SEWING CIRCLES & SOUNDSUITS: The Art in Embassies initiative connects social nexuses in Ottawa

Marie Watt’s sewing circle and Nick Cave’s SoundSuits provide ways to start discussions around challenging issues. 

As our long winter was on it’s way out and a new spring beginning an interesting initiative began here in Ottawa. Vicki Heyman, wife of US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, launched Art in Embassies, a project started by John F. Kennedy as way to share the talent of American artists abroad as well as “start cross-cultural dialogue“.

Maria Watt was the American artist chosen to open what has become a series of events focused on the role of art as a catalyst for social change. The timing seemed oddly predestined. Marie, a woman of mixed Settler / Indigenous heritage sat on the stage at the National Gallery of Canada speaking to Greg Hill (the NGC’s Audain Curator of Indigenous Art) about the connecting quality of her work.

“My work draws from my experience as a Scottish German Seneca person in the US growing up in Oregon…[I explore] Indigenous moments in history and European history – those nexuses.”  

This was on the eve of the Roundtable Discussion on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that was also taking place in Ottawa that week. On the Friday, as Carleton University was hosting the National Roundtable, the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG), in collaboration with Art in Embassies, was holding a roundtable on Indigenizing the Gallery with Marie as the honoured guest participant. If a nexus “is a series of connections linking two more more things” than what was happening at that precise moment in Ottawa, in the social spaces where art, academia and politics converge, was a moment where Indigenous women’s voices were being prioritized.

One of Marie’s well known works is Blanket Stories: Seven Generations, Adawe, and Hearth. The piece was installed during the National Gallery of Canada’s Sakahàn: Indigenous International Art exhibit and true to Marie’s practice it involved sending a call out to participate. A request was made for anyone who wanted to contribute to drop off or mail out a wool or natural fiber blanket to the NGC. The original call out on the Sakàhan website describes how the installation:

“will highlight the rich history of commerce and trade in Ottawa. The word “Ottawa” comes from the Algonquin word adawe, which means “to trade.”

Along with their blankets participants were requested to write a story that illustrated the importance of that blanket to their family. The stories become the currency and their richness is revealed in their ability to criss-cross countries and cultures, span many generations and fuse past with present. With her works involving blankets Marie does what she can to have the stories available for audiences to read (view some of stories from the NGC install here). At her National Gallery talk she related a few of them to us. One story was Peter’s. The blanket he gave to Marie came from a concentration camp. If I remember correctly, it was his wife’s and it was all she had when she was liberated from the camp. Eventually that same blanket would be used to wrap and protect art work purchased by the couple in the life they created together. Marie feels that such a story flies in the face of Hitler’s denigration of art and is a perfect symbol of reclamation – a blanket’s meaning transformed by its new role.

The stories are also ways for people to enter into the intimate space of another. In this complex historical moment where we struggle to understand the meaning of words like reclamation and reconciliation sometimes the way of navigating that complexity is through the simple act of creating a space for people to share moments. This is the strength of the Art in Embassies initiative which has been infused by Vicki’s desire to explore art as social practice precisely because it can build bridges and foster understanding between disparate social circles. As a way of gathering a diverse group together for a common goal, another event that was held as part of Marie’s visit to Ottawa was a sewing circle. It was moving to see people of all backgrounds, ages, and genders stitching together in the Great Hall at the National Gallery. And the artist was present! Marie took the time to speak with people as well as listen to new stories being shared. For Marie, it’s about being affable in her process. As she says, a sewing circle is about “tucking yourself into something as humble and familiar as cloth. It’s a safe space that’s a much more informal space – getting together in a neighbourly way.”


In these informal spaces people can digest what they might otherwise feel challenged to confront. Marie’s work, although not overtly political, is charged by a political climate that does it best to ignore Indigenous rights and a national leader who publicly declared that the issue of #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) as not “really high on our radar.” As a Seneca woman she uses her art as a way to generously share Indigenous teachings to a non-Indigenous audience.

The next artist speaking as part of the series is Nick Cave. Nick’s work is also about looking at social as well as disciplinary nexuses of art, dance and fashion. Like Marie, he uses the act of sewing and assemblage to move a challenging conversation forward. The intense subject of racial profiling prompted Nick to look at ways we disregard and denigrate. His first “soundsuit” was created by gathering discarded sticks and twigs, the things that surround us during our day that we ignore and allow to become invisible. The final product functioned as both apparel to be worn by a dancer during a performance and sculpture to be inserted into a gallery space. Whether still or animated by performers whose race and class are concealed inside the soundsuits, Nick’s work is meant to break open a space. They are impossible to ignore. As performers climb inside they have a chance to access the feeling of being connected with something seemingly foreign from their everyday but yet some of the materials that Nick utilizes, like Marie’s blankets, are humble ones that are familiar to all.

Again, the timing of this event is important. After months and months of the heaviness of how racial profiling is being executed – literally – by agents of power, we need to widen the discussion around race that has been split open by the murders of black men at the hands of the police. The problematics of race isn’t just an American issue. Here in Canada the erasure of Black bodies in cultural, academic and political institutions has the potential to fester and become a much deeper problem. We need to have the challenging conversations immediately and those conversations have to happen in places like the National Gallery of Canada, an institution where Black contribution to Canadian history and art has been close to absent. No time like the present.

I applaud the audacious spirit that Vicki has brought to the cultural table here in Ottawa and I look forward to participating in more of these types events that create a nexus for change by widening the circle of social influence.

You can follow the conversation at #artconvoAIE. More events will be coming up in 2015!

All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

COUNTER-MAPPING THE CITY TREATY: Taking Indigeneity to the Streets

What’s in a name.

Looking at the typography of a city through an Indigenous lens can fracture what we think we know. Chorography is the act of “describing or mapping a region.” The chorography of our cities effectively maps multiculturalism but underneath the Little Italys and Chinatowns original place markers have been trampled under the foot of many a newcomer.

Recent headlines have pointed to Winnipeg as being one of the most racist cities in Canada. For the urban Indigenous population in Winnipeg the city, whose name is derived from the Cree word win-nipi, is marked with anxiety. Marvin Francis was a playwright, author, visual artist and poet from Heart Lake First Nation and his experience of living on the “Urban Rez,” as he referred to Winnipeg, formed itself into a book titled City Treaty: a long Poem.

I was being followed
so I took my usual back alley route
trash can trails
make ’em get their feet dirty
but it was no use
you cannot shake a clown
that mask sees all

we begin the treaty project
we needed money  we  wrote
on the back maize    flake boxes     expensive
the clown
knows ever since sky     ripples
mingles clown     city native
write new treaty     cost heap big money
the clown surveys post/city/modern/after treaty/after

lawyer = life

and finds
the way
to finance
this project

finds the reality:

As a teenager, moving off his reserve to the city, Marvin developed a complex relationship with Winnipeg.

“The urban Aboriginal experience is dependent upon the circumstances of the individual, and speaking in general terms is always dangerous, but I think it is a fair statement that, for the average Native who comes from the Rez, the city contains a spectrum that ranges from new possibilities to that social monster, crack.” Read more…

Counter-mapping Canada. 

It’s hard to know where you are standing when the original place markers become impossible to find. But they are still there for those who are tenacious enough to search. Sometimes names hint at the histories that lay just below the surface of maps made for our ‘modern’ times. 

Toronto, Ontario

tkaronto (Kanien’kehake), onitariio (Wyandot)

Where the trees are standing in the water, the beautiful lake

Counter-mapping is a term used to refer to the intentional use of mapping methodology and technology such as GIS, cartography and geomatics to make visible how dominant power systems have used maps as a way to assert control over territories often for the purpose of resource extraction and/or settlement.

In Canada, oral histories are now considered an important part of counter-mapping and testimonies of the historical use of that land by Indigenous populations becomes a way of providing evidence at land claims. (Read more about this in Maps and MemesRedrawing Culture, Place, and Identity in Indigenous Communities)

Beyond the legal applications counter-mapping combined with visual ways of expressing space are being used by artists as a way of marking places with counter-narratives.

Sarah Yankoo “is Algonquin, Irish, Hungarian, Romanian and Scottish and edge walks between the bush and the city that gathers in Toronto.” While in York University‘s Environmental Studies program she discovered the poetry of Marvin Francis in a class titled Indigenous Literature, Survival and Sovereignty and for her, the earth moved. Her response was to become one of the tenacious ones who seeks to uncover what some have tried to make us forget. Her photographic work is about creating an image bank demonstrating that in urban spaces a counter-mapping movement is taking place – graffiti tagging, arts activism, and even random formations seem to be giving us a message.

In underpasses, subway stairs and skyscrapers Sarah finds markers that signify we may be at the moment before a seismic shift is about to go down. The ‘Urban Rez’, as Indigenous populations explode, can become a place of renewal and a city, like Toronto / Tkaronto is capable of flexing intuitively – as though it remembers. The shape of the map may not be changing, but the rigid borders of colonial mindsets shift to create a dynamic that will forever change the emotional contours of a city.

Top image of Haida artist Corey Bulpitt’s mural. Bottom image Métis symbol replicates on subway stairs. Both by Sarah Yankoo. 

Sarah has also found a way to continue the work that Marvin started by “writing her own treaty poems while exploring the piece [City Treaty] as an installation work and political engagement piece.” For the University of British Columbia’s exhibit Claiming Space: Voices of Aboriginal Youth at the Museum of Anthropology she contributed City Treaty Manuscript. (view City Treaty Manuscript image above)

“Claiming Space: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth looks at the diverse ways urban Aboriginal youth are asserting their identity and affirming their relationship to both urban spaces and ancestral territories.” Read more…

KIMIWAN ‘ZINE‘s SIXXX edition featured Sarah’s treaty poem push that bush as well as her work titled your X mark (pictured below)

KIMIWAN ‘ZINE is a quarterly publication that showcases words + art from emerging + established Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit writers + artists. Kimiwan is independently published by a collective of Indigenous artists, writers, students + community members. 

Kimiwan was started by Joi T. Arcand and Mika Lafond in summer of 2012.”

Top image X marks an urban spot. Bottom image peace and moccasins. Both images by Sarah Yankoo. 

The Revolution will be Indigenized.

Marvin, who passed away in 2005, wrote of Toronto:

“Winnipeg, with its high Aboriginal population, is one place where you can walk downtown and meet other Aboriginals. Regina is like that, too, but a city like Calgary or Toronto has few Aboriginals visible downtown.”

In Toronto First Nations, Métis or Inuit populations can become invisible, absorbed into the multicultural mix but as the city becomes more inquisitive about Indigenous histories and contemporary realities after the earth moved during Idle No More, the Toronto of Marvin’s recollection is rapidly changing. A growing Indigenous presence comprised of artists, activists and academics is drafting a new city treaty with their work. This isn’t just taking place behind the institutional walls of universities and museums – their work spills out into the streets.

During the summer of 2013 Ryerson professor Hayden King (Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchimnissing) along with artist and educator Susan Blight (Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation) embarked on an intervention under the name Ogimaa Mikana (Leader’s Trail in Anishinaabemewin). In different locations in downtown Toronto street signs and memorial plaques were subtly counter-mapped by placing Indigenous names and text over the ones put in place by the operating Governments of Canada. Spadina was changed to Ishpadinaa and a plaque was covered at Queen’s Park with the words:

Piitaapocikewaatikakocin

Kintanishinaabeekimin
Nintanishinaabekwakiinaan
Kiminopiitookaakona awa…
Nintashiikewininaak
Aanti wenci nihsitawinaman?

Toronto (Place where the logs flow)

We all live on Native Territory
Our Anishinaabe Land
Welcome to our Community
How do your recognize it?


Above images of Ogimaa Mikana Project from www.ogimaamikana.tumblr.com.

With round dances taking place inside shopping malls and pow wows outside on University campuses even the rhythm of the city has changed.

Sarah also uses music as a way to infuse urban streets with Indigenous vibrations. She makes mouth bows out of branches she searches for when out in the bush. Inspired by the music of Buffy Sainte-Marie as well as A Tribe Called Red she also performs and is often remixing the recordings of her mouth bow on her iPad.

This coming Saturday she will performing alongside Skookum Sound System for Native Women in the Arts Catalyst Series hosted with the BOLD As Love Collective at the Musical Gallery, Toronto. Collectives like BOLD As Love, with their spoken word and musical performances, showcase the plurality of Indigenous voices fleshing out a deeper meaning of diversity.

The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning
And while business talks a level playing field
Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet
As the land itself invents our soundscape (read Sarah’s full treaty poem Edgewalker Remix below)

Counter-mapping and marking alternate meanings into the urban space becomes a therapeutic act. Time to dig down into the bedrock to excavate those solutions.

BOLD As Love includes:
Rosina Kazi
Jamaias DaCosta
Elwood Jimmy
Cherish Blood
Cris Derksen
&
Melody McKiver

Read more about BOLD As Love in Now Magazine.

EDGEWALKER REMIX by Sarah Yankoo

We all walk these edges uncertain
On border slippery
Between dirt poor
And filthy rich
Between the bush and city
Between sandy hot beach laughter
& heart breaking tears crying in the snow

We point out the edges that cut off our mind
Invisible borders stronger than barbed wire
Cement our paths to our edge walking ways
To lost children
& a Trail of Beers

When all you really want is to do is just go home
Play in a garden where pedals do not bite
Where the fingers fold in prayer
Where the smile heals eyes
Burnt by too much evening

For the young
& The old experienced love that still dares
The smoke is white and the crackle is electric

So pull your thoughts of others from history into today

And we all emerge from

Actual treaty lines

into the native-aboriginal- First Nation- last chance Indian status- cuz you went
trapping that day universe

The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning
And while business talks a level playing field
Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet
As the land itself invents our soundscape

What words describe agony of kids torn away
Of sudden
Language ILL legal
Of a circle of a people with their hearts in the fire
spirits in the electric smoke
& Minds in the crackle with knowledge for

FLASHBACK

To those treaties smouldering and collecting our dust

Flash forward

To loop the difference in times zoned

Flash present to a disguise that fools nobody’s god

Flash back again and again over and under and through the flashing

Flashback

To the territory as large as the land itself
Reach the borders and the sounds that fit the land contours
And while the rivers wash from the inside and the prairie undulates from the Canadian
Shield up one side of the Rockies and down the Mackenzie. Remember there is no
linear in the bush, and the city only thinks it does. so you can finally figure out that the
land is owned only by our children and never by us

Argue/bitch/question/probe/tear apart/challenge/discuss until everyone is sick of it

Then do it again

For you must remember what the people went through

Above images of Sarah Yankoo by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarah is rocking a jacket by Toronto based Dene designer Sage Paul and boots by Métis owned company Manitobah Mukluks. You can support Indigenous designers by signing a petition against DSquared’s #DSquaw collection from Milan Fashion Week at Change.org. The petition asks that Dan and Dean Caten apologize for their actions and as Canadians donate the profits from their collection to an organization that supports the rights of Indigenous women here in Canada. Click here to sign.

Listen to Sage Paul speak on the issue to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway here.

WEEKEND FILM FESTS: The Toronto Palestinian Film Festival & Ottawa’s One World Film Festival

One World Film Festival opens at the Library & Archives this weekend in Ottawa. 

This weekend whether you are in the Capital of Ontario or the Capital of Canada, both cities are hosting independent film festivals with programming that offers critique to current issues, like Oil and Occupation as well as Occupation because of Oil.

In Ottawa the One World Film Festival is in it’s 25th year. It runs from Thursday September 25th to Saturday, September 27th.

THURSDAY: Above All Else @ 6:30 pm

(Includes Panel Discussion with filmmakers John Fiege and Anita Grabowski and Ben Powless of Ecology Ottawa after screening)

“an intimate portrait of a group of landowners and activists in East Texas who tried to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion dollar project slated to carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. They risk financial ruin, personal safety, and the security of their families as they attempt to protect their land and defend their rights. The film is both an exploration of the human spirit and a window into how social change happens in America.” More info…

FRIDAY: Virunga @ 6:30 pm (Includes Panel Discussion after the screening)

“Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the last natural habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla. None of that will stop the business interests and rebel insurgencies lurking at the park’s doorstep. Orlando von Einsiedel pairs gorgeous natural scenes from Virunga with riveting footage of the Congolese crisis, raising an ardent call for conservation as a vital human enterprise. Along the way, he spotlights the incredibly dangerous work that is often required to safeguard the environment.” More info…

SATURDAY: Watchers of the Sky @ 6:00 pm & On The Side of the Road @ 8:45 pm

WATCHERS OF THE SKY interweaves four stories of remarkable courage, compassion, and determination, while setting out to uncover the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide,” and believed the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell, WATCHERS OF THE SKY takes you on a provocative journey from Nuremberg to The Hague, from Bosnia to Darfur, from criminality to justice, and from apathy to action.” More info…

&

“Former West Bank settler Lia Tarachansky looks at Israelis’ collective amnesia of the fateful events of 1948 when the state of Israel was born and most of the Palestinians became refugees. She follows the transformation of Israeli veterans trying uncover their denial of the war that changed the region forever. Tarachansky then turns the camera on herself and travels back to her settlement where that historical erasure gave birth to a new generation, blind and isolated from its surroundings. Attempting to shed a light on the country’s biggest taboo, she is met with outrage and violence.” More info…

Full schedule on One World Film Festival’s website.

All screenings take place at the Library & Archives, Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa. View map.

black stroke

The Toronto Palestinian Film Festival opens this Saturday in Toronto. 

The Toronto Palestinian Film Festival (TPFF) runs from Saturday, September 27th to Friday, October 3rd (so in theory, you could attend both!)

Sunday includes a screening of Omar, one of my favourite movies of 2013. Along with dramas and shorts by Palestinian filmmakers, the festival also includes films about Palestine from the perspective of non-Palestinians. One example is Village Under the Forest.

“The Village Under the Forest explores the hidden remains of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, which lies under South Africa Forest. During the 1948 Nabka, more than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed. The Jewish National Fund raised money from around the world under the guise of ‘greening the desert’ and built forests and parks named after different countries on the remains of these villages in an attempt to erase their dark history. Writer/narrator Heidi Grunebaum revisits South Africa Forest, the forest she helped finance with the pennies she collected as a child twenty year ago. Using the forest and the ruins of Lubya as representative of a much wider process, this compelling film explores central themes of the Nakba – forced exile, erasure of memory, creating ‘facts on the ground’, and the Palestinian Right of Return.” More info…

“Making its debut at TIFF 2013, Giraffada is a light-hearted drama inspired by a true story. Ziad, a ten-year-old boy from the West Bank, spends all his free time at the Qalqilya zoo where his father Yacine (Saleh Bakri) works as the zoo’s veterinarian. In particular, Ziad has a special bond with the zoo’s two giraffes who he helps care for. Yacine, recently widowed, is determined to preserve the zoo as a haven for animals and for the local children who play there, temporarily escaping the hardships under occupation. One night, after an air strike on the city, one of Ziad’s beloved giraffes dies. The surviving giraffe stops eating due to the loss of her mate. Yacine is determined to save her by bringing in a new giraffe but the only zoo that can help him is in Tel Aviv. Yacine and Ziad are committed to doing whatever it takes to save their giraffe, even if it means breaking the law. Giraffada, which stars Mohammad Bakri (In Attendance), is a unique portrayal of childhood under occupation.”

Last week at Beit Zatoun TPFF hosted a talk on New Directions in Indigenous Cinema with Jesse Wente (Director of Film Programmes & curator of TIFF’s 2012 program First Peoples Cinema: 1500 Nations, One Tradition) and Rasha Salti (TIFF Programmer for African and Middle Eastern Cinema). Rasha discussed the historical and contemporary context of Palestinian cinema. There is a lot to be learned! The documentary Cinema Palestine offers more insight.

“Cinema Palestine is a poetic documentary which explores the life and work of multiple generations of Palestinian filmmakers and media artists. Based on in-depth interviews with a wide range of Palestinian artists living in the Middle East, as well as North American and Europe, the film documents the emergence of a Palestinian narrative through film, the relevance of film to the Palestinian national struggle and the relationship between art, personal experience and politics in one of the most contested landscapes in the world. The film features interviews with numerous filmmakers screened at TPFF including: Annemarie Jacir, Rashid Masharawi, Mohammad Bakri, Najwa Najjar, Hany Abu-Asad, Nasri Hajjaj and Mai Masri. A post-Screening Panel featuring Tim Schwab, Mohammad Bakri and Mais Darwazah will follow the film, with our guests further exploring the role of Palestinian cinema in the emergence of the Palestinian narrative.”

Screenings for the TPFF take place at TIFF and the AGO’s Jackman Hall. For full schedule details click here.

Also find TPFF info on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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.

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’nuwelti’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.

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. 

THE END OF THE KARA WALKER EXHIBIT AT THE DOMINO SUGAR PLANT: The Complex Relationship between the Collective History, Memory, and Lived Experience and Those Unwilling to Share the Burden


Sometimes demolishing the past doesn’t change the present.

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:

A Subtlety

or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant

In the time that has passed since writing my article on Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” (WHEN ART DEALS WITH THE DISTASTEFUL: Kara Walker at the Domino Sugar Factory) more articles have come forward critiquing the exhibit.

On June 30 “Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit” was posted in The Indypendent. This powerful article touched on several issues that I felt needed to be addressed. I applaud the writer, Nicholas Powers, for punctuating the space with an action that wasn’t a planned intervention or a performance piece. It was a unprompted visceral response – an appropriate (re)action.

In his article he asked a very important question – what is the role of the curator? I ask – when the curator knows that they are putting out work that is loaded, even potentially volatile is it acceptable for them to just step back and let things play out? Do curators have an obligation to facilitate dialogue and create a safe space for emotional release?

Many people found their experience in the physical space to be quite painful “Black Pain, White Laughter” as Nicholas puts it. The online experience provided an almost unchallenged area for people to act ignorantly – even racist and misogynistic.

Should Creative Time (the team behind “A Subtlety”) have immediately stepped in to address the racism and misogyny? In both spaces they could have intervened. There was an opportunity for a whole other dialogue to take place that would perhaps have lead to more understanding and empathy therefore more respectful behavior.

“It was like a sleeping beehive had been kicked over”

Nicholas called out people for the types of photos they were taken at the back of the sphinx, the location where much of the problematic behaviour has occurred. A Creative Time curator, in an effort to distance the organization from his spontaneous intervention, asked him to tell people he was not part of Creative Time. He writes:

“ A friend cut in, saying loudly that I didn’t have to say shit. They got into a debate that heated up into a verbal fight. Visitors came up to me, some saying I was wrong; others saying I was right.

…It felt great to confront the “white gaze,” the entitled buffoonery of the visitors. But why did we have to?…wasn’t the job of Walker or at least Creative Time’s staff to curate a racially charged artwork? Yes, Walker has the freedom to express herself. Yes, Creative Time has the freedom to organize it. But what do you expect will happen if you put a giant sculpture of a nude black woman, as a Mammy no less, in a public space.

…Instead of challenging the racial power dynamics of white supremacy, Walker and Creative Time, in their naivety or arrogance, I don’t know which, simply made the Domino Sugar Factory a safe place for it.”

For me, that is where the installation failed. The safe space that was created was for those who needed to be challenged the most. The historical dirt, literally baked to the walls of Domino Sugar Factory, was sanitized – much like the process of whitening sugar, a process that requires crushed up bones to do the bleaching. The act of allowing people to document the art with cell phones, cameras and a hashtag also allowed people to mitigate their experience of the work by not being fully present to what was in front of them – the ugly truth and the shadow side of sweet consumption. Instead, the Sugar Sphinx became a tourist trap; like flies to sticky paper people got stuck to the spectacle but emotionally never moved beyond.

This work should have been about collective mourning of a disturbing past and collective consideration as to how our current lifestyles still support modern day slavery.

Malik Thompson writes in his piece “Kara Walker’s Desecrated Cemetery for Blackness”:

“One of the worst things about my experience with the Kara Walker exhibit in Brooklyn was the lack of space available for me to mourn the devastation of Blackness, nor appreciate its power. There were white bodies everywhere I turned; white bodies laughing, white bodies posing for pictures, white bodies giving me strange looks as I solemnly shuffled around the warehouse, white bodies overflowing the space, white bodies spilling into my physical and mental space…

I became uncomfortable, realized that even though this was obviously a cemetery, a place of remembrance and mourning for how Blackness has been distorted and destroyed throughout history, the pain I felt would always take a backseat to the comfort white people seek in lies. In that moment, I began remembering what violation felt like.”

Malik and two friends decided they needed to intervene in the space between the mammy’s breasts in an attempt to reclaim it.

“I suggested to my friends that we pose in front of the mammy sphinx holding up the Black Power fist, with a picture of us doing so to be taken by our white chaperone from our youth organization.

As we stood there, with our fists defiantly raised to the ceiling, the mostly white people in front of us became much quieter, they seemed offended even. Khadijah says she heard people whispering, “It’s not about that…”. One white man gave us a look of bemused indignation, rushing to the space we had just claimed as our own after our picture had been taken, only to pose for yet another smiling portrait in front of the mammy sphinx. Perhaps he did that to prove a point, a point sprung from the murky waters of privilege and ignorance.

And my spirit sank lower into my gut; I could feel it dragging me down towards the molasses-resembling-blood splattered ground.”

The lightness of whiteness and a burdenless history

When one reads the comments in Stephanie Wyatts “The Audacity of No Chill: Kara Walker in the Instragram Capital”  the good ol’ ‘reverse-racism’ argument starts to bubble up. She called out white people in her article and that, is just not socially acceptable, even in the context of art speaking on Black Slavery. If this is not an appropriate time when is it?

Stephanie, a Black woman, had to bear witness to jokes about “sugar tits”, “big ass” and “sweet lips” as her racialized body stood in front of sculpture of another racialized body. The sexualized talk directed at a lifeless sphinx (as her own physical presence was ignored) was talk also aimed at her. As the human being standing next to the the ones saying such things she should take it personally.

I stood in front of a sugar boy carrying a huge basket oozing what began to look more like blood than molasses. I looked to my right and a white kid was licking one of the boys while his parents stood there unfazed. I walked over to get a full-on, yet still-distant view of the giant sphinx. Two seconds later, my eyes exploded and I was crying all over myself.

I obviously didn’t expect to start crying, but it happened and I let those tears run free. I was snapped out of my sob by a white guy yelling, “This is boring!” Tears for my ancestors turned into hot, angry tears. “

Stephanie’s response to all of the callousness, built up upon other times she has had to bear witness to people acting with insensitivity, lead her to write:

…I’d gotten the sense that deep reverence may not be white people’s spiritual gift. But where’s the respect? How do you not realize that you are currently standing on sacred ground and staring the sickness of our country dead in the face?”

All of these articles are written by African Americans. I didn’t come across any other articles of this type, speaking to a visceral and painful experience, written by anyone that wasn’t Black.

Whiteness / ‘lightness’ is a privilege. It gets you a pass in a lot of places. It shouldn’t get you a pass on ignorant behaviour. The Mammy Sphinx and Sugar Babies speak to a mutual history, slavery exists in the collective memory(s) and the weight of it should be shared. Unfortunately A Subtlety” demonstrated that many people still see it as a burden belonging only to Black people.

Whether we like it or not, history has intimately intertwined us all and the unknotting shouldn’t have to be done solely by the people who can trace their ancestry back to those who survived the Middle Passage.

Both the physical and online spaces that A Subtlety” provided were spaces where white people could have at least helped to carry the burden. Instead the actions of many led to the piling on of more weight.

A Subtlety” exposed that the not so subtle expressions of racism exist even in places created for homage to its impact.

The Black female body is never neutral. She can never rest.

“Experiencing Kara Walker”

“I walked into the exhibit feeling alone and I walked out of the exhibit feeling lonely. To be a parody and a parent. To be a black woman and pun.

It is here when I decide that I will bring my daughter next weekend. She should know how to arm herself against a world that never considers her skin, her ancestry, her people. She should know her body is always up for discussion, whether she initiates the conversation or not. She should know her pain will always be greeted with a whimsical  patronizing hand.

She should know how to celebrate, defend and demand her own song and rich history be acknowledged and honored.”

~ Chelcee Johns


All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

HUFF: Ottawa’s National Art Centre’s Commitment To Healing A Culture Through The Arts

two young men on the left sit with two woman on the right for a panel discussion on a stage
Left to right: Actor / Writer Cliff Cardinal, youth worker Rob Chief, co-creator of huff Elizabeth Kantor and Sarah Garton Stanley, Associate Artistic Directory of English Theatre at the NAC.

Bravo to the National Arts Centre / Centre National Des Arts Ottawa for creating safe spaces for tough conversations.

As the Q & A (Talk Back) session wrapped up after NAC’s Tuesday night performance of huff Sarah Garton Stanley (Associate Artistic Directory of English Theatre at the NAC) passionately declared “We are so proud of having this piece and it’s a piece we want everyone to see!”

If you don’t know about huff it’s a play by Cliff Cardinal that explores what he believes is the most taboo subculture existing in Canada – Aboriginal children who are addicted to solvents. And because of the subject matter the play is understandably intense and difficult to watch. Cliff’s strategy of immediately making the audience complicit as witnesses pulls people in so they can’t back out despite the uncomfortableness. It’s the right tactic because now Canadians can no longer say they aren’t aware of issues facing First Nations children. This country’s shame is ever present in the media and as witnesses we have a moral obligation to be part of the process that will lift this intergenerational burden off these children.

Local Métis artist and tour guide Jaime Koebel (www.indigenouswalks.com) was so moved by the play seeing it once wasn’t enough. She has now seen it three times in order to absorb what Cliff accomplished with this piece. She says:

“Cardinal’s ability to take on 16 characters in a one hour time span mirrors the intensity of the content within the show itself and provides a peephole’s view of life on a reserve soaked in destitution. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, the fact that Cardinal is presenting this play at all is a testament to the resiliency of the fastest growing population in Canada.”

When a gentleman in the audience asked “Is there any way of knowing that we are progressing in the treatment of Aboriginals” panelist Rob Chief, a youth worker, answered “Cliff is here [performing the play] and you are here [watching].” Perhaps for all the steps forward that seem to follow with several steps back, slowly but surely, there is an illumination that leads out of the darkness and artists are leading the way!

A friend who accompanied me was impressed by all the interconnecting issues that were touched on beyond the issue of addiction – the educational system on the reserves, poverty as well as incest. “The parts on incest were hard to watch but these are the things we should be talking about because it is the first step to collectively contribute to the solution.”

She feels that “having these stories on stage is a good starting point to build connections between First Nations people and Canadians around the issues” and she “appreciated that all of the people on the panel mentioned that this is all of our history.” She reflects that “by watching a play like huff and talking about these stories we create the on-going dialogue that needs to happen.”

An experience that leaves you with action steps as to how you can help.

Another strategy Cliff and co-creator Elizabeth Kantor deployed was to have resources on hand for each person in the audience to leave with. These resources give lists of organizations, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, that provide services around these issues. They also gives online links you can visit to read up and become more informed.

This was the most effective part of the performance – the “Talk Back” and provision of educational and support tools. So often we leave a performance (or film or lecture) dealing with heavy topics stunned by what we have just discovered but also lost as to how we can grapple with it. To create an experience that goes beyond just a performance to ensure the audience walks away with action steps as well as support is a strategy I hope to see more of.

quote by Cliff Cardinal

I love that the NAC understands the important role they play in fostering these types of safe spaces! Sarah provided the audience with name after name of Aboriginal artists who “shine a path by either entering into the academy [to teach arts education with a different perspective] or not entering but teaching in their own way.” These are the cultural provocateurs who will lead this country to a renewed place.

So the future is hopeful but only if we all reach into our deepest empathetic places. I had some trouble with the play’s ending and final message that the help the main character needed lay just beyond in the spirit world because the help needed in these desperate times lies in the here and now. We need to make intentional decisions around moments when we are intimately faced with another person’s pain to that turn the experience into action.

When asked by an audience member “What do you think can be done?” Cliff addressed us all by saying “In this room you each know people who have influence, perhaps you yourself have influence. Give your time. Write a cheque. I know you can come up with something! I don’t have the answers but I know you have the solution!”

huff runs until Saturday. Performances are as follows:

Thursday 8 pm
Friday 8 pm
Saturday 2 pm & 8 pm

Tickets can be purchased here.

FYI – Live Rush tickets are available. $12 for Students!

For the Resource PDF for huff click here.

young man speaking on stage while sitting

Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

KICKSTART THE MONTH OF MAY: Contact Opens, Jane’s Walks’ Weekend & the NAC Features “huff”

How one woman changed a community then went on to change the world.

So much of the way we think and act around neighbourhood, community and city building in the 21st Century is because of the ideas of a single woman – Jane Jacobs. If you need an example of how one human being can have huge impact, Jane is that inspiring person who walked her talk and went on to inspire an international movement. Her ideas of what a community should be resonated with many because it articulated what people already knew to be true as to why certain spaces become thriving communities.

Every year, to honour Jane’s legacy, cities world-wide hosts walks that allow people to discover some brilliant nuance of the place where they live that they may never have discovered otherwise. All of this is possible due to the thousands of volunteers who get out into their community and share their knowledge during Jane’s Walks.

I just discovered the above video highlighting a great walk I participated in a few years back. This walk, that featured the work of Toronto’s many street artists, had us meandering through the downtown core via the back alleys where a technicolour world awaited us. The tour was given by Jason of the Tour Guys, an organization in Toronto that specializes in giving offbeat tours of one of North America’s most interesting cities.

Women who are Indigenizing city spaces.

This year, in both Toronto and Ottawa, walks will be given that highlight the history of Indigenous Peoples.

Toronto’s Jane’s Walks’ lineup includes The Steps of Old Lake Iroquois.

“This walk will explore historic land use along Davenport Rd and the lands along the ridge while providing excellent views of the city. How did First Nations people get around? Who were some of the early movers and shakers? What was the origin of Wychwood Park?”

In Ottawa there is a newly launched initiative, Indigenous Walks, and IW’s tour guide, local Metis artist and educator Jaime Koebel, will be sharing her knowledge and passion for Indigenous history on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm each day. Jaime uses the experience of sight-seeing the beautiful monuments in the Capital city to allow people to experience the history of Ottawa, as well as the history of Canada, by walking in the shoes (or moccasins) of an Indigenous person. The tour starts at the Human Rights Monument at City Hall. More info can be found here. 

And speaking of Indigenizing public spaces, artist Dana Claxton’s (Lakota) “Indian Candy” is part of CONTACT, Toronto’s annual festival celebrating the art of photography.

Each year CONTACT commissions work to be put up on billboards around the downtown core, activating what is normally a space reserved for spreading  a message of commerce to instead spread messages on social issues.

Dana’s work  “interrogates the presentation of Indigenous iconography through the digital archive in Indian Candy.

Working from found images of the “Wild West” sourced online, the artist focuses on those connected to Sitting Bull, the iconic tribal leader who led a resistance against government policies in the United States. As a descendant of Sitting Bull’s band who came to Canada, Claxton simultaneously mines her own personal family history and the legacy of racism. Her diverse range of images present aspects of Indigeneity in a new light; from the buffalo, which represents spirituality for Lakota people and was a main source of sustenance until their near annihilation, to signed souvenir cards from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. As a whole, Indian Candy uncovers truths and performs as a provisional archive of Aboriginal imagery seen through the lens of colonialism.” 

For the month of May you will be able to see Dana’s billboards along Dundas St. West. For more information on the exhibit as well as a map click here.

Also part of CONTACT, some of MIXED BAG MAG’s favourite people, projects and art spaces!

THE POWER PLANT WITH
WEDGE CURATORIAL

Pictures from Paradise: A Survey of Contemporary Caribbean Photography
More info…
Opening Party Tomorrow!


THE GLADSTONE HOTEL WITH MANIFESTO
40 Years of Hip Hop Photography
More info…
Opening Party Tonight! 


MOCCA WITH MERYL MCMASTER:

Material Self: Performing the Other Within
More info…
Opening Party Tonight! 

And another favourite MIXED BAG MAG space for the arts, this time in Ottawa, is The National Arts Centre. This week “huff” has opened at the NAC and runs through until May 10. This provocative work has left everyone I know who has experienced it, changed. It’s not a piece of theatre that is easily digestible but despite the heavy subject matter, substance abuse among First Nations’ youth, people seem to walk away feeling that the experience of being uncomfortable witnessing Cliff Cardinal’s one man show was a positive one that includes a message of hope!

For more information on ‘huff’ visit the National Arts Centre website.

FYI – $12 Student Rush Tickets available here!

 

For more information on the Scotiabank CONTACT Festival visit their website,

For more information on Jane’s Walks visit the Toronto and Ottawa full schedule links below:

Jane’s Walk’s Toronto Schedule

 

 

Jane’s Walk Ottawa Schedule

 

FYI-  Be a part of the Samba Launch Party Procession Tonight at 6 pm. MIXED BAG MAG’ fave Zahra Ebrahim of archiTEXT will be one of the procession leaders of this walk that is all about PLAY! Details here.

WISHING EVERYONE A WEEKEND WHERE YOU LEARN SOMETHING NEW & HAVE FUN!

All above images of Jane’s Walk 2011 (Graffiti Tour & Samba Procession) by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.