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Unearthing the truth a complicated and painful process for artist

Indigenous artist Dazaunggee Shilling, above, is one half of the exhibit Together in Spirit: Dialogue in Image at the Aurora Town Hall gallery. In a ‘painted conversation’ with artist Ted Fullerton, Shilling and Fullerton share their respective stories related to Truth and Reconciliation. Photo row, below, from left: Dazaunggee stands in front of The Star Child, oil on canvas; three selections of Dazaunggee’s writings.

By Wayne Doyle

It’s been said the truth will set you free.

And while unearthing the truth can sometimes be a painful thing, it is, sometimes, the only way to find your essence – your true oneness with the world – according to artist Dazaunggee Shilling.

Dazaunggee and fellow artist Ted Fullerton opened their exhibit Together in Spirit: Dialogue in Image at the Aurora Town Hall Gallery this past Saturday. The exhibit is composed of paintings initially created to be in dialogue with each other that speak to Reconciliation. 

Dazaunggee, a Chippewa of Rama First Nation, was born into an already broken circle, and grew up in a time of severe cultural oppression. Fullerton grew up in Port Credit – Mississauga, Ontario – in a middle class home full of privilege and encouragement. 

They met in the early nineties and befriended through a mutual respect for each other and their creative work within the arts. After not seeing each other for a number of years they met again by chance in the spring of 2018.

“Ted and I were sitting at his place in the yard and talking about life, talking about creating works together,” Dazaunggee recalled. “We had a conversation and from our conversation he would paint a painting, give it to me and I would do another one based entirely on our conversation and give it back.

“But it was going much deeper than that.”

With every exchange, the conversation deepened and became more personal. It was the perfect opportunity for Dauzanggee to speak about his experiences.

“I thought it would be nice to speak to him about my experiences and what really happened, the truth,” said Dauzanggee. “I’ve been punished for who I am, right? I’ve been called a savage. Been told that I’m worthless, I’m nothing. My people have been punished – they’ve been raped, they’ve been molested and hurt so badly.

“The truth is difficult but we all need to go there, it’s not just a First Nations issue.”

Dazaunggee talks about the way his people were treated – beaten, tortured and even killed in the name of Christianity. Surprisingly, he doesn’t seem to bear any animosity toward those who did these horrendous deeds.

“They were driven by a belief, a belief they held in their mind that they were doing God’s work,” he said. “This wasn’t God’s work. What they were doing was evil. But they believed their’s was the only way.”

He then tells a story of a girl under the age of 10, one of his people, who had her fingernails ripped off in front of her two younger siblings.

“The only reason the nuns did that was so that the younger ones would do as they were told. It was a way for them to control us, to oppress us.”

Many of Dazaunggee’s works in the Aurora exhibit touch on these topics – the faces of the girls are dotted with tears; red droplets drip from crosses; surreal dreamscapes of childlike characters leading away from a cross.

And while the images may make some viewers uncomfortable, that’s part of the healing process.

“A lot of people find it difficult to heal because they don’t want to see the truth,” Dazaunggee said. “But you have to get to the truth to heal fully. Art is an important part of my journey. 

“Maybe the most important.”

Together in Spirit: Dialogue in Image will be at the 2nd Floor Gallery: Aurora City Hall, 100 John West Way until November 19.

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