Luna festival artist Johnny Bandura imagines future potential of Indigenous children in 215 portraits

A man sitting before a mural of many portraits.
Johnny Bandura with his 215 portraits this summer at the Kamloops powwow grounds. Photo courtesy of Johnny Bandura.
Meagan Deuling - VF 2590 - RevelstokeBC | 23-09-2022
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When Johnny Bandura heard the news last May that remains of 215 children were discovered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential school, he went and got some art supplies, and painted a portrait of an imagined child, grown up.

He painted one portrait, two, three and four. He decided to paint a portrait for each of the dead children found.

 "It did kind of just pour out of me," Bandura said over the phone from Kamloops, where his dad lives.

The portraits are bright, simple paintings. Each has a yellow background. Bandura painted grown ups dressed in pow wow regalia, and as doctors, lawyers, nurses and judges.

"I kind of went with a theme of all the different potential those children could have had if they had made it home from residential school," he said.

Now he lives in Edmonton, but Bandura's grandmother went to the Kamloops residential school, and he himself attended day camps there.

"It always had a very haunting way about it," Bandura said.

Bandura traveled to Revelstoke on Friday, carrying his portraits in two massive Pelican cases. A friend accompanied him to help load the cases into the car, and out into the Roxy Theatre in Revelstoke. Each portrait will be set up on a seat in the theatre for Saturday night's Luna Arts festival.

The portraits have never been displayed like this before. He usually has them all together, like a mural. They've been on display like this at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster. Bandura is a member of the Qayqayt First Nation from that area. Schools would bring children to the mural on field trips. The portraits were also on display at the pow wow grounds in Kamloops last year for the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. They've also been at Thompson Rivers University.

But the first exhibit was at a friend's warehouse in Edmonton, "a very small grassroots type of art show," he said.

One of the first visitors was a woman who attended the Kamloops residential school, too. She's now a nurse.

It made him see instant results from his project. If the children he portrayed hadn't died, they could have gone on to do any number of things with their lives.

"That’s what we can expect from our future generations if we can produce a good childhood for them and get them in the right programs to go in the professional jobs and trades and things like that.” Bandura said.

The Luna Arts festival is free. Installations will be set up all over town and events will be taking place starting at 6 p.m.