Qayqayt artist Johnny Bandura will be guiding visitors through an exhibition he developed after the remains of 215 children were discovered at the Kamloops Residential School site earlier this year.
Bandura’s work – The 215 – is on exhibit at the New Westminster Museum until Dec. 5. Bandura will be hosting the exhibition and will be in attendance to guide visitors through the stories attached to each of the portraits and to respond to questions community members may have about them.
In May, Canadians learned that the skeletal remains of 215 children were discovered on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School.
Bandura’s grandmother, Marie Joseph, had attended the school, and he realized that he and his extended family would not be alive if she hadn’t survived the residential school.
Bandura recognized that many of the lost children could have been his grandmother’s classmates and friend, said a press release from the City of New Westminster.
“He channelled feelings of pain, grief and sadness into portraits to honour each of the 215. He painted the children as adults because he felt they were speaking to him; he felt they wanted to be viewed as more than just children in uniforms,” said the press release. “Johnny let the children grow up in portrait. He gave them lives that were both traditional as well as modern: A pow wow grass dancer in traditional regalia and a judge in courtroom robes; doctors, nurses, fancy dancers, punk rockers and hockey players. Johnny imagined lives for them that reflected all areas of society. He created an exhibit to show what they could have become.”
According to a press release from the New Westminster Museum, The 215 is a unique community learning opportunity about the inter-generational impacts of residential schools and about the connection to Qayqayt First Nation.
Bandura, a member of the Qayqayt First Nation (New Westminster), is the nephew of Qayqayt Chief Rhonda Larrabee.
In a column in the Record in September, in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Larrabee said her family has been deeply affected by the discovery of the remains of the 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Her mom, Marie, and other family members, were forced to go there in the 1930s.
Emotionally distressed at the discovery of the 215 bodies, she said her nephew honoured each child by painting images of what they may have become when they grew up. The exhibition was first shown in Edmonton.
“As a result of only one art show, many residential school survivors have contacted him; told him their stories or praised him for his caring and work,” she wrote. “It has caused a lot of interest … Recognition for works such as this represent a step toward reconciliation, and it is happening more often from many organizations.”
The New Westminster Museum is located in Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia St.
Visitors can visit the New Westminster Museum on a timed-entry basis to see The 215; only six people per bubble can enter every 20 minutes. All visitors must pre-book a ticket online at booking.nwmuseumarchives.com.
For more information, call 604-527-4640 or go to nwmuseumarchives.ca.