Films by Sydney Frances Pascal Show in ‘Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better Than the Real Thing’

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Sydney Frances Pascal in April, 2024, with a handmade, animal-hide drum. (Photo by Perrin Grauer)

By Perrin Grauer

Posted on April 18, 2024 | Updated April 18, 2024, 11:16am

A pair of films by the artist, ECU staff member and alum will screen during the renowned exhibition at one of the international art-world’s premier institutions.

A pair of short films by artist and ECU staff member Sydney Frances Pascal (MFA 2023) have been selected to show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, NY.

Titled distance and n̓áskan nwálhen ninskúz7a (i am going to meet my daughter), the films trace the intergenerational struggle to reconnect undertaken by Sydney’s family.

Having attended an opening for the artists and curators, Sydney says it felt “wild” to meet renowned Indigenous artists as well as art-world luminaries like curator Meg Onli and Whitney director Scott Rothkopf.

“They were all super friendly and sweet,” she says. “They said, ‘You’re Whitney family, we want you to come back. We’re so excited you’re here with us.’ I was just kind of in awe. All I could think of were artists I studied who’ve shown at the Whitney — the Rebecca Belmores of the world. It was a little surreal and kind of strange to think that I was there, too.”

Both films, which were created during Sydney’s studies in the MFA program at Emily Carr, air on May 3 as part of Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better Than the Real Thing. They are included among works by by Samí, Mongolian, Mapuche, Inuk and Native American artists in a film program titled The Land Wants You, organized by guest curator asinnajaq. Sydney will also participate in a conversation following the screening along with asinnajaq, Samí photographer and director Carl-Johan Utsi, and fellow biennial artists Kite and Lada Suomenrinne.

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Still frames from Sydney Frances Pascal's 2022 film, distance. (Images courtesy Sydney Frances Pascal)

Sydney’s family was one of many shattered by the Sixties Scoop. Her mother was separated from her extended family for most of her life. Sydney, a member of the Lil’wat Nation, was born on Vancouver Island and grew up in Alberta. It was only as an adult that she reconnected with her Lil ̓wat7úl community and came to understand her family’s story of displacement.

distance, made in 2022, imagines a search conducted by Sydney’s grandmother whose daughter — Sydney’s mother — was taken without her consent by child welfare authorities in the 1960s. Filmed on Wreck Beach on Musqueam territory, the camera peers quietly into fog-shrouded forests and then out to sea. Sydney, fully clothed, eventually enters the water to swim and then float, a tiny speck on a vast grey ocean.

n̓áskan nwálhen ninskúz7a (i am going to meet my daughter), made in 2023, draws on archival audio from a 1990s BCTV news feature capturing the reunion between Sydney’s grandmother and her adult daughter. The archival audio is complemented by a voiceover from Sydney, recorded at Lillooet Lake, on Lil’wat territory, as well as a Lil’wat song that plays at the end.

“I was thinking through her perspective about what it’s like to be able to go home, and what it means to be able to have that connection to home because of her,” Sydney says.

One of the voice clips is drawn from the naming ceremony that took place on the first day Sydney’s mother and grandmother met in person.

“My grandma says, ‘I still want to hang onto the ties of our history, and I know it may stop at Maria, but it was important I gave her a name.’” But it didn’t stop with my mother, and now me and my brothers are here and we’re doing well. I’m trying to learn the language and other traditions, and I hope she’s happy.”

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Still frames from Sydney Frances Pascal's 2023 film, n̓áskan nwálhen ninskúz7a (i am going to meet my daughter). (Images courtesy Sydney Frances Pascal)

Her grandmother, a longtime land defender and Indigenous rights advocate, is now deceased. Her story is emblematic of the colonial history that continues to shape lives across the country. And Sydney notes this is still living history. She herself is part of the first generation in her family to have not been taken from their parents — a fact she calls “inconceivable,” for all its real and lasting impacts.

Threading the needle between her characteristic humility and resoluteness, Sydney notes that taking on the work of speaking for an entire nation’s history is no longer her — or her family’s — burden to bear.

“Art is for everyone to look at or consume, but I only really make it for my family’s approval and for my community,” she says. “I’m doing it for me and my mom, my family, to feel better and to move through something we didn’t really know how to get past. As long as they’re happy, I feel like I’m doing it in a good way. I really don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

Though she adds that “to have my grandmother’s voice travel to different parts of the world, echoing out there is amazing.”

Look for distance and n̓áskan nwálhen ninskúz7a (i am going to meet my daughter) in the 2024 virtual edition of The Show graduating student exhibition.

Visit Sydney’s website and follow her on Instagram to learn more about her work.

Visit ECU online to learn about studying in the Master of Fine Arts program at Emily Carr.

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