Begun as a series of wide ranging conversations between two friends, Farheen HAQ and myself, The Ground Above Us evolved into an examination of ways to come into better relation with the people and land of Lkwungen territory. Yuxwelupton Qwal’qaxala (Bradley Dick), whose ancestors and relatives have called this place home since time-in-memorial, soon became our confidant, guide and collaborator as we reflected on what it meant for us as racialized artists to be working on this ground.
The project methodology was simple. At a small, pebble beach near Meegan (Beacon Hill Park) and Mile Zero, the western terminus of Trans Canada Highway, we visited, told stories and shared food. Farheen, Bradley and myself reflected on our families, the generational journeys that brought us to this place and the memories carried by the land, the water and our bodies. Our words were at times full of loss and grief; stolen bodies, fractured nations and stolen territories. But as we lay down our stories on the land, hope emerged in the form of deepening friendships, common understandings and a shared path forward.
Eventually others joined us, Namgis elder Gerry Ambers, WSÁNEC knowledge keepers Tiffany Joseph and Sara Jim, friends, family and community members. We gathered in groups to take plaster casts and copper impressions of the rocks, labouring silently in pairs with wet hands or blunt sticks to see what arrived for us as we got to know each crevice, ridge and mound. After, we shared our reflections, listened to stories from the land and ate together.
The copper impressions were later assembled into a suspended artwork and audio from our conversations on the shore, with sounds from the environment, edited into an immersive soundscape. A Lkwungen fishing weight, loaned by Bradley, anchored the installation. The gallery installation itself became an opportunity to invite a new community into the conversations we began on the beach.
Bradley, Farheen and I last visited a few days before the beginning of the COVID 19 lockdown in March 2020 and plan to get back together when it is considered safe to do so. After a year of pandemic lockdowns the profound effect laying down our stories on the land together and listening resonates more than ever.
Project participants were: Gerry Ambers, Sarah Jim, Tiffany Joseph, Lorilee Wastasecoot, Gillian Booth, Michelle Jacques, Nicole Achtymichuk, Noam Sandford Blades, Denni Clement, Calvin Cairns, Isobel Campbell, Maia Castano, Matty Cervantes, Mex Cox, Mary Crocker, Odin Crocker, Tay Crocker, Lindsay Delaronde, Diana Gibson, Laura Gildner, Aisha Haq, Cairo Haq, Chris Haq, Kym Hines, Paula Jardine, Mundeep Kaur Mucina, Naomi Kennedy, Gagan Leekha, Devi Mucina, Khumalo Mucina, Nandi Mucina, Michelle Mulder, Dora Navarrete, Inayah Patel, Bo Peterson, Grant Peterson, Hector Perez, Hillary Quinn, Valerie Salez, Regan Shrumm, Eva Thompson, Jovis Thompson, Torin Thompson, Jennifer Van de Pol, Paul Walde, Andrea Walker-Collins, Chen Wang, Jesse and Noah.
The Ground Above us was supported by The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and UVic’s Legacy Galleries. Thank you Michelle and Gillian for your your trust and faith in this work.