Portia “Po” Chapman
Indian Residential School
Studio Photos: How I Made
Creating “Desk” was an emotional rollercoaster as it should have been.
There were days when I just wanted to smash it apart. My vision to create a beautiful installation out of a horrifically nightmarish icon of residential schools seemed impossible to realize.
Almost every artistic sketch I made before construction was thrown out the window. I so wanted to illustrate Creation consuming the ugly reality of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada.
Daily, it seemed as if the demons of institutionalization would do anything to silence the screams of children clawing their ways back to their mothers.
I faced battles on logistical, academic and psychological fronts.
Before I began “Desk” I did not know what to do. I knew it had to be an extension of my “Blossoming Beyond the Box” Installation. The “box” was not met with much adoration. It was a statement piece that required all of my energy to see to its conclusion.
Creating beautiful art out of painful times and experiences is always a challenge, just as it can be in real life. So to take a deep dive into the darkness of the Indian Residential School system, I needed the ancestors to guide me.
As one can see, my studio space became void of noise and obstructions. My grand vision of rain and grass and grapevines with butterflies and birds vanished into the sunlight steaming down upon me as I sat lost.
But at moments like those, alone with shattered plans and aspirations, when our egos are smashed, then the Creator reaches down and wipes the tears from our eyes. A flash of light and a cool breeze sweeps away the past, if only for a moment, a path ahead is illuminated.
There before me I saw an old desk just sitting there alone in the centre of a road. But not an old worn desk, a polished golden pine desk glistening in the sunlight. The heavy, dark pipe legs beginning to sparkle.
Creation’s pine sat on top of man’s metal. Creation would have the last word. Then the desk lid opened and a bright light beamed out across the land. The spirits of tortured, and hurt people killed in genocide streamed out and were being set free. They were on their ways back home.
I saw “Desk” as a desk – just a desk.
“Desk” would not steal the show. Desk would inspire conversation, bring people together with their shared stories. Just a simple old school desk would not teach or learn, it would be a vehicle whereby sharing would be encouraged.
Inspired by Dada, an art form born out of the same Modern era as Indian Residential Schools, “Desk” was constructed under the streaming sunlight cascading through the basement windows of Ontario Hall.
As “Desk” was reaching the finality of its construction, it drew attention of gallery curators. When “completed” it did as it was meant to do… release pain, inspire storytelling, and gather people into an atmosphere of a supportive sharing circle.
When in “The Studio,” it was placed in a dimly lit corner. A light trickled down upon its surface as a bright light shone out of “Desk” from under the opened lid out into the darkened studio space.
As the sun outside was setting, I noticed something very special that made the studio placement of “Desk” meaningful to me.
Outside “The Studio” there is a hallway separating it from a little courtyard surrounded by windows.
In the early evening under blue skies and a descending sun, “Desk” was reflected in such a way that it appeared to be outside with nature growing all around. In that moment, “Desk” was no longer institutionalized. It was like I had originally planned, it was in nature with birds and butterflies.
The allusions of desk were released into Creation and a sense of calm, peace and hopefulness washed over me.
“Desk” was not to be beautiful – the message, as it appeared in Creation, was BEAUTIFUL!
In the Studio
Creation Process & Construction of
“Desk” at The Studio Gallery, Kingston, Ontario
Belleville, Ontario, Canada