Last year for Red Dress Day, Susie O’Connor prepared large prints of old pictures of local Indigenous women who have been murdered or are missing. The moment when the images came out of her printer was profoundly moving for her.

It inspired her to create a powerful series of artistic portraits which she calls her “Red Series.”

“Gabrielle Whiskeyjack brought to our studio a number of digital files that we printed for her in large format for Red Dress Day,” O’Connor said. “It was a watershed moment in our studio when the images of the faces of these missing women and girls were rolling off our printer. And I just wanted to do something more.”

Whiskeyjack, who is from Saddle Lake Cree Nation and Elizabeth Métis Settlement, organizes the local Red Dress Day commemoration for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“Gabrielle connected me with some wonderful Indigenous community members who were all for stepping up and doing this with a red handprint on their face. And so I decided I wanted to create a series that we would have at Red Dress Day to educate our community about missing and murdered Indigenous women,” O’Connor said.

The new photos are powerful, partly because of the power of the people in them, she said; and also because the red handprint symbol conveys a shocking message. 

She tells of one grandmother, a residential school survivor, who refused to wear the red-hand makeup because it symbolized the silencing of Indigenous people. Her daughter and granddaughter, on the other hand, saw the symbol differently. They posed together.

“I respected her point of view that Indigenous women have been silenced for years, so for her it was more of a trigger to put that handprint on her face. So she stood in defiance against that red handprint, with her daughter and her granddaughter who stood with the red handprint,” O’Connor said.

I think it shows generationally how we can change what has affected us.” 

The pictures will be displayed in Cold Lake on May 5 at the Red Dress Day commemorations. After that they will be displayed in Edmonton at the Whiskeyjack Art House.

“Ultimately our goal is to have some of the images in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg,” O’Connor said.