to partnerships that seek engagement with a diversity of Indigenous peoples. The partnership with ARTICLE 11 is such an engagement.” Through TAC’s partnership with the ROM and City of Toronto Museum Services, artists and establishments are collaborating to form new narratives.
You can catch Moro and Beagan’s signature theatrical work In Spirit at Planet IndigenUS on August 6th and 7th, or in September in Saskatoon, which will be presented in partnership with Saskatchewan Native Theatre.
1DECLARATION has been presented at the Common Ground Festival (September 2013) and the Ontario Scene festival (April 2015).