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Jeff Funnell's art installation "Notes from the Inquest" at the Mackenzie Art Gallery

Head curator of the MacKenzie Art Gallery Timothy Long is excited to showcase the gallery's newly donated art installation Notes from the Inquest from Canadian Artist Jeff Funnell. “We have a really strong history of collecting works by First Nations artists. Mr. Funnell is non-Indigenous, but there is a context for that work here that I think was important.” Long says that Funnell’s work shows a “great deal of sympathy and interest in the proceedings.”

First shown as an exhibit in 1991, the installation features 90 courtroom drawings from the March 1988 coroner’s inquest that investigated the circumstances surrounding the police shooting of J.J. Harper. Harper, a Wassagamack Cree leader, was shot and killed by Winnipeg police constable Robert Cross in Winnipeg in March 1988.

Funnell sat in on the inquest and sketched scenes from the courtroom proceedings. The installation also includes his personal commentary and notes from his time at the inquest. These comments help to give additional context to each scene that he documented.

Harper’s murder along with other similar incidents encouraged the creation of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry which ws comissioned in 1988, with its final report being presented in 1991. This comission examined “the relationship between the Aboriginal peoples of Manitoba and the justice system.” The inquiry was one of the early examples of accountability for the treatment and injustices of Indigenous people specifically racial profiling. Funnell’s art installation helps put these issues in the spotlight.  

The MacKenzie Art Gallery is striving to continue this conversation.

“We’re trying to create a space of dialogue and intercultural awareness especially with these exhibits that address themes related to settler Indigenous relations.”

Long continued to say that the installation is “a really important statement about reconciliation about how we can create productive dialogues between indigenous and non indigenous communities.”

Long says that the installation will help to provide a “broader background” of social context leading into the gallery's Transformative Landscapes: Contemplating Space, Time, and Connection programming series that is going to be unveiled in May. The series focuses on exploring the themes of reconciliation, intercultural relations and national commemoration through public art created on Treaty 4 territory.

Long says that before it went on display the gallery was “looking for an occasion to show the work because it is a major addition to our collection.” And leading up to the Transformative Landscapes series seemed like the perfect opportunity to showcase their newest acquisition.

“We thought that this particular installation, which comes to terms with the themes of public art, reconciliation and intercultural relations was really important to address as we were thinking about the possibility of doing a major public art work for Treaty 4 territory.”

In the midst of the reconciliation discussion Long does have a goal in mind for the installation at the gallery.

“I hope that people coming to the gallery would have a chance to reflect on those issues to get a sense of just how deep an impact things like the Harper inquest have had on our understanding of these issues, especially around how our Indigenous people are treated by the legal system and often mistreated, and that they would take away from that greater sympathy and insight.”

The Notes from the Inquest installation runs until Feb 4, 2018.