GRAND FORKS — The news of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind’s murder struck artist Kimberly Forness Wilson "so totally deeply" that she started painting.
She created a 6-foot-by-4.5-foot painting titled “She Brings Them Home,” now displayed at her gallery in Grand Forks. In the piece, bright colors swirl in the background, but are overshadowed by dark shades to symbolize the grief of losing Savanna. In the middle, a woman is walking away, “carrying Savanna to the stars,” Wilson said. In the foreground are the faces of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“I put a lot of bright colors and motion in the painting to keep your focus,” she said. “I didn’t want a passive grief. I wanted the energy to stay, so you look at it and really have conversations.”
LaFontaine-Greywind, 22, was eight months pregnant when she went missing from her Fargo home on Aug. 19, 2017. Her baby was cut from her womb, and the child survived. Searchers found LaFontaine-Greywind's body in the Red River nine days later.
Her case sparked congressional bills such as Savanna’s Act to help address the North American crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. The case spurred grassroots efforts, like Wilson’s, as well.
Wilson said LaFontaine-Greywind’s murder had an impact on her family, as her husband is Native Hawaiian along with her daughter. But she said the loss is devastating to everyone.
“I’ve always walked with the belief that everybody has a gift of life in them,” she said. “Somebody as bright and shining as Savanna is a loss to all of us.”
Wilson held on to the painting until she felt it was the right time to show it. In August, she hosted a group walking 550 miles along the Red River to honor the water and bring attention to violence against indigenous women. That's when she met Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, who helped start the Fargo Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force after Savanna's murder. That's when it "all clicked," Wilson said.
On Aug. 10, the artist displayed the piece for the first time at her Arts for Vets gallery at 215 N. 3rd St. in Grand Forks. More than 200 people walked through. In addition to putting the painting on display, Wilson played a song she wrote titled “Oh My My” about a woman singing to her abductor.
At the event, some people cried. Others asked questions about Savanna and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. And many bought copies of the painting. Wilson donated the $250 raised from the sales to the Fargo MMIW Task Force.
Human trafficking and the MMIW crisis are hard for people to fathom, Wilson said, but art and music make it easier to process.
“I try to do my part to bring awareness and to tell the stories so people don’t forget,” she said.
She plans on continuing to display the piece at her gallery as well as traveling with it when asked. Wilson said she hopes to sell the painting to a person or corporation that makes a sizable donation to the Fargo MMIW Task Force. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I just encourage a lot of people to raise their voices creatively regarding these issues,” she said. “I hope North Dakota learns how to sing it out, paint it out, really get this conversation out there and then take action.”