On the Road to Freedom: Mennonite Women of Courage and Faith by Ray Dirks will be opening at Mennonite Heritage Village on November 15. The works featured in this exhibit will remember the lives of the Mennonite women who lived under Stalin’s “reign of terror” and their journey to find a new home.
Between 1947 and 1952 approximately eight thousand people escaped to Canada. Another four thousand fled to Paraguay, many of whom then immigrated to Canada in the 1950s. What characterized this particular group of Mennonite refugees was the high number of female-headed families and the almost universal issue of missing family members. So many men had simply disappeared, or been arrested and exiled in the Soviet Union, or killed in action as conscripted soldiers in the German or Soviet forces. In their absence, women had to take on new roles and responsibilities as leaders and providers for their families.
These women were not only victims of their circumstances but also agents of change. They were refugees of political upheaval and violence, but they fought to find freedom. Drawing from archival photos and families’ stories, Ray Dirks has created a series of paintings intended to “honour the faith, love, suffering, and strength of Mennonite mothers who brought their children to Canada as refugees from Stalin’s horrors.”
Ray Dirks graduated from the Mennonite Educational Institute in B.C. in 1973 and studied commercial art and design at Vancouver Community College. He has worked as an artist and curator around the world, with solo exhibitions in Ethiopia, Cuba, India, the United States and Canada, and has participated in exhibitions and workshops in Kenya, Sudan, Trinidad, Cuba and the Netherlands. He has also been involved with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) projects such as the exhibit Just Food: The Right to Food from a Faith Perspective. Dirks is currently the Curator of the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg.
On the Road to Freedom will be on display in the Gerhard Ens Gallery at MHV from November 15 until March 15, 2013. The Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.