I heart ImagiNATIVE

October 19, 2012

Last night, I attended the opening night screening at ImagiNATIVE, the indigenous film and new media festival in Toronto. In short, it was awesome. Alanis Obomsawin’s first film, Christmas in Moose Factory (1971) and her most recent film, The People of the Kattawapiskak River (2012) were screened. I feel I could write a lot about these two films, about how well they communicate so many things that are often so hard to express, about family life, about challenges and resilience, about colonialism and injustice, but also about optimism and hope. But, these days, most of my writing is targeted toward the dissertation, so instead, I will simply say that they are two wonderful films that I hope people get to see. To read a review, check out Lisa Charleyboy for the CBC.

The festival has also integrated artwork into Toronto’s urban landscape. While waiting for the subway after the film, I saw that the public transit’s screens were showing artwork dedicated to raising awareness about and paying respect to the many indigenous women who are missing or have been murdered and whose cases remain unsolved. The art project is called the Stolen Sisters Initiative.

“Your Courage Will Not Go Unnoticed” by Angela Sterritt

ImagiNATIVE is on until Sunday.  Check it out!

More information on the Stolen Sisters Initiative from the artintransit website:

National Exhibition by Indigenous Artists brings Indigenous Women’s Rights to the Forefront

Pattison Onestop, imagineNATIVE and Amnesty International Canada co-present Stolen Sisters Digital Initiative (SSDI), a national project presenting four commissioned works that celebrate and honour Indigenous women and their contributions as strong, successful and valued members of society.

The four one-minute, silent digital works were created by award-winning, Canadian Indigenous artists: Jesse Gouchey and Xstine Cook (LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY), Lisa Jackson (SNARE), Cara Mumford (WHEN IT RAINS) and Angela Sterritt (YOUR COURAGE WILL NOT GO UNNOTICED).

“I’m honoured to be selected to participate in the SSDI. It’s through art that we can express the human side of tragic social issues like this, so often lost in news coverage,” says Genie award-winning filmmaker, Lisa Jackson. “It’s an opportunity to recognize the women at the heart of the issue and to bring an awareness of the violence against them to a broader audience.”

SSDI will play on the Pattison Onestop subway screens to over 1 million Toronto’s daily  commuters and nationally on 254 digital monitors in 33 shopping centres across Canada, at the Calgary International Airport, and TIFF Bell Lightbox leading up to and during the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.

The Festival’s SSDI webpage (http://imaginenative.org/festival2012/SSDI) includes details on mall and shopping centre locations screening the SSDI, a resource page featuring artists, issues and links to organizations to find out more about the history and movement surrounding Indigenous women’s rights.

“The passion of our partners, collaborators and artists to bring attention to such an important issue to potentially over 2.5 million viewers is an unprecedented opportunity,” beams Daniel Northway-Frank, Programming + Industry Manager. “To challenge our artists to marry artistic style and social justice is a new and exciting venture. We hope this initiative adds a strong voice and attention to the Indigenous women’s rights movement in Canada, and spurs action and awareness through creative outlets in other Indigenous communities and countries around the world, which sadly have similar experiences.”

The SSDI project started as a call by imagineNATIVE and its partners to Canada’s Aboriginal artistic community to conceive of a video piece creatively reflecting and responding to the Stolen Sisters, a term adopted by the Aboriginal community and larger social justice organizations of the struggle to find answers for the over 500 official (and arguably more) unsolved cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.

CFP: Encuentro 2012

July 20, 2011

Artwork by Pedro Lasch at the 2009 Encuentro in Bogotá

Every few years, the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics holds an amazing conference. It’s called the “Encuentro,” meaning “meeting” or “encounter.” I had the pleasure of attending the Encuentro in 2009, held in Bogotá, Colombia. (See my posts on the event: Part I and Part II.) It was absolutely fantastic, an engaging 9 days spent with inspirational people. I highly recommend the conference, and it would be great to see a large Canadian contingent there! See the CFP below:

Cities | Bodies | Action

The Politics of Passion in the Americas

March 17-25, 2012
Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana
Centro Histórico, Mexico City

The 8th Encuentro of the Hemispheric Institute seeks to examine the broad intersections between urban space, performance and political/artistic action in the Americas. From the critical poetics of body art to the occupation of public space by social movements, the event invites participants to explore the borders, identities and practices through which subjectivities, hegemonies and counter-hegemonies are constructed in the spaces of the city and beyond. We are particularly interested in the ways in which bodies both interpellate and are interpellated, mobilize and are mobilized, by and around the diverse and complex passions that define our globalized and mediatized present—fear, hatred, disenchantment, hope and faith, among others. We seek to investigate, collectively, the strategies through which bodies (individual, social and political) make themselves present, and intervene aesthetic conventions, social formations and political structures in their search to create new meanings and new modes of sociality. This theme will be the point of departure for a vast array of performances, exhibits, roundtables, workshops, lectures and work groups.

Since 2000, our Encuentros have been a point of contact for artists, scholars, students and activists interested in the relationship between performance and politics in the Americas. Each Encuentro brings together 400-600 participants, and is part academic conference, part performance festival, and always interdisciplinary. The Encuentro is a space focused on experimentation, dialogue and collaboration.

The application deadline for the Encuentro is September 26, 2011. To apply, see the instructions on our website (Propose a Project or Apply to a Work Group) and then fill out the Online Application in English.

 

The last couple of weeks have been crammed full with interesting events. Recently, I posted about the Memory Studies conference in New York. The event, which started off with a fascinating opening night screening called A Film Unfinished, brought memory scholars from around together to discuss their research. It was the first time I was able to present some of my research on the IRS TRC’s national gathering in Winnipeg, Manitoba last summer, and I think (and hope) it went well.

Still from "Canned Meat". Image from Harbourfront Centre website.

Back in Toronto, I attended two other wonderful events. On Wednesday, March 30th, the Harbourfront Centre hosted Aboriginal Women in the Arts: Using Art to Reclaim Traditional Roles with Terril Calder, Lee Maracle and Cheryl L’hirondelle. Calder’s film, Canned Meat, was a jarring and beautiful film that spoke to themes of isolation, memory, and community. Maracle’s poetry, as always, was moving. Her responses during the Q and A were insightful and inspiring. And L’hirondelle’s songs were heartfelt and beautiful. (One of the songs was written in collaboration with Aboriginal women in prison in Saskatchewan.) My favourite song was “Wishful Heart,” written while walking through Vancouver’s downtown east side.

Image of the exhibit's book cover from the AGO website.

And last but not least was the Art Galley of Ontario’s symposium called Inuit Modern. The symposium, on April 2nd, brought together Inuit artists and curators to discuss the new exhibit at the AGO: Inuit Modern. As one of the moderators noted, it was the first time so many Inuit artists were gathered together in “the south.” (I learned that Toronto counts as part of “the south” when the point of comparison is so far north.) The participants discussed the tensions between concepts like traditional and modern, north and south, and art and authority.

Louder than Words

January 24, 2011

There is an article in the New York Times today about Zimbabwean artist, Owen Maseko, whose recent exhibit at the National Gallery has been censored. Maseko’s work focuses on the Gukuranhundi, a massacre of thousands of Ndebele people that occurred between 1983 – 1987 in Zimbabwe. The exhibit remains standing but access has been barred. Instead, patrons can catch glimpses of the work from a balcony above. The windows of the gallery have been covered with newspapers.

The windows of the National Gallery, covered in newspaper. Source: NY Times

The New York Times article touches on the troubled past (and present) of Zimbabwe under President Mugabe’s rule, and discusses the fear of a public who cannot criticize its rulers or play a hand in shaping their country’s future. It also highlights the complicated relationship between art, politics and reconciliation. The article notes that Owen Maseko “created the Gukurahundi exhibit to contribute to reconciliation.” I wonder what reconciliation means in this context, especially given that Mugabe is still in power.

As my research on the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission (IRS TRC) moves forward, the role of artwork in the negotiation of a troubled past and particularly within the context of reconciliation continues to arise as an area of interest. The IRS TRC has put out a call for artwork, recognizing that images/artwork/film etc. can play a powerful role in processes of reconciliation. It is the first TRC that has prioritized artist engagements with the past in this way.

I recently came across this image on one of my favorite blogs, No Caption Needed. The blog post is entitled “Seeing the Past in the Present,” and showcases the work of artist Sergey Larenkov. Larenkov uses archival images of Europe during World War II and current photographs to make the past legible in the present.  Because I find these images so striking, and because sometimes images do speak louder than words, I end this post with one of Larenkov’s images.

By Sergey Larenkov. Source: No Caption Needed

I wish I could attend this event in New York:

October 18 2010, 6 – 8pm: The University Seminars on Cultural Memory and on Redress invite you to join in a discussion of the new publication, MEMORY: HISTORIES, THEORIES, DEBATES (Fordham), which explores the future of memory studies. Its editors, Susannah Radstone and Bill Schwarz, will present their project. Respondents Daniel Levy, Jenny James and Marita Sturken will join them in a discussion of the state of the field and its future.

Location: Room 1 on the 2nd Floor of Faculty House
(http://www.columbia.edu/about_columbia/map/faculty_house.html)

But at least I’ll be able to attend this event in Toronto:

imagineNATIVE is a media festival in Toronto running from October 20th until October 24th. See the program here. I’m particularly interested in seeing A Windego Tale, the closing night film.

A Windego Tale:

Against an idyllic autumn backdrop, Harold (Gary Farmer) embarks on a road trip north with his troubled grandson and recounts a story of their family’s harrowing past that began a generation earlier. In a remote northern community, Lily (Andrea Menard) returns home after a 15-year absence and reunites with her estranged mother, Doris (Jani Lauzon). When she begins to uncover the terrifying legacy of the community’s residential school and its ties to her own family, the weight of the past threatens to awaken the sinister spirit of the Windigo. With an all-star cast that includes the screen debut of acclaimed writer Lee Maracle, this gripping and potent psychological drama depicts the intergenerational scars left by residential schools in this dark chapter of Canada’s history, and the power of reconciliation and hope for the future.

Armand Garnet Ruffo (Ojibway) is a poet and professor at Carleton University, specializing in Indigenous literature. He is the author of two volumes of poetry, Opening In the Sky and At Geronimo’s Grave, winner of the 2002 Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry, as well as the acclaimed creative biography, Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney. A Windigo Tale is his directorial debut.

 

Stephen Harper's larger-than-life apology at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

It’s been one month since the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission held its first national gathering, and I feel as though I am still processing the event. Over the course of four days, I heard stories of both devastation and strength, of both anger and hope.

Several moments stand out in my memory:

Patrick Etherington Sr., his son Patrick Etherington Jr., Frances Whiskeychan, Christopher Paulmartin and Jorge Hookimaw’llillerre all walked for 31 days to reach the event. Beginning in Cochrane, Ontario, they walked to promote awareness for the reconciliation process. When they arrived at the national gathering in Winnipeg, Patrick Jr. spoke of the lines of communication opened between his father and himself during the walk.

In many ways, they did what I believe the commission hopes people will do: take the process of reconciliation beyond the confines of the commission, and make it personally meaningful. Because, for the most part, the IRS TRC can only be part of this process.

We also heard from those who worked at the schools. In the sharing circle held on the first day, I heard the experiences of a pilot who had taken children from up north to bring them to schools. He told of separating one young girl in particular who was crying because he had just taken her from her Inuit family. He had thought he was doing what was right. A teacher told of her experiences and the difficult conditions at the Indian Residential School where she taught. She read the names of her students in their honor.

One issue that I continue to wonder about since (and during) the event is the place of religion during this process. The churches played an instrumental role in running the Indian Residential School system, and they will play an important role in reconciliation. I noticed some visible discomfort from some people when church representatives addressed the crowds. At the same time, I also heard former students express their connections to Christian faiths. Before the event, I read a short article in the Globe and Mail where Peter Yellowquill, a survivor of the schools said: “The churches committed spiritual genocide. But I am still a Christian man. It’s complicated.”

At the event, the role that religious leaders played was indeed complicated. At times, they offered apologies, at others, I heard denials. At the opening ceremony, the crowd heard native blessings and ceremonies. At the end of his closing remarks during that first ceremony on that first day, I was surprised to hear the Chair of the Commission, Justice Sinclair, offer the Lords Prayer.

After the event, I visited the the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In the foyer of the gallery, they had erected two large art pieces that contained portions of the official apologies given by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for the histories involving the taking of Aboriginal children. In some ways, the larger-than-life signs conveyed a sense of power. At the same time, they drew attention to the fact that apologies were simply words. Important words, yes, but they remain meaningless without action.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's official apology in 2008

“I believe that in the indeterminacy of drawing – the contingent way that images arrive in the work – lies some kind of model of how we live out lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are and how we operate in the world.”

– William Kentridge

An exhibit of William Kentridge’s work is currently on display at MOMA in New York until May 17, 2010. I went to see it the other day with my friend Lauren and am now completely enamored with his work. Before visiting the exhibit, I knew a bit about the artist, mostly through his work on an amazing play called Ubu and the Truth Commission, but didn’t have a sense of his range and diversity. For the most part, Kentridge, a South African artist, deals with the realities of living in an apartheid and post-apartheid state. He engages issues of oppression, resistance, hatred, love and desire through several mediums including drawing, film, printmaking, collage, and theatrical performance. Go see it!

The image above: William Kentridge. Drawing from Stereoscope 1998-99. Charcoal, pastel, and colored pencil on paper. For more on Kentridge at MOMA click here or for a review, click here.