“Paz” was inspired by a pivotal moment in history both in Mexico and on the world stage. As COVID was quietly creeping in and about to completely rewrite our lives, millions of Mexican women were about to do the same for their own. According to Oxfam, 7 out of every 10 women in Mexico experience violence, with the rate of “femicide” (the murder of a woman for gender-based reasons) nearly doubling since 2007. According to the United Nations, 98% of gender-related killings in the Latin American region are not prosecuted. In 2019, the Mexican government recorded 1,006 incidents of femicide.
On March 9th, 2020, millions of women in Mexico went on a 24-hour strike to stand up against gender-based violence with the goal of criminalizing femicides nationally. It’s estimated the #ADayWithoutUs strike cost the Mexican economy around $1.37 billion. A government that had long turned and looked the other way finally took notice.
Gender inequality is one of the biggest social and political issues in Mexico, but the women there don’t have to fight alone. Many NGOs support programs and funding to empower a safer and more equitable future for them, including participation in government policies and social movements. Oxfam is one of them, creating projects to fight violence against women, co-investing with other organizations for women’s economic empowerment programs.
I painted Paz as a tribute to the courage and determination of the millions of women who stood up and said, “Enough!” In the west, we often take for granted the right to protest without harm. In many countries, an act of protest can mean risking your life. March 9th, 2020 was a turning point in Mexico, with women standing next to their daughters and granddaughters against the wishes of fathers, something the grandmothers had never been able to do for themselves.
I chose the name “Paz,” which means “peace,” as a wish for something women have had precious little of but are paving the road to in world-changing ways.
Amparo is an homage to the thousands of Chilean women who mourned the disappearance of their husbands, brothers and sons under the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990. In the 80s, I nearly wore the tracks off Sting’s album “Nothing Like the Sun” on which a protest song called “They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo)” introduced me to the plight and resilience of these women. It was heartbreaking to watch them dance the Cueca, the national dance of Chile, alone with photographs of their disappeared loved ones pinned to their dresses. It was one of the things that propelled my lifelong quest to find ways to be a better servant leader for women whose voices had been silenced.
I’ve been playing the song a lot as I’ve been painting, particularly when creating Zenevieva, a nod to the resilience of the women in Ukraine living under the occupation of a Russian dictator hauntingly reminiscent of the Pinochet regime in Chile. From his suppression of opposition to the executions and forced disappearances of upwards of 3,200 people, the internment of as many as 80,000, and the torture of tens of thousands, Pinochet’s rampant human rights violations are deathly familiar. His regime’s routine rape and torture of women was unprecedented and deeply sadistic.
Click through to learn more about how the resilient Chilean women used subversive works of art to both resist and to overcome.
Memengwaa is one of the earliest paintings I did when I started the “All the lives that surround us are in us” project as I was going through chemo last year. Her name is Ojibwe for “butterfly.” Instead of celebrating Canada Day, I chose to renew my commitment to better understanding and making reparations for what my ancestors did to our First Peoples, and for what I and others continue to do in our failure to act to protect and honour you and your families.
I respectfully acknowledge that the land on which I live is the traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy of First Nations, comprised of the Ojibwe, the Odawa, and the Potawatomi Peoples. I commit to being an engaged and respectful advocate for bringing fully to light the grave harm we caused you through the Canadian Residential Schools and the genocide of Indigenous people, to getting to the bottom of what has been covered up, to ensuring your children are recovered and brought back home, to listening and hearing what you share in guiding the execution of full reparations.
There are a lot of things to heal, and it’s going to continue to be hard to do that because this isn’t a single point of harm but many systemically entrenched traumas that are still deeply embedded in our economy and our culture.
One of the things that always get in the way of this is the lack of a will to change things. The people who continue to benefit economically from this are the people with the power, the people who stand to lose from things changing, and that is definitely those of us with white privilege.
Click through for resources to help change the story.
I first heard about Dr. Gabor Maté in the classes I was taking last year to learn more about my brother’s schizophrenia and how to be a good support to him while taking better care of myself. Dr. Maté is a Canadian physician who started out as a family practitioner, moved into palliative care and then onto the treatment of addictions. He is very highly regarded, and it expanded my view of what addictions are and led to quite a few Aha! Moments about the role they play in sabotaging my mental and physical health.