The premise of “Indescribable” is attention-grabbing right from the start: murder. At the centre of this art show are two stories of murder. Five artists have worked to make sense of the senseless, exploring feelings and memories related to personal tragedy in this exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg.
You might expect the exhibit would take the viewer on a dark journey into a family’s bitterness and anger, but that is not the case. While those may be brief stops on the path, the ultimate destination is forgiveness and an overwhelming sense of God’s love. I was proud of these families’ ability to forgive, and blessed that they’d share their personal journeys with such openness and vulnerability.
Candace’s story is well-known: a Grade 7 student, she vanished on her walk home from school, to be found dead and bound in a utility shed close to her home six-and-a-half weeks later. It wasn’t until 2011, twenty-seven years later, that her killer was found and brought to justice.
Candace’s father Cliff Derksen and younger sister Odia Reimer, both artists, have processed feelings and memories with their art. For Derksen, it has been a way to cope since the trial. Some of his pieces are gut-wrenching, others are whimsical. In a series of sculptures about King David, Derksen clearly relates to the highs and lows of David’s journey. The drawing “Holy Ground” shows larger-than-life stockinged feet of each member of the Derksen family as they declared “holy” the ground of the court waiting room where God was with them, giving comfort and protection. The large size and shallow depth of field help the viewer connect and make the simple subject surprisingly emotional.
In his clay sculpture “6.5 weeks,” Derksen related to Candace’s death by putting himself in her shoes. He modelled two life-sized hands bound with rope: “The hands are mine. I could not bear to make her hands. I wished they would have been mine instead.”
In Reimer’s art, the journey of creating is as important as the finished works themselves. On each of the 24 days of the trial, she crocheted yarn into rounds – the longer the day, the larger the round. Using only 3 colours, Reimer switched from one to another based on how she was feeling in the courtroom at the time. The end result, “Evidence of a Trial,” is 24 rounds mounted on black panels. The piece makes this disturbing event orderly and accessible to some degree by using the domestic activity of crocheting as documentation: “Without evidence we cannot say without a shadow of a doubt that we endured, that we suffered, that we experienced anything. Here is my evidence.”
Seven rows of 70 crocheted and felted white tears are suspended from the ceiling in “70 X 7.” It is powerful to see what the forgiveness God calls us to can look like. Reimer intended to make them all herself, but found she wouldn’t be able to meet her deadline without help. This seems a practical example of our need to be supported and helped along in our faith by others. Two artist friends of the Derksens, Steve Penner and Angela Lillico, also contributed work to the show based on their experiences at the trial.
The final artist in the show is Kelsie Trudeau whose older brother Morgan was struck dead in 2003 with the swing of a baseball bat to the back of his head. As a 15-year-old student, she was at the MHC Gallery for an art class and met curator Ray Dirks, who, after hearing her story, invited her to join the show. Another curator at the gallery, Deb Danelley, mentored the young artist. Her work explores memories of her brother in diverse mediums.
Honesty, forgiveness, and reliance on God for strength were clearly demonstrated in all the artwork. These families have had to forgive much and I was reminded that God has forgiven much in me, so how can I help but extend that to others?
The show will run at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery until Mar. 10.