TORONTO TALENT: Sara Golish & Ekow Nimako at this year’s Manifesto Art

Two young women, one black, one white, holding hands and a print of a painting of the black woman

Manifesto Festival 8th Annual Art Show features Visual Artists from around the GTA.

Two young women, one black, one white, hugging each other and smilingI met these two beautiful women, Esie Mensah and Sara Golish, at the Opening Night art exhibit at Manifesto two years ago. Esie was proudly standing in front of the stunning portrait Sara had painted of her. I noted both these women had serious style. But more than that, they had spirit. I have a knack for picking out the good souls in a crowd. They were both vibrant and gracious, two qualities this world needs more of.

I met Ekow Nimako at the same place, Daniels Spectrum, but only just recently during his Building Black Exhibit this past winter. He is also someone who is vibrant and gracious and just like Esie and Sarah, full of talent.


Manifesto About Us from themanifesto.ca on Vimeo.

As part of Manifesto 2014 you can see both Ekow and Sarah’s work at tonight’s 8th Annual Manifesto Art Show

MANIFESTO EVENT DETAILS

WHERE: Steam Whistle Roundhouse, 255 Bremner Blvd.
WHEN: 7pm – 2am
HOW MUCH: $15 advance tickets purchased here
MORE DETAILS: All-ages & Licensed w/ ID and more info on Facebook Event Page

You can see more of Sara’s work Facebook and her website.
More of Ekow’s portfolio on his website and Facebook

Young white woman leaning against a yellow stucco wall
Young black woman leaning against a yellow stucco wall with her right arm outstretched, wearing a shirt that says AFRICA

Young white woman holding a stylized drawing of a black woman, she is in front of a yellow stucco wall
Young white woman leaning against a marble wall holding a stylized print of a black woman
close up shot of a black man's hands holding a lego monkey head
Side profile of a young black man looking at a lego monkey head he is holding in his hand
upclose shot of black man's hands holding a pink lego mask
upclose shot of black man's hands holding a pink lego mask and peering over it
Young black man walking towards camera, wearing round, gold-rimmed glasses and standing in front of yellow stucco wall
Young black man and young white woman hugging each other and smiling, standing in front of yellow stucco wall
All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

OTTAWA LOVE: New Opportunities with The Governor General’s Rideau Hall Foundation, CUAG & Michaëlle Jean’s The Power of the Arts

Diverse group of people standing in half circleRideau Hall Foundation Activators at Rideau Hall, Ottawa. 

In a word this past week has been tremendous! Last fall, on a hunch, I decided to visit Ottawa again after two great visits during the summer for Sakàhan at the National Gallery of Canada. I thought I would stay for just a month. Fast forward a year later and I have decided to make Ottawa my (more) permanent home (with regular visits back to my community in Toronto). The decision to stay has turned out to be a good one!

Now on Board at CUAG, Ottawa!

A week ago it was officially announced that I will be joining the Advisory Board for the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG). When I walked into CUAG for the first time last year to visit Rebecca Belmore’s What is Said and What is Done (literally minutes before it wrapped) I knew I loved what CUAG was up to! Since my arrival in Ottawa they have consistently hosted incredible shows with more amazing ones lined up for the fall season.

Older white man standing in front of podium

Activating Rideau Hall. 

This past weekend I was one of 40 people selected across Canada to be an
“activator” and take part in an incubator for the Governor General His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston’s legacy project Rideau Hall Foundation (Let’s Build Rideau Hall Foundation). As part of the branding team it was our mission to start to envision the key messages and look of the future RHF as well as how to get the word out to potential audiences. It was intense, exhausting and absolutely exhilarating because at the end of it all I realized how truly radical a space I was in. The leaders and co-creators I worked with are committed to building a New Canada that seeks to reconcile historical narratives that have been about exclusion and invisibility in order to grow as a country committed to deep diversity.

Presenting on Culture.

Yesterday I got word that I have been selected to present at the former Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s Power of the Arts Forum. I will be speaking on “THE CURATOR AS A 21ST CENTURY AGENT OF CHANGE: Assessing the role the institutional curator can play in facilitating deep cultural transformation in Canada.”

logo for Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG)

Also a big thank you to Ottawa Art Gallery for inviting me this past August to moderate the “Art as Resistance” Panel as part of the People’s Social Forum Ottawa. Another great experience.

And it doesn’t end there! A few more wonderful initiatives are in the works. Canada’s Capital City is full of Change Agents and Cultural Provocateurs. I have been fortunate to join such a wonderful community of talent!

I <3 #Ottawa!

Teepee on grass in front of river and view of Parliament BuildingsImage by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. Taken during Asinabka Film & Media Festival 2014.

 

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: Making Otherwise – Craft and Material Fluency in Contemporary Art at Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa

woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside

The Art of Craft at the CUAG in Ottawa.

“In The Invention of Craft (2013), Glenn Adamson argues that while a hierarchy of artistic disciplines was established during the Renaissance, the modern classification of craft as distinct from fine art and industry developed between 1750 and 1850, during the Industrial Revolution. Fine art and craft have each acquired their particular histories, disciplines, discourses, methodologies, and iconic works. Today, we have inherited a set of persistent binaries that elevates art above craft and defines craft as “non-art.”

Long shot of gallery with art installationsPhoto of “Making Otherwise” Exhibit by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artists.

In speaking with Heather Anderson, the curator for Making Otherwise: Craft and Material Fluency in Contemporary Art, I asked her if the (considerably more blurred) boundary between art and craft has always been of interest to her. “Yes,” she responds but now that she has had the chance to dive deep into the subject her interest has become more passionate. “You find some threads and you want to keep on pulling them,” she answers.

Image of what looks like wooden chair and planks but is actually porcelainWhen you view this exhibit you can definitely see why. The show is full of work that makes you reconsider your first impression and move towards the pieces in an act of discovery – give your mind a little tug to unwind it all. Marc Courtemanche’s porcelain works deceive you. The installation is so convincing I feel that I can sense the density and weight of the wood as the grain is so painstakingly etched into the surfaces.

Paul Mathieu’s hand painted porcelain bowls play tricks with your eyes and illusions are created as you maneouver around their preciousness and precarious positioning in the gallery space.

Above and below photo of Marc Courtemanche’s “The Studio” (stoneware, porcelain, glaze, metal, rope) by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.long shot of installation of what looks like wood objects in old antique style shed or wrecking yardPorcelain bowl with classical style of painting of man reclining like an odalisque Porcelain bowl with classical style of painting of man reclining like an odalisque Porcelain bowl with classical style of painting of man reclining like an odalisque Above photos of Paul Mathieu’s “Odalisque Bowl, Ian / Edouard” (hand-painted porcelain) by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

Sarah Maloney’s Collapse is a chaise longue that dips with feminine curves but becomes anything but inviting upon closer inspection when you realize there are cast bronze flowers jutting up from the soft surface of the upholstery.

Upclose shot of bronze cast drooping tulips rising from a paisley upholstered couch
long shot of bronze cast drooping tulips rising from a paisley upholstered couch Above photos of Sarah Maloney’s “Collapse” (antique fainting couch, bronze, fabric) by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

Nothing is quite as it seems and the ‘craftiness’ of these artists to influence and cajole us into deeper reflection shows that Heather did a fine job in selecting talent from across Canada.

The work of Ursula Johnson encourages the viewer to unravel her deceptively straightforward presentation of woven busts. They are accessible, no glass case to separate. They are supple, constructed from curved strips of smooth wood. They appear uniform and seem almost weightless. The light colouring makes them very contemporary – like a succinct comment on a minimalist aesthetic. But the process by which Ursula has chosen to construct her busts is a deliberate act that binds her contemporary art practice to a tradition that reaches way back. Ursula learned the art of basket weaving from her great-grandmother, master weaver Caroline Gould, a Mi’kmaw elder from Waycobah Reserve in Nova Scotia.

woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside

The busts are woven with strips of black ash a wood whose current state has been categorized as an endangered species. It’s a wood that traditionally populated the East Coast, the Mi’kmaq territories of Ursula’s ancestors. The procedure to reduce the wood down to the essential strips is a laborious task. Fewer and fewer people have the how-to expertise. Ursula is one of the knowledge keepers.

The lightness of the materials conceals the weight of the subject matter. The busts are about the policy of assimilation – the convoluted categorization of Indigenous people in Canada by way of the Indian Act.

“L’Inuwelti’k (We Are Indian)” is an ongoing series of portrait busts that memorializes individuals and explores Indian Registration and Membership Codes. Johnson called for volunteers who self-identified with a particular code defined by the Indian Act, such as “Male 6.1, Off-reserve.” 

Unlike an assigned number that renders an individual’s personality, character and history invisible through the device of a constructed code, when seen as a collective, the busts actually shift in their contour and size, breaking the initial impression of indistinctness. Each bust speaks to the physical form of the sitter who has participated with Ursula. Ursula’s “de-briefing” process as the sitter comes out of the cocoon-like structure she weaves around them ensures that they are more than a number. Hidden from the sight of the viewer, inside the recessed head of the bust, is the person’s name and details of the encounter Ursula has had with them during a performance of her weaving.

woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside
woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside
woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outsideAbove photos of Ursula Johnson’s “L’Inuwelti’k (We Are Indian)” series (black ash) by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

It is amazing to watch Ursula weave, for many reasons – she is fast and efficient as well as full of grace. She is present with her participant and will do what she can to ensure they are comfortable and supported. Her performance is not set up as though on a stage separated from a crowd of onlookers but rather a shared experience of intimacy she has with both her audience but most especially her sitter.

As I witness Ursula’s performance at Carleton, the beginnings of the framework looks like the yarmulke worn by Jewish men. Soon it resembles the bonnet my Mennonite great-grandmother wore to symbolically identify who she was spiritually and the community she was connected with. Her choice to cover her head was what people would see first, perhaps making assumptions about what they thought she might be before discovering more about the woman she really was.

woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside

When completed it reminds me of the medieval chain mail armour that served as a means of protecting but also masking the identity of the men inside the metal mesh. Heather reflects on something a visitor to the gallery had said about how the busts look like the niqab worn by some Muslim women. She shared with Heather that she believed that the western eye is conditioned to see a Muslim woman who covers her head as part of an unknowable mass rather than as an individual. Heather remarks that “our tendency is to assume very quickly that we can’t differentiate but perhaps we can.”

And we should.

Making Otherwise ends this weekend.This great exhibit offers us a chance to see the art of craft and the politics of identity in a new way.

Image of what looks like wooden chair and planks but is actually porcelain

Also in the show are artists Richard Boulet and Janet Morton.

The exhibit will tour to the following locations:

Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax, NS
(9 October – 30 November 2014)

Cambridge Galleries, Cambridge, ON (10 April – 17 May 2015)

Above image of Richard Boulet’s “Keeps it All Neat and Tidy” by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

Follow CUAG on twitter @CUArtGallery and Facebook.


Above image of “Making Otherwise” by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

Images of Ursula Johnson performing “L’Inuwelti’k (We Are Indian)” at Carleton University by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the midst of researching and writing about this exhibit I was invited to join the CUAG Advisory Board. This came as a welcomed surprise. My experience with CUAG as a reviewer of their exhibits over the past year has been positive and I look forward to starting a different kind of relationship with the team at CUAG.

TORONTO THIS WEEKEND: “Cycle of a Sari” by Nisha Ahuja at Annex Theatre

torso of young woman dancing with hands in pose and wearing sari

“A cosmic combination of storytelling, dance, aerial silks, song, myth, sound, and shadow play.”

torso of young woman dancing with hands in pose and wearing sari“Partitioned from land and love in Sindh, Rani travelled to present day India, and eventually to Turtle Island (North America), also Partitioned Indigenous land. After her passing, Rani’s ashes are taken from her granddaughter, Asha, who calls Rani into her dreams for answers on how to move forward after this interrupted ritual. In the cosmos with grandmothers from other places and times, Rani roots into ancestral wisdom and her life during the Partition and Independence of South Asia all the while longing for her love, Farah.”

Written & Performed by nisha ahuja
Director/Dramaturge: Yvette Nolan
Choreography & Performed by Kumari Giles
Set, Costume & Sound Design: Melissa Moore
Lighting Design: Michelle Ramsay
Production Manager: Shawn Henry
Stage Manager: cassy walker

ANNEX THEATRE
730 Bathurst St, Toronto, ON
September 5, 6 and 7
7pm
$20/PWYC

 

To reserve tickets contact: cycleofasari@gmail.com
Also, connect on Cycle of a Sari Facebook Page.

More about the playwright nisha ahuja on her website.

Young East Asian woman sitting in hanging fabric and holding out an orange peel
Young East Asian woman lying on floor wrapped in a sari with oranges and orange peels around her
Two East Asian women, one is hanging in fabric suspended from the ceiling, the other lying on the floor
Two young East Asian woman hanging from fabric suspended from ceiling
Two young East Asian woman, one stretches her arm to the other
Two young East Asian woman, one hanging from fabric suspended from ceiling the other backlit behind a sari suspended
Two young East Asian woman, one hanging from fabric suspended from ceiling the other backlit behind a sari suspendedTop image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. Images of Cycle of a Sari by Leah Snyder for Cycle of a Sari.

LONG WEEKEND IN TORONTO: Ashkenaz Festival is Back at Harbourfront Centre Toronto

“North America’s Premier Festival of Global Jewish Music & Culture returns…

…with its 10th biennial celebration. Over 200 artists from more than a dozen countries will showcase the vibrancy and brilliance of Jewish artistic traditions, from traditional styles to cutting-edge, cross-cultural fusion.”

If you love Klezmer music, Toronto’s own Lemon Bucket Orkestra and all things Yiddish then by the lake is where you need to be. The 2012 Festival was really amazing and this year’s line up of Jewish performers and musicians from around the globe won’t disappoint. Best of all most of the events are FREE! Harbourfront knows how to do a long weekend well.

HIGHLIGHT TODAY: Lemon Bucket Orkestra will be giving a dance workshop @ 4 pm. “Learn Ukrainian and Breton dances to the thrilling musical accompaniment of Canada’s only klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-superband.” More info…

HIGHLIGHT TOMORROW: The Ashkenaz Parade @ 4 pm.
“Propelled by the music of Lemon Bucket Orkestra and all the Festival musicians, Shadowland Theatre will once again transform Harbourfront Centre into a swirling spectacle of colour, puppetry, stilt-dancing, and performance.”
More info…

See full festival line up here



All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

PUBLIC ENEMY #1: ‘The Accidental Activists’ at Peoples Social Forum Ottawa

Poster on pole that says Defend Our Mother and has a colourful print of a woman holding a child.

Those who become environmental activists by choice and others by necessity.

There are those people that feel called to activism, like those called to religious service.

There are those people that find that because they have a certain professional skill set as well as a social conscious they have what it takes to make a career out of making change.

There are the crusaders, martyrs and wannabe saviours as well as a whole host of other self-serving archetypal personalities that show up to eat at the activist table.

There are those people who do it because there’s a certain kind of sex appeal to being a rebel.

Then there are the ‘accidental activists.’ These are the people who find themselves forced, by life situations, to take action.

Here are my portraits of the accidental activists I met at the Peoples Social Forum. These are the activists that the government would have you believe are Public Enemy #1 because they pose a threat to industry in Canada.

woman holding a shell with smoking sage, smudging with feather

When the Kokums (Grandmothers) and Elders spoke they didn’t talk about their professional credentials or their heroic acts of bravery. Their stories were crippling tales of physical pain brought on by toxic environments that lead to chronic diseases. They spoke about watching their loved ones die from cancers. They told us how landscapes that never experienced dramatic change became unfamiliar almost overnight once industry arrived on or around their reserves. They told us of forests becoming void of wildlife and water void of fish.

They have had to become activists out of necessity. Instead of living out their life on their land surrounded by their grandchildren they are caught up in legal battles, being placed in jail all the while fighting their own health struggles. Imagine the emotional drain of being an advocate for both your land and your body. Nothing is sovereign. Not even your health is self-determined.

Three women marching. One woman smiling and drumming on a traditional First Nations hand drum.

We get to forget the impact that our lifestyle choices have on communities that depend on the land in a different way than we do in urban settings.

As the Peoples Social Forum Canada ends in Ottawa I hope we can honour the stories these women and men shared and carry their work forward.

They have walked long and hard. Let’s pick up their burden.

Chi miigwetch for their relentless service to this planet.

Find out more about the Peoples Social Forum on the website.


Three women marching. One woman smiling and drumming on a traditional First Nations hand drum. Women standing on city street corner drumming and smilingWoman sitting wearing a t-shirt that says ZapatistasMan with long hair and pony tail smiling in crowd of men. One holding a video camera and microphoneMan holding a rolled up flag and smiling Young woman in an audience clappingYoung woman standing in an audience clappingwoman holding a shell with smoking sage, smudging with featherAbove images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

#IFTHEYGUNNEDMEDOWN: Words by Ottawa’s Poet Just Jamaal

Man speaking into microphone with armed raised up, woman taking a pic of him on cell phone with arm raised up in a salute

In the wake of Michael Brown’s murder the world needs words of grace as an antidote to the hate.

The first time I heard Jamaal Jackson Rogers (Just Jamaal) was while I was busy waiting for a bus. His words made me pause, maybe even let a bus or two go by, because they were too beautiful to ignore. A crowd gathered and stayed in place. More people stopped and stood still. Magic.

Man speaking into microphone outside by tent on sidewalk, crowd gathered around him

Screen capture of tweets by black men showing wish image the media would use if they were gunned down by the police

The poem was BE and it was written by Jamaal along with Nathanael Larochette and Ali Alikhani

People may think they ‘know’ someone based on a quick assessment while sizing up clothing, body language and skin colour.

The #IfTheyGunnedMeDown twitter campaign is about demonstrating that you may not get the full picture of another human being in one quick glance, especially if that glance is informed by racism and media who continue to hype stereotypes and feed the beast.

Below I include Jamaal’s photographic choices for #IfTheyGunnedMeDown along with the first words I heard drop from his lips, mesmerize a crowd and inspire a gathering of souls. I have also included Jamaal’s poem to his young nephew, his own words in response to the slaying of Michael Brown.

Man performing with two other black men, black man on right puts his arm around an older black womanLeft – Jamaal performs. Right – Jamaal puts his arm around his late mother. 

Follow Just Jamaal The Poet on Facebook and twitter @JustJamaalPoet.

BE by Jamaal Jackson Rogers / Ali Alikhani / Nathanael Larochette

You are told in so many subtle and discrete ways that you are not worthy of love, of joy, and after a while, you begin to believe it
And you tell yourself that you are not worthy of being loved, of living each moment on the cusp of joy, and the brink of possibility
Be reminded
That you are worth more than a sea of diamonds or any earthly treasure
Be reminded
That you are worthy of love
Of  joy
Of being loved
Copiously and unapologetically
Be reminded
You are the flowerbed, love is the water, so drink, and dance and sing
For you are the only being in the history of existence to have traveled your uniquely specific journey
No other soul has, or will ever experience what you have
When the universe opened its eyes, it made every effort to save a sacred spiritual voyage it was certain only you could navigate
From birth canal to a canvas you came to be
Like the thickness of earth-green oil pastels on a white blanket
Marking the world with marvelous strokes that hold no mistakes
Because every stroke and every pose that you chose is an act of faith
Like a child colouring their dreams into existence
To create understanding through the precision of persistence
In that first cosmic breath, a microscopic adventure of galactic proportions began
And in this world of consequences and physics, smoke and magic
You are walking, talking mirrors
Majestic reflections that do not need the power of the sun to illuminate perfection
So flow strong, but flow light
And bathe in the beauty of a new day
Tomorrow is a breathe away so inhale each moment
Come home, but come whole
Be the place where mind, matter and spirit become grown
Be reminded
Truth is the only existence. Love, the only power
Because love can only exist in truth
For truth is inarguable
As love is infallible
For you are impeccable
As life is invaluable
So be the drops that make up the crest of ocean waves
Be the blessing of shade in the sun’s hopeful rays
Be the words to the greatest story ever told
On the scale of infinity, be the impossible notes
Be the light immeasurable
Be the endless fields of pre-eternity tasting this one moment of now
Be the breath
The dust
The rock
The star
The earth
The birth
The child
The call
Abandon all limitations of being
For they are of your own weaving
Explore every crevice that is your very own chasm of opportunity
And be in awe when at last you discover
That this life was tailored to suit you alone
And no other
And even if you forget that all of this is true
I will always remember
To say this prayer
For you


NEW POEM ONE DAY ISHMAEL | August 12. 2014 by Jamaal Jackson Rogers

Today.
As the children flooded my home to play.
Right before it began to rain. I had a moment.
It was with my nephew.
He looked at me.
With his busted lip from taking a trip in soccer.
I asked him how it happened.
Just to hear his kind voice speak.
A sound I don’t hear much of in the world anymore.
And he told me.
He fell down trying to trap a ball.
At his other uncles house around the way.
I looked into his gentle eyes.
And he stared right back.
The way only he does.
I didn’t respond.
Cus his eyes trapped me.
With much more success than his failed attempt.
I swear to you he is the sweetest child.
And his parents are just as good.
But in that moment.
The moment I had taken to break from reading news about the murder of #MikeBrown.
The moment I had taken to engage my home full of beautiful brown skinned children.
I realized that.
For all the kindness that is part of my teaching.
In my safe space.
In my home day care.
These children.
My family.
Will still grow up victims.
Targets of rage.
For the colour of their skin.
The simple fact of melanin difference.
And for the first time. In my peaceful home.
I felt as if it had been invaded.
By an evil so frightening that it could destroy my faith in humanity completely.
Prejudice.
Arrogance.
Hate.
I knew that there would be no place for him to run away.
No safe space for him to find peaceful stay.
His eyes told me more than I hoped for.
It told me that one day he may not come to my house with a busted lip from playing soccer.
One day.
He may lie in front of this house with a busted lip from running into coppers.
I looked at him.
And then at the picture of a slain young man on my newsfeed.
I closed the computer doors so that he could not see the image on my screen.
And all I could say was, “Ishmael, you’re going to be okay.”

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown

#JusticeForMichaelBrown

#MikeBrown

#Ferguson

#BlackLivesMatter

Young black man smiling takes a selfie in mirror holding little boy smiling at him. Screen capture of twitter image. At the top a title says This is Michael Brown.

 

THE KILLING OF MICHAEL BROWN: An Aunt’s Response to Fear for her Nephew

woman blowing bubbles with little boy

Another young black man shot, Ferguson, Missouri, America, home of the free.

This post is about the love of my life, my nephew, and my fears for him as his aunt. My nephew and I don’t have the same colour of skin. His DNA is the sum total of multiple ethnicities but he will grow up to viewed as a Black Man. His cousins, those who are “mixed race,” may not be viewed the same. His pigmentation gives him away though. As a grandson of Jamaican immigrants it is an unspoken fact that part of his genetic makeup has come from ancestors brought to the Caribbean, from long established nations in Africa, as slaves.

Last year, as the Travyon Martin verdict came out, this little soul, that I love so deeply, moved to America. He is far from me. Although I know he has good and loving parents I wonder how much they can protect him if he is to grow up in a place that is hostile to young black men.

woman blowing bubbles with little boy

I wonder how having to be ever-conscious of his skin colour will change him psychologically – even spiritually. He can’t hope or dream the same way a white boy can. Or even the same way a boy, whose physical appearance is less contentious with dominant culture, can. How is that ‘passing for white’ is still necessary as a social strategy to ensure that you won’t be the one targeted?

In urban centres like Toronto we have entered a time where several generations of racial / ethnic mixing has occurred. Children with a daddy who is white and a mommy who is black or any other combination are no longer visual anomalies. We take it for granted and forget that in my parents’ lifetime, in parts of America, interracial marriage was illegal. In my own lifetime apartheid existed in South Africa and in this lifetime I witnessed it being dismantled. Change was a long time coming but when it did interracial marriages happened fast. You can almost believe racism, like making mixed marriages illegal, is a thing of the past.

woman blowing bubbles with little boy

Until you read the news. Another black boy murdered. Another body upon which violence seemed like an acceptable, justifiable, even heroic act. Here in Canada, in Toronto, we have a city leader who feels using racially charged language is an acceptable form of humour.

I haven’t found anything out there that talks about how multi-racial families deal with the reality that within a family some individuals will face discrimination – discrimination that can even lead to their death.

And with children, speaking about life lessons becomes complex and fraught with anxiety. It’s just not going to be the same game for everyone. And how do we ensure that some family members are not acting, even subtly, with racialized behaviour?

woman blowing bubbles with little boy

The #IfTheyGunnedMeDown twitter campaign is reaction to the image the media chose to use for Michael Brown. The images that were selected pander to white fear – ‘the kid looked thuggish.’ In the social media campaign people tweet the image they think would be used if they were gunned down by cops and pair it with another image of themselves in service with their uniform on, graduating from college, happy poses with their family, etc.

For young white boys, the clothing they chose to wear and their choices of hand gestures in photographs may only be viewed, at worst, as a typical teenage phase they are going through.  For young black men, clothing choices and body language become an indicator of criminality – a justification for murder.

After the Travyon Martin tragedy I started to notice that I watched my nephew more closely. How is he being socialized? What traits in his personality are becoming more pronounced? Will those traits put him at risk? What about the way he walks, the music he likes, his lifestyle choices? What if one day he makes the wrong choice?

Not only do I not know how to protect him from this I don’t know how to talk to him about this. As he grows into a man I may not have the right words.

I dread a future moment when I have to say to him that where he lives white men can make mistakes but he, being ‘Black’, can’t.

Change can’t come soon enough.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES ON RACE & BLACK MASCULINITY:

Black Girl Dangerous
Black Girl Dangerous is the brainchild of writer Mia McKenzie. What started out as a scream of anguish has evolved into a multi-faceted forum for expression. Black Girl Dangerous seeks to, in as many ways possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color.”

Colorlines
“Colorlines is a daily news site where race matters, featuring award-winning investigative reporting and news analysis. Colorlines is published by Race Forward, a national organization that advances racial justice through research, media and practice. Colorlines is produced by a multiracial team of writers who cover stories from the perspective of community, rather than through the lens of power brokers.”

Cracking the Codes
“From Shakti Butler, the director of “The Way Home: Women Talk About Race in America” and “Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible” , comes a new film that asks America to talk about the causes and consequences of systemic inequity.”

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: Kwe at Justina M. Barnicke Gallery U of T Toronto & Skin Deep at Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa

Photograph of woman standing with her back to viewer, wearing casual clothes, jean jacket, hands outstretchedRebecca Belmore “Sister” 2010. Image provided by Scotiabank Contact.

“KWE delves into the complicated and fertile relationship between Indigeneity, art, and colonization. Kwe is the Anishinaabe word for woman and is a term of respect. Rebecca Belmore’s artistic practice engages the question of what it is to be an Anishinaabe-kwe artist working today through photography, sculptures, videos, and performances.” Scotiabank Contact website

Crammed into a confined space at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery are four videos that span the career of artist Rebecca Belmore. The combination of the tight squeeze, the darkness and the haunting sounds seeping from the headsets feels like an assault on the senses – as it should be. Because Rebecca’s work isn’t about being conceptual – it batters you, hits you hard, compels you to have some sort of reaction even if that reaction is to go deeper into denial because the uncomfortable truths she tells are too painful to wrap your head around.

woman standing behind glass dragging stones down the window trailing a mixture of blood and oilwoman holding pointed stone between her hands with water dripping from itWoman pressing her bloody hand against a window, see her face through the glassWoman pressing her bloody hand against a window, see her face through the glassAbove images of Rebecca’s October 2013 performance in Toronto. All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

At a performance last fall as part of the Symposium on Decolonial Aesthetics From The Americas Rebecca scraped stone, blood, oil, over a window from the outside as we looked on as witnesses from the inside. The blazing lights of a parked car in a dark lot (aimed at the window and framing Rebecca’s body in silhouette) summed up how murdered and missing Indigenous Women (the current count according to the RCMP is 1181*) may have spent their final moments. I’ve travelled alone many times. I think of the close calls I have had on dark roads alone in cars with a man / men. There go I but for the grace of some god.

Why her, that Kwe? And why not me?

On might say because “she was in the wrong place at the wrong time” – the English phrase, that in this case, is a misnomer that actually means she was in a place where one is caught in a web of systems (beyond her control) that ensure that oppression won’t quit. An Indigenous woman’s body is still genocidal ground zero, lying under the immovable mass of Colonial rubble. At present very little is being done to protect our Indigenous sisters.

Despite the tragedy, Rebecca’s work has a beauty, and I am sure I am not the first to say this, a spirit of resilience. The KWE (pronounced K-way) exhibit demonstrates her ability to embed elegance into any composition or object. One exits from the room housing the videos into the main room inhabited by photography with a striking and succinct presence – a woman’s back, a worn jean jacket, outstretched arms, gracefully positioned fingers reach out as if to soften, with her touch, the room’s sharp corners.

Gallery space with art installs, sculpture and photographySeries of 3 photographs of woman wrapped in white linen like a mummy but with head hanging out. One image she is upside down and hanging

In the series Untitled a woman is wrapped in the swaddled style of a mummified corpse. The spirit of the woman breathes into the negative spaces; her shadows extend beyond her physical presence. Rebecca’s compositions are laconic phrases that speak of life enduring.

KWE closes this weekend at the Justina M. Barnicke with a performance by Rebecca. The performance Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to their Mother Gathering will include taking the megaphone Rebecca constructed in 1991, as a reaction to the Oka Crisis (Kanien’kehaka Resistance), out of the gallery space into the periphery of the city – Gibraltar Point, Toronto Island.

We are living through the pollution of our waterways from unregulated industry, and both Indigenous people and Canadians need to stand together to protect what Anishinaabe people and scientists believe is the lifeblood of Mother Earth. Many Indigenous women have brought attention to the issue through water walks, which actively heal the spirit of the water. Come lend your voice to their action or just hang out in support.Read more…

This event is tomorrow, Saturday, August 9, at 1 pm on Toronto Island. Join the Facebook Event Page to find out information on shuttle buses from the Gallery and pricing for ferries to the island.

In light of what has happened this week around water this has become a more imperative event.

*NOTE ON THE NUMBER 1181: When I asked Métis  artist Christi Belcourt of the Walking With Our Sisters Project to confirm the latest stats on the missing and murdered sisters she pointed out that the number doesn’t include deaths of Indigenous women who are ruled as suicide but whose death might actually be a murder. This number, she says, also doesn’t include trans women. Or women who were lost in the system of  residential schools, adoption, and foster care. Or women who are non-status. So the number, in truth, is much higher. It is also important to note that Indigenous men are going missing and being murdered at an alarming rate.

Crowd of people with artist in middle, curator at the microphone smiling LEFT: Rebecca Belmore at KWE opening. RIGHT: KWE’s curator Wanda Nanibush. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

 

View of gallery with Inuit art on wallsImage courtesy curator Lisa Truong. 

Ink etching of abstract faces of Inuit people with tattooed faces

“Skin Deep explores the enormous importance of skins and skin clothing in Inuit culture, past and present. In Inuit narratives, skin is something that can be worn, shed, and manipulated. People tattoo their own skin to affirm personal and cultural identities, and wear clothing made from animal skins for aesthetic adornment and protection from the elements. Skin Deep features the tools used to hunt animals and prepare their skins; prints, drawings, and sculptures depicting stories and objects in which skin plays a central role; and objects made from skin, such as mitts and boots. The exhibition includes the work of artists like Ningeokuluk Teevee, Jessie Oonark, Arnaqu Ashevak, and Helen Kalvak.”

Man and woman in front of Inuit print of people in traditional dressPhoto of curator Lisa Truong by Justin Wonnacott courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery. 

Inuit Art: Skin Deep is a small but impactful show selected with care by curator Lisa Truong.  The exhibit currently on at Ottawa’s Carleton University Art Gallery, opened with uncanny timing this past spring after a winter of (justifiable) discontent from the Inuit community in response to Ellen DeGeneres support in the banning of the seal hunt.

The twittersphere was alive with #Sealfies as acts of self-determination. Some guests to the CUAG show expressed to Lisa that they had no idea until viewing the Skin Deep how vital seal was to the economy and culture of the North and now understood  the reaction of the Inuit community.

Two women viewing seal skin boots behind glass casePhoto by Justin Wonnacott courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery. 

Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril was one of the spearheaders of the social media campaign. Alethea’s documentary Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos recounts her own, often raw story, of how she uncovers the lost of traditions of tattooing.

With the coming of Christianity to the North tattooing became a shamed practice. Unlike other traditions that went underground but were still practiced in secret, tattooing disappeared. Alethea’s decision to tattoo her own face, initially, was not met with support from her Inuk mother. The shame around marking one’s body to embrace one’s identity as an Inuk person has been etched deep into the psyche of the Inuit. Breaking with traditions became a strategy of survival once the European arrived and took control.

Knowing this, when you see Arnaquq Ashevak’s “Tattooed Women” in Skin Deep you understand that it contains loaded histories and contemporary victories in its quiet presence. Much like Rebecca’s Untitled series, the way the women are wrapped by the bands of ink can be read as simultaneously binding and protective.

Art work with two woman standing with back to viewer, hands on their heads, both in tattoos lining their bodies“Tattooed Women” by Arnaqu Ashevak. Image courtesy of Dorset Fine Arts. 

Lisa recounts:

“when I saw Alethea’s documentary I knew I wanted to do something on the body and “Tattooed Women” was the first piece that popped into my mind. Alethea’s documentary shows reclamation of knowledge and a decision to go find that knowledge even if it is obscure – to go hunt it out – and place it on the body.”

Alethea’s choice to score her face with ink was a radical act of decolonizing her body. Her reversal back into time to bring forth a lost tradition will have dramatic impact on the future of her community. Already we see other Inuit women following her example.

Of Arnaqu’s work Lisa says:

“This piece is a reflective piece looking forward and looking back so on the right you have the woman who is representing the traditional body and facial tattoos as well as traditional forms of beauty. You can see ever so slightly the tattoos on her cheeks and two braids on the side of her head.

On the left a woman is clothed in tattoos that are contemporary, not to be literal, but as a symbolic decision on what parts to reveal and what parts to cover.

The way the women are posed, their arms up, they are asking people to look at their bodies. There is this gaze that travels across the body.

It’s a very warm piece and thought provoking piece because of the body language of the women – they are modest but have their arms up as to expose.”

For me, the power in this piece is the agency is expresses regarding women’s bodies and spiritual selves. As Lisa says, this work, like Alethea’s decision to tattoo her face “demonstrates the body as a place of political and cultural sovereignty.”

Art work of Inuit woman in traditional dress unzipping her head to reveal a fox coming out from her head“Shaman Revealed” by Ningeokuluk Teevee. Image courtesy of Dorset Fine Arts. 

The other piece in the show that as a woman moved me was “Shaman Revealed.” In a time when we desperately require (s)heros the unzipping of a woman’s skin to reveal the animal spirit inside speaks to the importance of personal transformation in finding the source of one’s influence.

The artist, Lisa says, “combines a traditional legend [the legend of Kiviuq] with contemporary flair. The story is about staying true to oneself and not criticizing others for being who they are.”

There is alchemic power when we reveal what we hide inside.

Both KWE and Skin Deep present the female/kwe body as the conduit of great strength and locate her beyond victimhood.

Inuit Art: Skin Deep closes this weekend at CUAG.

For weekend visiting hours visit the Carleton University Art Gallery’s website.

View of gallery with Inuit art on wallsImage courtesy curator Lisa Truong. 

WATER: A Human Right AND Responsibility, River Run Walk for Grassy Narrows in Toronto

First Nations Chief with headdress walking in street with CN Tower and crowd of people in background

Our culture around water shows we are entering a spiritual drought.  

We say that clean water is a Human Right. Well, some say. The CEO of Nestlé thinks otherwise and it’s this type of reasoning that has created a situation where I wonder if we have gone past the point of no return.

First Nations Chief with headdress walking in street with CN Tower and crowd of people in background

First Nations Chief with headdress walking in street with CN Tower and crowd of people in background

First Nations Chief with headdress walking in street with CN Tower and crowd of people in backgroundLast week I walked with those in support of Grassy Narrows and the River Run Walk. I had this moment where the absurdity of walking for water hit me. Walking in support of the right to clean water is like walking in support of the children of Gaza to live a peaceful life. It makes no sense. The protection of water, what we need to survive, and the protection of children, the ones who will carry forth our DNA into the future, should be our absolute priority. I remember my pride at one of my first primary school projects. It was about the affects of acid rain on our environment. I was 7 years old at the time and in somewhat sloppy printing writing out the facts (found in my Chickadee Magazine) about how unregulated industries were causing dirty rain to fall from the sky. In my childhood naivety I believed that if I shared this information with my teacher, an adult, people would surely change.

Former Treaty #3 Grand Chief Steve Fobister, who suffers from the effects ALS, ends his hunger strike in order to live to fight on.

Grassy Narrows is a reserve in Northern Ontario. The people have been suffering under the impact of corporate negligence my enter lifetime. Last week in Toronto many people came together for the River Run Walk in support of Grassy Narrow (Asubpeeschoseewagong) First Nation and Chief Steve Fobister’s end of his hunger strike. The evening before, Ryerson University hosted a public forum on Indigenous Rights & Water that included Stephen Lewis as well as Anishinaabe writer Leanne Simpson.

Leanne writes in an article for the CBC:

“…for eight years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 20,000 pounds of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River, the lifeblood of local Anishinaabe people.

The impacts of this contamination are still being felt in the bodies, hearts and minds of the people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows), Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) and Wabauskang First Nations.

Forty years later, the mercury is not out of the ecosystem and it is still causing severe health impacts on the land and in the bodies of the people.

Unfortunately, this is not the only poison these communities are facing. Their territory is regularly sprayed with pesticides for new tree plantations after deforestation. Their rivers are still being polluted with pulp mill effluent, and their trap lines, hunting grounds and ceremonial spots are also being clear-cut.” Read more…

First Nations Chief with headdress walking in street with CN Tower and crowd of people in background

Not even a week after the walk, my facebook feed confronts me with another disaster. In Likely, British Columbia “toxic slurry from the pond – equivalent to 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools” has leached into a river.

The war the Anishinaabeg people of Grassy Narrow are fighting needs to be the fight of all Canadians. It’s the only way.

Find out how you can support Grassy Narrows by visiting Free Grassy Narrow’s website.

#FreeGrassy
#RiverRun

Join Grassy Narrows Facebook Group.

MORE RESOURCES:
Rabble:Steve Fobister Sr. ends his hunger strike to live on to fight for Grassy Narrows

CBC: Grassy Narrows loses Supreme Court logging rights decision: Top court finds province of Ontario, not First Nation or federal government, has jurisdiction over logging
First Nations Chief with headdress walking in street with CN Tower and crowd of people in background
First Nations Chief with headdress walking in street with CN Tower and crowd of people in backgroundAbove images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.