A Sunshine Coast musician and digital artist has combined original music with an artwork by a Métis painter to create a video in dedication to the women who have been murdered or gone missing along B.C.’s Highway of Tears.
Sechelt resident Jon Bentley, saxophonist and producer with the Vancouver chamber jazz trio Waxwing, took the group’s tune “Highway of Tears” and merged it with an animated painting by Ontario artist Christi Belcourt to create the video, which was released on YouTube earlier this month.
The Highway of Tears refers to a notorious section of Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George along which at least 18 women – though family members and advocates say more than 50 – at least 10 of them of Indigenous heritage (but again, the unofficial counts are higher), have been killed or have disappeared since 1969.
Bentley, a full-time musician for the past 25 years, said the downtime brought on by the pandemic provided the opportunity blend his digital art with music, starting with the plaintive, saxophone-driven tune by guitarist Tony Wilson from Waxwing’s latest album, Flicker Down.
“I fell in love with Christie Belcourt’s artwork quite a few years ago,” Bentley said in an interview. “I had this idea of having actual footage of the Highway of Tears and incorporating it into her art. This one painting of hers called The Wisdom of the Universe seemed like it would work.”
Much of Belcourt’s painting is in the tradition of Métis floral beadwork, and she uses the tip of her paintbrush to create figurative patterns in bead-like dots. Bentley’s video starts out darkly, with a barebones version of Belcourt’s painting, which he’s used to surround shadowy, black-and-white footage shot from a car travelling along Highway 16. As the video progresses, the frame slowly fills with an animated version of Belcourt’s colourful and uplifting work, featuring branches, butterflies, flowers, and birds.
Bentley said he sent the final version of the video to Belcourt, who loved it. “It’s so moving. The song ‘Highway of Tears’ brings me to tears. Within this, I feel the sadness give way to hope and renewal,” Belcourt commented on social media. “Thank you, Jon Bentley, for this incredible animation and thank you Waxwing Trio for this beautiful piece. May our sisters forever be safe.”
Bentley said he worked on the project on his own, part-time every day for about six months, using the app Lumafusion on an iPad.
“This is certainly not about promoting myself or the band,” said Bentley. “There’s an important message here. And I would love it if people could see it and if it resonated with them and provided some kind of healing, some kind of awareness of this tragedy.”
See the video below: