New Art Brings Colour and Culture to the Law School

Maud Rozee (3L)

Students returning from a summer away from the law school were pleasantly surprised to find several new art pieces brightening up the Jackman Law Building. The two most prominent are a painting next to the elevator in the atrium and a blue glass piece above the stairs to the lower level.

While the former was unveiled as “A Meeting Place for All Our Relations,” by artist Jay Bell Redbird, at a ceremony on June 29th, 2017, the latter is set to be unveiled at some point during October. Former Art Initiative member Professor Karen Knop told Ultra Vires that she encourages students and faculty to stay tuned for the event, where the artist will “introduce the idea and process behind the piece” and explain “how it relates to the new building and to law.” Plaques for both, she assured, are coming soon.

Though A Meeting Place for All Our Relations was produced by Redbird, a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation, who splits his time between Toronto and Cape Breton, the piece was originally conceived by the Indigenous Law Students Association (ILSA). According to the Faculty of Law website, they imagine the painting as a representation of the “Indigenous history, presence, and ways of life in the territory on which Toronto is built.”

At the unveiling ceremony, ILSA Co-President Zachary Biech spoke about the importance of the piece as a representation of Toronto as a meeting place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike. He also highlighted the potential for U of T law to play a part in nurturing ongoing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians:

We acknowledge that this moment, this event, comes at a very pivotal time in the history of both this law school, with the new building, but also this country as a whole. Because, for hundreds of years, institutions of law in Canada have almost singlemindedly pursued the destruction of these [Indigenous] lifeways, and the people who lived them. And much has been sacrificed to ensure that those lifeways survive. Much continues to be sacrificed every day […] And yet, we now also live in a time where institutions like the University of Toronto Faculty of Law are becoming beacons of hope. Hope that these lifeways and the people who live them will resurge so that we can shine a light for all the people of this land once again. And we are entering a truly exciting time.

But we are at the crossroads. There is a choice before us. We do have the freedom to choose how we take our next steps. We can either choose to be a part of the colonial problem […] or we can choose to embrace, engage, celebrate, and nourish these lifeways. Of coming together, sharing, building relationships, and moving forward. And I believe if we do that, then we can create truly beautiful things.

U of T students agree that the piece brings eye-catching beauty to the law school. “It feels politicalit’s refreshing,” a 1L told us. “I like that it’s colourful,” said an undergrad in Kinesiology. “I like the designs on the animals… I’m sure there’s a hidden meaning that I’m not capable of dissecting,” another law student told us. Even two Singaporean exchange students, unfamiliar with the history of Indigenous people in Canada, were struck by the depth of meaning in the piece: “It seems like a combination of the urban jungle and nature… I’m sure it goes back to the Indigenous themes of the piece.”