Using art as a tool to raise awareness

Sask Bulletin
June 24, 2021
By Jade Ballek

Emma Elstad, a Grade 10 student at Dinsmore Composite School, has embraced the opportunity to make a statement through her artwork.

As a Visual Arts 20 student currently enrolled at the Sun West Distance Learning Centre, Emma was presented an inquiry assignment which invites students to select a human rights/social justice issue that they feel passionately about.

Online teacher Ashley Clarke explained, “The door is wide open to all different types of human rights topics, so this is a place where students are really in control about what they’re talking about and how they will express themselves through art.”

This is an example of the art work of Grade 10 student Emma Elstad in her chosen human rights field of bringing awareness to the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls initiative.

“I first found out about Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls through school,” Elstad said.

“Then I began to notice it more when I saw Tik Toks. I wondered why missing Indigenous women are being overlooked.

“Later, I saw Jordan Marie Daniel on one of my Snapchat stories. She is a human-rights advocate and a runner who dedicated her run in 2019 to 26 missing or murdered Indigenous women. She was the first to use the handprint symbol which symbolizes the silence and lack of interest given to victims,” Elstad added.

Inspired by Daniel, Elstad’s artwork features Alberta Williams, a 24-year-old Indigenous woman from BC who was found murdered on the outskirts of Prince Rupert in 1989. In 2016, Williams’ story was part of an eight-episode CBC podcast called Missing & Murdered by Connie Walker.

As Clarke noted, “Emma had a starting point, but the research, comments and beautiful artwork are 100 percent Emma’s initiation and effort. This one’s all on her and I am incredibly proud of her for putting in the time and effort to show this kind of love and support for MMIW.”

Using pencils, pens and red paint, Emma began by sketching Alberta’s face. Then she turned to the internet to gather more information. Locating the website that documented missing and murdered women, Emma also created a record of missing/murdered women in Canada in her artwork.

“All the names in red are murdered women and the ones in black are still missing,” Emma explains. “This is a huge problem right now that is just being overlooked right now especially with a pandemic going on. I feel it is not right for this to be happening. People have the power to fix it and make it right.”

Elstad is passionate about finding a solution to this problem. “It makes my blood boil when I hear people disregard Indigenous people for living their lives the way they want to. So many Indigenous women are missing right now, and it needs to be addressed. I know my art won’t go far but I hope more people can help fix the problem.”

Ballek is principal of Dinsmore Composite School.