July 8 – August 15, 2023
Button Factory Arts
25 Regina Street South
Waterloo, Ontario

“It was a gift to my parents on their wedding day. A four point, Hudson’s Bay Company blanket. Beautiful. Practical. Quintessential Canadiana. I was born 10 months later.”

With these words, photographer Mark Walton begins an exploration of his (and our) complicity in cultural genocide. Starting with memories growing up in Winnipeg to fathering two non-identifying Mohawk sons, the exhibition ranges from childhood fantasy to cold realization.

COMPLICITY is on view at Button Factory Arts until August 15.

Complicity is synonymous with being involved in an act of wrongdoing – immoral or illegal. In Mark Walton’s project, titled Complicity, it becomes a personal autobiographical accusation; a sharing of his journey from unknowingly to knowingly being complicit, in a damaging history surrounding Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Walton’s (exhibition) opens with a small Polaroid image of a Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket. From there… we, as viewers, become engaged in a visual journey consisting of images punctuated with text that form a fragmented narrative and re-imagined time-capsule of charged emotive realities.

~ Shirley Madill, from COLONIALSM CHIC: From Beaver Pelts to HBC Blankets

I offered some ideas and commentary to Mark for this project which functions on both a very personal level but also resonates in a larger sense (we had several interesting exchanges about living on the prairies and the distance – the gulf, if you will – between reality and the national imaginary that still suffuses our understanding of history).

Go see this exhibition and narrative, if you’re able.

““Ultimately what we inherit are relationships and our beliefs about them,” writes Aurora Levins Morales. “We can’t alter the actions of our ancestors, but we can decide what to do with the social relations they left us.” In order to understand these relationships, we need to listen to the histories that we were not told so that we can begin to remember the things buried beneath the histories we were.”  (Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future, by Patty Krawec)

~ Bart Gazzola

On July 8, 2023, Mark Walton’s show “COMPLICITY” opened to the public at Button Factory Arts in Uptown Waterloo. 

The show, inspired by Walton’s own personal experience knowing those impacted by colonialism and cultural genocide, takes viewers on a thought-provoking journey through hard-hitting topics untouched by many.

In an Instagram post about the showing, Walton describes how COMPLICITY is a “very personal project” about his experience as a “white Canadian boy growing up in 1970s Winnipeg.”

Now the father of two “non-identifying First Nations sons”, it is clear that the message of COMPLICITY hits close to home for Walton.

After all, as Walton states in his post, “WE ARE ALL CULPABLE.”

Key to my experience of the show was a nighttime photo of the Empire Theatres location that once held a spot at The Boardwalk outdoor shopping mall in Waterloo (the location is now part of the Landmark Cinemas chain). Bathed in a soft glow from surrounding streetlights, the looming title “EMPIRE” bathed in red LED’s feels particularly ominous – residing on stolen land, the cinema serves as a reminder of our modern-day “empire” due to colonialism.

When asked about what he wishes viewers to take away from COMPLICITY, Walton states that while his role is more direct than most, “every “Canadian” wears the stripes in some way.”

In addition, Walton elaborates on how “We all bear some responsibility for the inequity faced by indigenous peoples, and we all have a responsibility to question our roles moving forward through the Truth and Reconciliation process… I hope COMPLICITY at least starts the conversation for those who see it.”

Regarding the shocking nature of some of the photographs, Walton asks for viewers to look beyond the images: “Some won’t look beyond the images of the models… but if they dig deeper they will realize those photos are an indictment of the garbage that was fed to my 8 year old brain…”

While stating that the exhibition is “imperfect”, Walton elaborates on how “There is neither the space nor the means to impart the context necessary to fully understand the message. Did you lift the photo of me as a 1 year old to get to the image below it? That shouldn’t be hidden. But it is.”

Highlighting our culpability as Canadians to wrongdoings of the past, COMPLICITY is a must-see exhibit. Open until Aug. 12.

~ Brontë Behling – The Cord