May 26th: I lay in the fetal position facing away from my window, swaddled in my blanket and scrolling in horror as I watched various accounts unfold, documenting the death of George Floyd. The summer had already ruthlessly attacked Black bodies, our lives and lungs brutally attacked by a virus that was disproportionately killing us.
Not only were our lungs incapacitated in hospital beds, but even on the streets, we couldn’t breathe. The autopsy may have declared his death a result of asphyxiation, but it was clear that his life was taken because he dared to have Black skin. And while we mourned for him, we learnt of others — Ahmaud Arbery, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau. These were people who lived and died, their lives were more than a slogan, a t-shirt or an Instagram story.
Before the day I learned of his death, my default reaction would have been an exhaustive but temporary outburst of rage. In these instances, I found no time to grieve and sit with the fact that even in the 21st century, Black lives are still under a constant threat of being lynched. But as I curled up under my covers, anger didn’t feel like an appropriate enough reaction. It felt pointless.
As I scrolled through my timeline I waited for the rage to come, but it didn’t. The feeling that came over me was much darker. It was like sitting in the bottom of a vast, dark pit, an emptiness that weighed down on my whole body, rendering my limbs heavy and my senses numb.
Gone was my ability to act, or my ability to respond to the vast amount of messages that took up an unhealthy amount of storage on my phone, gone was my ability to stand up and speak out like I had done in the past as if on autopilot. I stayed in my bed for days, doomscrolling into the early hours of the morning and sleeping intermittently through my summer classes.
For 72 hours, I embraced the art of doing nothing. Clicking through well-intentioned infographics and violent clips of Black suffering on Instagram, I wondered about how it would feel to not recognize yourself in the images and videos of Black brutality. To sit and watch George Floyd die, to watch his cries and pleas for his mother was more than a viral moment.
It was a warning, a reminder, that on the wrong day it could be our fathers, our brothers or even ourselves whose lives were cruelly and violently snatched for nothing more than a result of our Blackness. No amount of black squares could reassure me of my safety and still, I allowed the anger and outrage of others to wash over me, wrapping me up in a weighted blanket of reassurance that only further emboldened my inaction.
As I nestled further into my cocoon, I became keenly aware that the act of doing absolutely nothing is contrary to everything that I have been taught as a Black woman. For as long as stereotypes of Black people have existed, the act of doing nothing or being lazy has been deemed completely unacceptable.
This is a sentiment that has stemmed back to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in which white slave owners justified the enslavement and degradation of Black bodies by arguing that Black people possessed the inability to run their own lives. By emphasizing negative traits within Black people, particularly characteristics of submissiveness, dishonesty and laziness, slave owners rationalized the commodification and brutalization of the Black body. Though this sentiment has metamorphosed through generations, this point of view has been deeply embedded in institutions and their policies. It has guided governments to over police and surveil their Black people especially when they appear to be doing nothing.
Black women have particularly been forced to navigate negative preconceptions. On top of fighting racism, they are also forced to navigate sexism and often as a result of both, classism. To be accepted, Black women are often expected to be superheroes — unfeeling, agreeable, background figures who work behind the scenes of movements without asking or expecting recognition for their hard work. Black women are expected to protect the world from their own wrongdoings, to stand behind white women in their fight for gender equity and stand behind men in the struggle for racial equity. During the civil rights era, Black women were expected to choose a cause to fight for, whilst being negatively and in some cases more harshly affected by both. Decades later, Black women still find their needs and desires overlooked by both movements, their work remains uncited, their voices talked over.
For every Martin Luther King Jr. , there is an Ella Baker, a Fannie Lou Hamer, a Coretta Scott King. For every Malcolm X, there are countless Black women who were and are vital in making the world a better place. Yet there are no days to commemorate their work, their speeches remain unquoted, their legacies continue to be unrecognized.
Black girls are conditioned to expect mistreatment in every aspect of their lives.
When I was six I innocently made the mistake of saying “what” in response to a question instead of “pardon;” my teacher responded in a fit of rage, her face reddening as she screamed insults at me until I burst into tears. She sent me to the back of the classroom to sit in isolation for the rest of the day. No other students were allowed to talk to me so I could think about what I had done. As I sat at the table, alone, I made the conscious decision to do everything in my power to not allow history to repeat itself. Sixteen years later I don’t forget to use the word pardon.
Even so, innocence is not something that is afforded to Black girls. A study from Georgetown University conducted in 2014 found that Black girls as young as five are viewed by adults as inherently “less innocent” and “childlike” than their white counterparts, resulting in the belief that Black girls are less deserving of protection and a nurturing environment. This has resulted in harsher punishments and higher suspension and expulsion rates for Black girls in the classroom.
As I got older, the treatment that I received from the adults in my life only worsened. Adults who were entrusted with caring for my well-being were actively responsible for endangering it. While non-Black students were allowed the benefit of the doubt, Black students were met with distrust and suspicion; our errors were treated as intentional acts of sedition.
I endured weekly music lessons with a man who took it upon himself to verbally castigate me every time I played a wrong note. I would sit defencelessly as he would berate me mercilessly, week in, week out, about how every mistake I made was actually rooted in my intrinsic laziness. Some weeks he would lecture about my shortcomings for several minutes, other times he would raise his voice into an almost shout before blaming me for making him lose his temper. His other non-Black students never received the same kind of treatment. While their errors were treated as simple mistakes, I was expected to present perfection and rebuked for anything less than. I have been followed, surveilled, policed and unfairly criticized more times than I would like to recount.
But what makes it much worse is the fact that I know that my experience is far from singular. Black girls know that the world will not fight for them, the same way they know that they are expected to fight for others. And so we armour ourselves, on guard and ready for the next unfounded attack.
In the last few years, I have worked to pursue a path to absolute perfection, filling my days with endless tasks, pushing myself to the brink of breaking point, masking insecurities with a veneer of resilience, replacing genuine feelings of anger with action. But as I lay undisturbed for those 72 hours, I saw another path.
I embraced a future that wouldn’t expect me to be on the frontlines of every battle, a path that allowed me every once in a while to sit on the sidelines and take a fucking break. In its own way, choosing to sit out can and should be allowed to be its own form of radical resistance. Prioritizing our mental health is just as important in the preservation of our lives as marching and organizing. Our lives matter even when we make mistakes. Our pain, our anger and our joy, it matters.
Eventually, I got out of bed. I hopped in the shower and put on fresh clothes. I had the energy to open my emails and read my messages. And days later, when I was ready to join the fight, I allowed myself to get off the sidelines. But my actions didn’t come from the same place of anxiety, nor was it coupled with my self-worth. I surrounded myself with other Black folks, we allowed ourselves to be angry, to make mistakes and despite the horrors that were occurring within our community and despite all the darkness, we even let ourselves laugh. And a few nights later when I climbed into bed, I felt the darkness, the numbness and the weight of my existence lift slightly from my body.
Jury names winners in Art Exposed – Kamloops This Week
The jurors of Kamloops regional art exhibit Art Exposed have made their selections.
On Friday, three jurors made their picks for the Kamloops Art Council’s Art Exposed show in a variety of categories, including 2D, 3D split by emerging artists and established artists, and youth.
Jurors this year included Kamloops-based artists Bill Frymire, Robin Hodgson and Debra Gow.
In the 2D emerging artist category, Carmen Teixeria-Derksen of Canoe took first place with Hope.
In second place was Jillian Beach of Kamloops with Circus of the Cosmos-II.
In the 2D established artist category, Edit Pal took first place with Wintertide, while second place went to Parm Armstrong for Pieces.
In 3D art, the winner of the emerging artist category was Mike Kehler of Kamloops for Guardian Muninn, with Jackie Jones’ Rocky Horror Game of Thrones or How it Should Have Ended winning second.
In the established artist category for 3D art, the winner was bronze sculptor Nathan Scott with The Window. Taking second place was Ed Jensen with Medicine Bird. Both artists live in Kamloops.
The youth category had one winner — Addysen Outerbridge won with Sutherland Falls.
Each first and second place winner will receive a $750 cash prize at the least, according to the KAC website.
‘I paint for healing’: Indigenous art in the time of COVID-19 – TVO
This story was published in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights.
Michel Dumont, 53, remembers getting a new job when he was 29 and partying so hard in celebration that he missed his first day of work. Alcohol abuse was not new to him — he says it’s connected to intergenerational trauma. His mother had attended the Indian Residential Day School in Nipigon, where she received an education in colonial values. “For my mom, school taught her not to value herself or culture. School beat the Ojibway out of her,” he says. “And my mom tried the same with me and my sister. And I have trauma resulting from that — the trauma from Indian Day School carried on.”
Dumont, a queer, Métis, two-spirit man living in Thunder Bay, coped by drinking until he couldn’t feel or remember the pain. But missing his first day of work was a turning point. He promised himself that his thirties wouldn’t be like his twenties, and he began working toward sobriety. He got a job at a transportation company serving people with disabilities — a job that involved lifting the people he was transporting. He focused on work as a distraction from alcohol but pushed himself too far. “No one told me with pain you should stop,” he says. Now, he has a degenerative disc disease and near-constant back pain.
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He has been connected to art since early childhood — his mother was his first teacher, and elementary teachers quickly recognized his talents. In grade school, his work was selected for a travelling exhibit. He even won the Queen’s Jubilee, a competitive art award from the local legion. He turned to art to cope with both his physical and emotional pain. “I learned that I’m only so young — I only have so much time left,” he says. “My pain-free hours, I could be creating work.”
He had his mother’s Indian Day School classroom picture made into ceramic tiles. From there, he smashed it into broken pieces and remade it into a mosaic to honour the students. The piece now hangs on the walls of the Definitely Superior Art Gallery in Thunder Bay.
Today, Dumont is not letting the COVID-19 pandemic — or his back pain — prevent him from showing his art digitally in Paris, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal; he held his first solo show in Winnipeg last summer. And he’s not alone. Artists from across Turtle Island are finding innovative ways of staying connected, honing their skills, and managing to make a living creating art.
Wanda Nanibush, an Anishinaabe curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, says the pandemic has reinforced the importance of Indigenous art. “I think it’s interesting that everyone is at home and everyone is isolated, and they immediately turn to art,” she says. “And I think that’s because art is a place we can get out of ourselves and beyond ourselves. Art has always been seen as part of healing. I wouldn’t say it can heal a pandemic — that’s impossible. That’s an actual physical thing. But it can heal some of the trauma of living through one.”
Giizis Soon Ikwe is an Anishinaabe woman from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, but calls Animikii-wiikwedong, Thunder Bay, home. Her English name is Leanna Marshall. She works as an Indigenous counsellor and is currently enrolled in the Winnipeg Holistic Expressive Arts Therapy Institute. The diploma program is taught through an Indigenized lens and honours Indigenous knowledge and pedagogy.
According to Marshall, the Western model of counselling is an uneven playing field, with a “client” who has a problem and an “expert” who can fix it. In this Indigenous art-therapy model, Marshall says, when a student enrolls, “there’s already that assumption that they are carrying that wisdom within themselves to help with what it is they are looking for. That wisdom comes from them, but it also comes from that ancestral knowledge that we all carry as Indigenous people of this land.”
Marshall says that there is a heaviness to Indigenous stories but that she feels a shift among nations due to the acknowledgement of trauma. These days, she notes, she’ll often hear friends, family, or clients say, “Okay, that happened: Now how do we fix it for us, our children, and future generations?”
“You see this resurgence of language, you see a resurgence of traditional knowledge, and you see a resurgence of people out on the land and doing things that haven’t been done for years because of the residential schools,” she says. “Because all these policies have kept Indigenous people quiet and ashamed of who we are, but people are becoming really proud.”
Lucille Atlookan, a 31-year-old from Eabametoong First Nation, was always encouraged by relatives to doodle and draw. Their uncle gave them their first paint set. However, they also struggled with health issues and trauma stemming from a sexual assault. As a teenager, they moved to Thunder Bay to access mental-health care. Now, they’re working on managing their physical health. “I got really sick because of lupus and chronic kidney disease,” says Atlookan. “I was close to kidney failure so I changed my diet drastically and went back to beading and painting. I’m not a painter, but I paint for healing.”
Atlookan moved to Thunder Bay at 15 years old and now calls the city home. They became involved with the Definitely Superior Art Gallery and created the Neechee Studio — a space designed for young Indigenous people to learn traditional skills that was originally hosted in the gallery (it’s now operating virtually). Through Neechee, they realized they wanted to be a better role model to other young people new to the city. For Atlookan, that meant getting an education. “I took the Native Access Program [at Lakehead University] and found my passion. It was always art, but I found I wanted to be an arts educator,” they say. Today, Atlookan is working toward concurrent honours bachelor degrees in fine art and education.
Atlookan is also learning how to run the studio’s arts programming. “For a long time, [Neechee Studio] wasn’t exactly run by Indigenous youth. I didn’t know how to run it — I was really shy and modest about it,” they say. “But I started to grow. I was mentored by Indigenous artists in Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation, like Jean Marshall, Helen Pelletier, Rihkee Strapp, and Cree Stevens.” They also count non-Indigenous artist Lora Northway as a mentor.
Atlookan says their line of family portraits helped them see the strength and wisdom in their family. They want to use art to help youth see their inherent traditional knowledge.
Dumont is now focusing on a line of cellophane art called Queer CosPlay. Essentially, he takes coloured cellophane and creates a shape — a wig, an Elvis outfit, a COVID-19 virus — and adds multiple layers until he’s reached a desired colour and design. He enjoys the medium because it doesn’t bother his sensitivity to smell. He also still works with tiled mosaic, which he first used 20 years ago. “I found these sample boards on Simpson Street, behind a ceramic-bathroom-tile store, and these sample boards were just lying in the alley, with these beautiful colours,” he says. “I took them home on the bus; that’s what started me off at that first show.”
He’s now part of a mentorship program with the Arts AccessAbility Network of Manitoba.
He says art helps him manage his anxiety and helps him express his creative side. He learned to focus his energy on creating while he is pain-free, usually first thing in the morning. The act of creating, he says, relaxes and soothes his mind — it reminds him of his grandparents knitting in front of the television, which grounds him as he does the same, only with mosaics or cellophane: “I’m still doing that, working while I watch television.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Michel Dumont’s first name. TVO.org regrets the error.
This Magazine → The art of looking past labels – This Magazine
From an early age, Hanan Hazime remembers being immersed in the arts. As a young child, she loved painting, dressing up in costumes, and creating elaborate stories. Now, at the age of 30, Hazime is a multidisciplinary artist whose work ranges from politically charged paintings to nature poetry. As a Lebanese-Canadian, non-neurotypical, and invisibly disabled, Shia Muslim woman, Hazime has had many personal encounters with gendered Islamophobia, racism, and ableism in her life. Her artwork often grapples with these issues and allows others to share and better understand a small part of her lived experiences.
“I wanted to dispel stigmas about Muslim women, about Arab women, about disabled or mad folk, because those are all my identities … My art is trying to show that first of all we exist, and that we matter. And that we can take up space and I think that’s very important to have that representation,” Hazime says.
In university, Hazime focused on raising awareness about a variety of human rights issues through demonstrations, protests, and organized change. However, she found that artwork seemed to be more effective in evoking the viewer’s emotions and raising awareness about social issues.
“Art is the way that I do my activism … I found that people have connected to me more through art, because art affects your soul and your heart and that’s where the change needs to happen,” she says.
While Hazime’s political paintings are important for her self-expression and educating others, Hazime explains that some of her non-political artwork is often rejected by exhibits and collectors as she becomes tokenized for her identity.
She recalls a specific incident where she had written a story about a woman who suspects a mermaid is living in her bathtub. The story was a magical tale exploring women’s sexuality and was rejected by literary publications as it didn’t explore any “-isms” or modes of oppression.
“They are always searching in my story for those ‘-isms’ because they’re automatically assuming that whatever I create is always going to be about these political issues that I’m facing. I can never exist as a human. I always have to exist as this political symbol,” she says.
Building on her passion for writing, Hazime is aiming to have her first novel published this spring. Growing up, Hazime had a difficult time seeing herself represented in mainstream media. She would read two books a day and never saw similar characters reflected in these novels.
“The younger generation, when they look up and they see a Muslim woman creating art, they’re going to think ‘I can create art too. I can write a novel. I can write poetry. I matter. My voice matters,’” she says.
The plot of her novel-in-progress, Unmoored, centres around a Lebanese-Canadian teenager named Zaynab who struggles with mental illness while navigating high school culture. The book is very loosely based on Hazime’s own experiences growing up in a working-class family and not having access to therapy, which she hopes portrays the realities of mental illness for the less privileged.
“It’s basically a book that I would have loved when I was 16. I’m writing it for my past self,” she says.
While Hazime’s work often touches on serious issues dealing with her identity, she explains that she is able to move beyond society’s focus on “-isms” and see people for who they truly are.
“I’m looking beyond race, gender, ability, and class and all those social constructs…. The skin that I’m in is just a shell that I’m in temporarily in this world,” she says.
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