Thursday, February 10, 2011

Three Sisters

I just finished the following assignment for school a day or so ago. The assignment was to propose a work of public artwork, which got me thinking about Scarborough, my old neighbourhood, and it's history, which I only had a vague idea about. The assignment gave me an excuse to delve a little further into said history-- specifically the history of the Iroquois in Scarborough-- as well as to explore a new side of my ongoing interest in food-y art.

Three Sisters

My idea for a work of public art stems from the history-- as well as my own experiences--of the Scarborough neighbourhood I grew up in. My project, entitled Three Sisters, attempts to draw a parallel between urban food insecurity, urban horticulture, and the history of subsistence farming practices of the early Iroquois in Ontario.

While growing up, I was always vaguely aware of the presence of a monument on a hill a few blocks away from the apartment building where I lived. In researching the monument and the history of early native inhabitants of Scarborough, I learned that in 1956, while steam-shovelling in the area preparing for the building of a new suburban subdivision, two Iroquois ossuaries were found near the intersection of Lawrence Avenue and Bellamy Road. The ossuaries were estimated to contain the bones of about 472 individuals The burial took place in about 1250 CE and was part of a Feast of the Dead ceremony, which typically took place at the time of village relocation. Shortly after discovering the ossuaries, the area was declared a historic site and a reburial service was performed by Six Nations chiefs. Today, Tabor Hill is now officially designated as a native cemetery ground. Additional research indicates that as early as 1100 CE, early Iroquois inhabited and practiced agriculture in a limited scale in parts of Scarborough and Pickering.

While Tabor Hill is located facing a quiet residential street, the main arteries that surround the cemetery are lined with high-rise apartment buildings that are home to many low-income individuals and families. Recently, I became interested in issues of urban food insecurity for the working poor, for people on social assistance as well as for populations of people in depressed, under-serviced urban neighbourhoods. Hunger and insufficient nutrition are realities for many people in Toronto. This problem is being addressed in part by the growing number of inspiring community gardens and urban horticultural initiatives in inner-city Toronto neighbourhoods such as Alexandria Park and Parkdale. Such initiatives bring to mind Iroquois practices of subsistence farming, within which the “three sisters”-- corn, beans, and squash-- were dietary staples.

My goal is to create a public artwork that combines my artistic interest in the culture of food with the horticultural practices and symbols of the Iroquois and the burgeoning urban horticulture movement. My proposal involves the placement of three bronze sculptures in a parkette on Greenbrae Circuit in Scarborough, across from a cluster of high and mid-rise apartment buildings. The sculptures would each be approximately 6-8’ tall and 15-20’ wide, and would structurally resemble both Iroquois longhouses and hoophouses, which are essentially greenhouses with a flexible material draped and tied over the frame. This “longhouse” shape seems like an appropriate structure to work with, given not only it’s structural relationship to the hoophouse, but also to the highrise apartment, which is meant to accommodate a number of people through the upward and outward stacking of living quarters.

Each of the Three Sisters sculptures would be cast with a different surface treatment, each one alluding to and resembling the “three sisters” of the Iroquois-- corn, beans and squash. Ideally, the sculptures will not only beautify the parkette, but will exist to house and shelter community gardens for the apartment buildings directly across the street.

The purpose of my project, Three Sisters, is two-fold-- the sculptures will not only serve as a monument to the history of aboriginal people in Scarborough, but they also serve as a new kind of monument-- one that quite literally serves and nurtures the community that they are currently situated in.

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