In his recent lecture, Kent Monkman said nobody in art history had addressed the subject of children taken from their parents and sent to residential schools, so he did it.
Kent Monkman, The Scream, 2016
He wouldn’t have any way of knowing it, but Helen Andersen tackled the subject in a series of works, 30 or 40 years earlier. A mother herself, Helen imagined the pain of separation with an image of a little girl crying as she was leaving her mother.
Helen Andersen, When the Indian Children Were Sent Away to the White Man’s School, 1980s
Monkman’s imagined scene is equally valid, identifying villains and victims as well as the passions of the situation. Scope and scale are grander.
Helen made a series of pictures on this theme, a mother drying her sobbing daughter’s eyes. Here, the little girl is leaving her land and her culture, as well as her parents.
Personally, I find Helen’s way into the subject more emotionally direct, personal and convincing … but then, I would. She was my mother.
When I asked the benefactor who helped rescue Helen’s missing pictures if there was one particular piece that she would like to keep, she chose one of the “separation” images. It spoke to her.