May 5 is Red Dress Day in Canada, and Canadians are encouraged to wear red in order to draw attention to the more than 1000 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.
The REDress Project was the idea of Metis artist Jaime Black, who is based in Winnipeg, MB. Black was inspired to commemorate missing and murdered aboriginal women while attending a conference in Germany, where Jo-Ann Episkenew – an indigenous professor, writer and researcher – spoke about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
According to Black’s website, “The REDress Project, focuses around the issue of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. It is an installation art project based on an aesthetic response to this critical national issue. The project seeks to collect 600 red dresses by community donation that will later be installed in public spaces throughout Winnipeg and across Canada as a visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are no longer with us. Through the installation I hope to draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence.”
Black chose the colour red after speaking with an indigenous friend who told her that red is the only colour spirits can see and is a way of calling the spirits of missing and murdered women and girls back to their loved ones.
The project lasted beyond its initial installation in 2015 and has been exhibited in more than 30 locations in Canada and the United States.
Something of a grassroots movement has grown around Black’s idea and displays of empty red dresses around the country eventually prompted the creation of Red Dress Day, which falls on May 5.
Other notable examples include the Red Dress Jingle Special, which is performed at many powwows in respect to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Singer-Songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie was also inspired by the project to hang an empty red dress prominently on stage at each of her concerts.
Each year, as the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls grows, more and more people of all backgrounds are donning red and hanging empty red dresses outside of their homes and around their towns to memorialize those who have been taken from their own homes and families.
Those taking part in Red Dress Day are encouraged to share photos on social media using the hashtags #mmiwg #reddressproject and #reddressday