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A unique viewpoint

Queen's researcher Amber White gets Aboriginal students to utilize canvas to tell the story of their lives.

“May I borrow your story?”

This was the question asked by Queen’s researcher Amber White when she travelled to Sudbury for a research project. The Master’s of Education student encouraged eight Aboriginal youth in the N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre to explain why they left high school before graduation, using nothing but paint, a brush, and a blank canvas.

Amber White's new art show documents the lives of eight Aboriginal young people.

The result is Speaking Through Acrylic: Potholes, Loss and Dreams, an art exhibit created by those eight Aboriginal students that delves deep into their lives and doesn’t pull any punches. From bullying, to teenage pregnancy and loneliness, the eight canvasses are stark and unforgiving.

The show has been mounted in The Studio, located in the Queen’s Faculty of Education.

“I travelled to Sudbury and they trusted me,” says Ms. White. “This was a humbling experience and I hope it resonates. It’s important to know why urban aboriginal youth withdraw from mainstream schools. Without their voices, there won’t be change.”

The name of the show reflects the message the students want to convey. Potholes are symbolic of the roadblocks these youth continue to face and overcome, while loss is something each participant has felt in their lives. Each has dreams for the future; some of these dreams were taken away, while some are still held near and dear. Each of these complexities and emotions come together within the eight pieces of art.

“This is a unique way to tell a story and I hope we listen,” says Ms. White. “The students want their teachers to come to their defense, to understand what they are going through. It’s a serious situation. These students are dropping out of school and some aren’t coming back.”

Going forward, Ms. White has plans to return to Sudbury to continue her research.

“I also want to give back to the community that welcomed me in. Some researchers go and just take and take,” she says. “I want to give them something in return.”

The show opens Tuesday, July 28 with a special Thanks Giving ceremony at 1:30 pm. The show runs every day from 1:30 to 5:30 pm until Friday, Aug. 14.

To learn more about the N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre visit the website.