Eva Manly, a graduate of Ottawa U. (BFA ‘85), is a multi-disciplinary artist who has worked primarily in video and video installation. She combines her interest in video as a portrait and story telling medium with a longstanding commitment to justice issues. Manly’s videos focus on social themes: the experience of refugees, Central America, unplanned pregnancy, “free trade”, and gender inclusive language. Manly uses a variety of approaches from docu-drama and documentary to farce and sees video production as a collaborative process. Her work has been screened across Canada and in festivals including the Latin American Film Festival in Cuba and the Berlin Video Festival.
Since moving to Nanaimo in 1997 Manly shifted her creative energy & concern for social justice issues into activism; peace, war resisters, fair trade, residential school issues, organizing & co-ordinating community & church sponsorships of Palestinian refugee families, & helping to form Mid-Islanders for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (MIJPME) which sponsors educational events on issues of Palestine / Israel. She is also active in UNJPPI - United Network for Justice & Peace in Palestine / Israel and Gaza's Ark.
Manly's videos include: …a few questions (1988), The Winning of the North (1989), A Story to Tell You (1990), Ur-Analysis (1993), Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow (1993), The Awakening of Elizabeth Shaw (1996) and documentaries: Gonna Have Union, Women, Crisis, Participation: Voices of Women in El Salvador, A People Called to Speak & Bringing Truth to Light (Guatemala)
Manly says that one of the pleasures of her years of video collaboration has been working with her son Paul Manly as they worked together and co-produced and number of these videos - a rich and productive partnership!
Eva Manly: In Retrospect
By Karen Knights, June 1997
For a VIDEO IN video retrospective
The first video of Eva’s I saw was The Winning of the North which stood out not only for its wordless and humourous satire, but because it was one of only a handful of Canadian tapes produced by artists on Free Trade a fact I have found quite baffling. A while later in a completely different context, I was impressed by another work, a few questions. I was startled to note that this was by the same director. The approach and style were completely different. This dramatic recreation of one woman’s disturbing experience with Canadian police was frightening in it’s portrayal of a banal yet potent system of intimidation, and poignant in it’s telling of the far too common, yet almost always untold, experiences of refugees in this country.
This ability to shift almost effortlessly between genres, to apply innovative structures to each new subject, to represent the experiences of others with respect, and to maintain an authentic voice are, I have discovered, rare qualities ones which Eva has nurtured in her own diverse body of work.
For each piece of video art using experimental forms exploring economic issues like clear cutting or Free Trade, there is one which uses more traditional dramatic elements to relate the experiences of women with Canadian abortion or immigration laws. And for each of these stories, there is a process video which gives voice to the experiences of contemporary, international communities struggling against human rights violations in Guatemala or El Salvador. And for each of these documents on current struggles, there is one on histrical struggles back in Canada about the abuses in the residential school system at the turn of the century, or the rise of trade unionism in the wood working industry in the 30’s and 40’s. But within each of these diverse works lies a core belief in human rights and an honest and inspired engagement with the issues and individuals involved.
In many ways The Awakening of Elizabeth Shaw echoes a wide range of strategies and ideas found in previous works dramatic re-enactment of a true story, an emphasis on women’s experiences with western patriarchy, the toppling of assumptions about Canada as a ‘free’ country, and the inclusion of Canada in any discussion of human rights violations.
Eva has, through this video as in others, facilitated the telling of another’s story only in this instance, the story of someone long dead and, until now, effectively silenced. Yet, as with a story to tell you or a few questions .it is the subject which tells her story. It is Elizabeth’s original words which dominate not Eva’s. Awakening resurrects Elizabeth’s experiences, takes the evidence of witnessed abuse out of the archives where it lay, ignored, and returns Elizabeth’s voice to her. It transports her through a kind of technical seance, to the end of another century. Once private correspondence is now broadcast to an entire nation - to the grandchildren of the children hurt there, to the grandchildren of those who hurt them.
Elizabeth speaks past the unheard and unhearing, across generations, reviving hope that finally she will be listened to. In hearing the passion in her pleas for action, her frustration at her claims being disbelieved, I cannot help but feel she would only be grateful for the opportunity afforded by another woman on her behalf one hundred years later.
Awakening comes at a time when it is needed; when it provides proof that abuses occurred, and further proof that the institutions involved chose to ignore the proof and thereby perpetuate them. It gives support to those First Nations people who are now seeking acknowledgement or redress; and it provides a blueprint for white activists as to how they can address their culture’s racist past and present.
To scan, even briefly, the work of Eva Manlyis to be inspired by her political commitment and by her ability to engage with disparate communities to represent, rather than appropriate, their struggles. Her ability to be an articulate advocate for women’s and human rights lies, most certainly, in her personal integrity and in her ability to hear what needs to be heard, to be silent when other’s need to speak, and to speak appropriately when others cannot.
To watch, to listen, to engage with Eva Manly’s work is to be reminded of independent video’s historical connection to, and potential for activism to recall what may have inspired us to get involved with it in the first place.