Canadians in...slums

[I posted this in October, 2011. I'm reposting it because it is a subject worth revisiting and I found more information on the performance artist whose name came up in the subsequent comments. I have pictures now and a name for the video portion of the installment. Rebecca Belmore, The named and the Unnamed]


Tonya, I tried to find pictures of a slum but they had all been cleaned up. So here's a picture of a preening peacock hat. Actually, the story about the cleaned up movie set meant to look like a US inner city slum is just an undetermined urban legend. Pay no attention to that.

Canada has slums and Canada has ugliness. Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is one of the most infamous of slums in Canada where the homeless and the drug addicted collect and where around 60 prostitutes went missing starting in 1983. They went missing because nobody noticed they were gone until it was too late.



Almost twenty years after the first woman went missing, fifty-three year old Robert William Pickton would be convicted of six murders, charged with an additional twenty and confess to forty-nine murders of women culled from the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, just because he could. Who would notice? Excavations on his pig farm in Coquitlam, outside Vancouver, would expose a macabre killing field of human debris from the bodies of these women. Some of their bones were found inside his house in the form of grisly sculptures. It is also believed that many of the body parts were fed to his pigs and possibly ground up and mixed with pork and given to friends and visitors. His pork was never sold commercially, or so they would have us believe. Pickton is in jail doing a life sentence of twenty-five years. If you want to read more about this pig, check out the wiki article here.

Robert William Pickton, serial killer

Yep, we got slums. We just have fewer than the US because we have a much smaller population. Inner city woes are felt here and what wasn't already here, immigrants bring with them when they move in. Toronto has a lot of gang related crime just from the Jamaican population. Slums are here. Crime is here. You just have to know what to search for when you google it.



This is the Vancouver, Canada didn't want the world to see during the Winter Olympics.



Some of Downtown Eastside's Missing Women
Update:
In the comments and in response to something said by Tonya, I was reminded about seeing an artist by the name of Rebecca Belmore. Her website is here. She is a performance artist and the work I stumbled upon I have since learned is called "The Named and the Unnamed". I'm going to copy the description from the comments below and I've found some pictures to go with them.
[October 2011]
I was at the Art Gallery of Ontario a few years ago [update: The Art Gallery of Ontario in 2003] and they had a video playing on loop. It was an art performance by Rebecca Belmore. I'm not much of a performance art fan, it confuses me more than anything and I was at the gallery to see works by the Group of Seven. This video caught my attention and because nobody else was sitting in the room, I sat and started watching it.

The woman had names scrawled all over her arms. She had candles lit, for what purpose I didn't know. And she had a lowly bucket filled with long stemmed red roses. She wore a thrift shop wedding dress? or dress of some kind over her jeans and tee shirt which she nailed to the telephone pole and tore off in strips. It made me laugh uncomfortably the way these things always do. This continued until the whole dress existed as tattered remnants nailed to any wooden surface found on that street corner. 




I really didn't know what to make of it but I stayed mainly because my legs were tired. 
Then she grabbed a bunch of roses and one by one she placed them in her mouth, like a tango dancer would, and then ripped the stem through her teeth shearing off the leaves and petals. Before each rose was destroyed, she called out a name.

Who's names was she calling out? What the hell was this about? I went from seeing it as laughable to wondering what the message was because it was a very powerful visual image to see her doing this. 

It turns out each of the names she called out were the missing women of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Her purpose was to bring attention to what was happening before something had been ever done about it. She put names and raw emotion into each of those women's identities and by doing that, she validated their existence even if it was just her doing it all by herself on a street corner.
It hit me in a very dramatic way. That is why I could never call those women prostitutes. Rebecca Belmore tuned me in that day. Each of the victims was a woman and someone's daughter or sister or even mother. None of them deserved to just go missing and never be seen, heard from again or thought of again.
She made me take notice of what was happening. I thank her for that. I hope the families of the victims thank her for that. 

7 comments:

Tonya said...

That was intriguing but it still looked somewhat pretty. I have the same picture of Vancouver on my blog but where you saw graffiti and boarded up windows I saw a fence that is still in good repair. I loved the peacock hat. If I weren't in a time crunch I'd stick that hat right on top of one of our floating USA maps with no neighbors on either side and stick it up on my blog.

dirtydisher said...

Tastes like chicken.

Tonya said...

The pictures of the missing women are haunting. It kills me to see that many smiling women bunched together who probably met the same violent fate.

I think it's nice that you referred to them as 'women' instead of as 'prostitutes' as the media surely did. We had an argument in class one day about whether prostitution is a victimless crime and I maintained and still do that prostitutes are victimized way more than anyone else in society is by their work. Maybe if these poor women had had the social standing denied to them they wouldn't have ended up as tragically as they did? Serial killers love to kill prostitutes because they're not missed as much as other members of society and I hate them for that almost as much as I do for the suffering they inflict.

Frimmy said...

Soylent Green is PEOPLE!!

I was at the Art Gallery of Ontario a few years ago and they had a video playing on loop. It was an art performance by Rebecca Belmore. I'm not much of a performance art fan, it confuses me more than anything and I was at the gallery to see works by the Group of Seven. This video caught my attention and because nobody else was sitting in the room, I sat and started watching it.

The woman had names scrawled all over her arms. She had candles lit, for what purpose I didn't know. And she had a lowly bucket filled with long stemmed red roses. She wore a thrift shop wedding dress? or dress of some kind over her jeans and tee shirt which she nailed to the telephone pole and tore off in strips. It made me laugh uncomfortably the way these things always do. This continued until the whole dress existed as tattered remnants nailed to any wooden surface found on that street corner.

I really didn't know what to make of it but I stayed mainly because my legs were tired.

Then she grabbed a bunch of roses and one by one she placed them in her mouth, like a tango dancer would, and then ripped the stem through her teeth shearing off the leaves and petals. Before each rose was destroyed, she called out a name.

Who's names was she calling out? What the hell was this about? I went from seeing it as laughable to wondering what the message was because it was a very powerful visual image to see her doing this.

It turns out each of the names she called out were the missing women of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Her purpose was to bring attention to what was happening before something had been ever done about it. She put names and raw emotion into each of those women's identities and by doing that, she validated their existence even if it was just her doing it all by herself on a street corner.

It hit me in a very dramatic way. That is why I could never call those women prostitutes. Rebecca Belmore tuned me in that day. Each of the victims was a woman and someone's daughter or sister or even mother. None of them deserved to just go missing and never be seen, heard from again or thought of again.

She made me take notice of what was happening. I thank her for that. I hope the families of the victims thank her for that.

Tonya said...

Fuck, that is powerful, powerful stuff. How moving that she called out each name individually and let it sink in.

Tonya said...

I'm still moved by Rebecca's art. I'd have liked very much to have seen it. And if one of those women were my relative, I'd really appreciate that someone brought my name out and forced you to hear it as you went about your business. What a brave, brave woman this Rebecca must be.

Frimmy said...

Her calling the names...that's what got my attention. Up until then I was perplexed at her actions. Suddenly, I focused on those names and I wanted to know - NEEDED to know - who they were and why she was highlighting them this way.

I was so thrilled when I found those pictures! I had a hard time the first time around describing her performance and attributing to her the depth of meaning she was trying to communicate.

 

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