In one of many creative projects to mark its 100th anniversary, the BC Teachers’ Federation commissioned the celebrated Argentine-Canadian artist Nora Patrich to create an original painting on a grand scale, in keeping with the strong tradition of muralism in the labour movement.
This legacy project depicts the BCTF’s proud history of teaching and learning, activism and advocacy. As well, it reflects our long-standing relationships of solidarity with teachers and their unions across Latin America.
An award-winning muralist, sculptor, and human rights activist, Nora came to Vancouver as a refugee from the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Of the 30,000 killed or disappeared, seven were members of Nora’s family, including her husband Horacio, assassinated in 1977. Since then, Nora has used her art to celebrate love and beauty, to speak out against injustice, and to build solidarity.
She said it feels especially poignant for her to create a mural that pays tribute to the work of teachers, since she believes that art and education are interdependent. Argentine teachers have recently been on strike and leading the resistance to right-wing policies of the current government of President Mauricio Macri. “The situation there is very extreme,” she said, with massive demonstrations filling the main squares of Buenos Aires and other major cities.
“For me to be here with you now, intertwined with the whole teacher struggle, is very meaningful,” Nora told the teachers at the spring Representative Assembly. “For me, doing this mural for the BCTF is very moving because yours is a union that stands for what I believe in too.”
Nora has created murals for other BC unions including the Health Sciences Association and the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, as well as the Education Faculty at Simon Fraser University.
She has been honoured with many awards, both locally and internationally. She won the annual MOSAIC human rights award and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award here in BC. And in Argentina the national teachers’ union, CTERA, granted her its highest award, the Maestro de Vida, which means “Teacher of Life.” It is given to recognize those who “through the testimony of their life and work illuminate the way to a more just society for all.”
In the BCTF mural, the central figure is an Aboriginal woman who holds a cedar bough in her left hand. Her arms are wide open to embrace two other teacher figures who form the focal point of the scene. “She is the Mother Earth figure who welcomes and protects us, who holds us together as one,” Nora said.
At the top of the frame are images of activism: teachers with their umbrellas protesting at the BC Legislature, others with their picket signs. Rooting the frame are images of teaching and learning: a band leader with his baton and children singing, teachers reading together, students of diverse ethnicities at a computer, children playing ball. Another key figure is a judge of the BC Supreme Court, with the scales of justice, symbolizing the successful courtroom battles BCTF members have waged to assert their rights.
This is not the first time the BCTF has commissioned a major art work. In 1965, for example, the Federation commissioned a large-scale sculptural piece to mark the opening of the new Education Faculty building at the University of BC. That work remains on the north wall of the Neville Scarfe Building.