Mama Cash Feminist Art Festival

Mama Cash logo
Mama Cash logo.

By Chloe Hyman

International Women’s Day is an increasingly intersectional affair in The Netherlands, where the Mama Cash Feminist Festival kicked off in three Dutch cities on the weekend of March 8th. Programming at art spaces in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht provided platforms for queer people, POC, and sex workers to discuss issues pertinent to their identities, through panel discussions and interactive tours. Live performances were plentiful too, and their participatory nature embodied the spirit of International Women’s Day; emboldened by the atmosphere of self-love, visitors were free to jump up and dance, tell a story, or strut down the runway.

Mama Cash Ad
Mama Cash Feminist Festival Advertisement by Marilyn Sonneveld.

Intersectionality and participation are central to the mission of Mama Cash, the first international womxn’s fund. Founded in 1983 by a group of feminists in Amsterdam, the Mama Cash fund has grown to support thousands of womxn, trans, and intersex people each year. The fund provides financial and networking aid to 150 self-led feminist human rights organizations annually, and the proceeds from the yearly Feminist Festival help finance these grants. Further, some recipients participate in the festival, which is a wonderful platform to raise awareness for their human rights initiatives. This year, the Mama Cash Feminist Festival sold out completely, aiding future grant recipients and ensuring full audiences for every panel and performance.

The Infinite Kiki Function

My weekend began Saturday evening at the Mama Cash Feminist Festival X Infinite Kiki Function, a ballroom competition held at WORM, an experimental art space in Rotterdam. Co-hosted by the Kiki House of Angels and the Kiki House of Major, this competition—known as a ‘kiki’ in the ballroom community—invited individuals of all identities to compete in a variety of creative categories.

Some of these, like Old Way to Vogue Femme Beats, paid homage to 1970s queer Black ballroom culture, which originated in New York City. Performers in this category embodied the ‘Old Way’ of voguing, at regular intervals sliding from one sustained angular pose to the next. They were accompanied by vogue femme beats, a more contemporary musical subgenre characterized by high-energy beats and frequent crashing—the ideal instrumentation for a perfectly-executed dip. In other categories, like Dyke Realness, Trans Activist Realness, and Transfemme Aesthetic Resistance, the MCs Ms. Maybelline Angels and Karmella Angels welcomed intersectional identities to the runway.

These added categories illustrate the inclusive nature of ballroom culture today, but their incorporation is not always seamless. Questions arose when artist Mavi Veloso took to the stage for Trans Activist Realness and shimmied her silk dress up to her navel in a tantalizing body reveal. The judges questioned whether the entrant adequately fulfilled the category’s activist requirement, and Veloso was quick to defend her performance as activist art. The judges faced a dilemma: what are the parameters of trans activism? After a few tense minutes, Ms. Maybelline Angels announced that the discussion would continue after the kiki, and the judges awarded the grand prize to the performer Alex 007, who walked the category carrying a sign reading, “My existence is resistance.”

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Performer Alex 007, Winner of the Trans Activist Realness event, with MC Karmella Angels, Infinite Kiki Function. Photo by Naomi van Heck.

Later, Rae Parnell—House Mother of the House of Major—would elaborate on the judges’ decision. He explained that ‘realness’ has historically referred to an individual’s ability to pass as a cis woman or a cis straight man. Thus, trans people who can’t or don’t want to pass are not able to walk categories that place a premium on a participant’s ‘realness.’ Of course, such categories were not invented to be exclusionary, but to exalt the qualities that might save a person from anti-trans violence. In recent years, the ballroom community has broadened the meaning of ‘realness’ to make space for non-passing trans people. Newer categories like Trans Activist Realness de-center passing and unclockability; the only quality judged for realness in this event is the entrant’s performance of their activism. According to Parnell, this was the aspect the judges found lacking in Veloso’s otherwise stunning performance.

Though this conflict charged the air in the room with feeling, it was not uncomfortable to witness. Moments of discord should be embraced in spaces of activism, as they enable us to better support and elevate marginalized voices. The ballroom community acted in kind, using the conflict to communicate the community need for a category judged a particular way. Furthermore, Trans Activist Realness is a relatively new category, so it’s understandable that the culture must shift to make space for its presence. Parnell calls ballroom “a living organism,” and we are watching it evolve in real-time.

In addition to intersectionality, the Infinite Kiki Function exhibited a commitment to fostering audience participation. Though most performers signed-up prior to the evening for their chosen events, the MCs frequently invited the crowd to join in. When they first announced Dyke Realness, not a single person hit the runway, but after some encouragement, people leaped off their chairs to show the judges what “lesbian energy” really looks like. By my count, the category boasted the largest number of contestants out of any event that evening.

The Fearless Collective

Fearless Collective 3, Photo by ClaireBontje
Ishq Inquilab (my love is the revolution). The Fearless Collective. Photo by Claire Bontje.

The line-up on Sunday across all three participating cities demonstrated a similar commitment to participation and intersectionality. I was most intrigued by the program offerings at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which promised an art-filled International Women’s Day experience. Geographically speaking, the festival began outside the glass walls of the Stedelijk. Early attendees arrived to see members of The Fearless Collective—a public arts organization—busily painting the museum façade. They watched as artist Shilo Shiv Suleman traversed her glass canvas on a moving scaffold, carefully bringing her portrait to life. Visitors were also invited to participate in the work by adding their own protest slogans in the bottom right-hand corner of the mural. Later arrivals, including those who slept in after attending a late-night Kiki, were greeted by a complete rendering of the artist’s subject and her penetrating gaze.

 

Fearless Collective 2, Photo by ClaireBontje
Ishq Inquilab (my love is the revolution). The Fearless Collective. Photo by Claire Bontje.

English-speakers had the opportunity to learn about the mural during the English-language panel, which included Suleman—the founder of The Fearless Collective—and a number of different arts organizations. Following a spirited opening address delivered by the Dutch Human Rights Ambassador Bahia Tahzib-Lie, Suleman shared the story of the Fearless Collective.

Since 2012, The Fearless Collective has travelled from the artist’s home in Bangalore to underrepresented communities in over ten countries, where it works with locals to transform public spaces through art-making and storytelling. Each public art project draws on community values, practices, and histories to foster collective healing. Murals are painted to reclaim public space, flooding sites of fear and trauma with affirmative messages chosen by the community—proclamations of strength, sacredness, and beauty. Suleman spoke of recent murals, like that erected in the Indigenous village of Olivencia in Brazil, which celebrates the contributions of women to their society. She also recalled the construction of the first known public tribute to queer masculinities in Beirut, which her organization made possible.

Fearless Collective, Photo by Claire Bontje
Ishq Inquilab (my love is the revolution). The Fearless Collective. Photo by Claire Bontje.

The artist also discussed the significance of her mural on the Stedelijk façade, which echoes a mural recently painted by the collective in Delhi, India. Both public artworks call attention to the peaceful protests led by women in the Shaheen Bagh neighborhood of Delhi, in response to the 2019 passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act targeting Muslim Indians and other minorities. That both are public multiplies their strength; the thousands of tourists who flood Museumplein each day—to see the Rijksmuseum, The Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk—will encounter Ish Inquilab (my love is the revolution). These international visitors will learn the story of the Shaheen Bagh protestors, and will no doubt be affected by its message of resilience and beauty. Perhaps they will find strength in this message and gain the courage to stand up for themselves and others in their own communities.

Las Reinas Chulas

Suleman was joined onstage by a number of other speakers involved with Mama Cash. I was particularly excited to hear from Ana Laura Ramírez Ramos, a project coordinator for Las Reinas Chulas, a human rights group that works with women, youth, LGBTQ+ communities, and indigenous people to workshop cabaret performances, and educate through the medium of cabaret.

Ramos explained how cabaret, a heterogeneous mix of song, comedy, and storytelling, lends itself well to personal expression and community building. She also emphasized the comedic aspect of the medium, which promotes self-reflection, enabling performers and audiences alike to think critically about their identities. Throughout the creative process, participants often find themselves wondering, “How did I swallow so much rubbish?”

Ramos explained how cabaret, a heterogeneous mix of song, comedy, and storytelling, lends itself well to personal expression and community building.

Armed with their frustrations and an acerbic sense of humor, the participants of a Las Reinas Chulas cabaret workshop create characters rarely seen in Mexican telenovelas—autonomous women who enact positive change in their societies. In recent years, many of the participants have been lesbian and bisexual women, and their onstage personas reflect the experiences of queer women in Mexico. By virtue of their visibility, these personas are a threat to patriarchal systems, but Las Reinas Chulas are not content to merely disrupt the status quo; every story seeks to engage male audiences in a societal restructuring. Ramos and her collaborators look to the men in their lives for inspiration—men who feel comfortable living in a male-dominated society. They have found humor to be a successful rhetorical tool in various communities for infiltrating cultural barriers and communicating feminist messages to men in the audience.

Las Reinas Chulas also offers a number of educational cabarets for school and university groups, including the diverse series ‘The New Monographs.’ In these thought-provoking musical skits, professional performers provide information on safe sex practices, dating violence, abortion rights, and a number of other issues. Another intriguing program is ‘The Observatory Publivíboras,’ an awards show parody, in which ad campaigns are recognized for their outstanding contributions to sexism, racism, and classicism.

 

The Sex Worker’s Opera

Another notable presence on the English-language panel was the Sex Workers Opera, a theatre company that promotes narratives written by sex workers, represented onstage by Movement Director Siobhan Knox, and Music Director Alex Etchart. The company’s titular work is a devised theatre piece assembled from one hundred stories submitted by sex workers from 18 countries, incorporating song, dance, poetry, and visual projections. A film adaptation is also in the works, and the performers regularly conduct workshops for sex workers and allies.

Speaking at the Stedelijk, Knox and Etchart discussed the inclusion of sex workers at International Women’s Day celebrations, emphasizing the intersectional relationship between sex workers’ rights and feminism. They explained that most sex worker advocacy groups push for decriminalization rather than legalization because the latter requires sex workers to obtain legal paperwork and pay expensive licensing fees—hurdles for migrant workers and other marginalized groups.

When asked, “Is the feminist future near?” Knox responded thoughtfully. She acknowledged the global trend toward oppressive policies, which are endangering marginalized communities around the world. But she also spoke admiringly of young activists, who she trusts will bring us closer to a feminist future. “We [are] constantly inspired by the next generation,” Knox said. “By young people who are more aware and active than ever before through social media and necessity.” Echoing Ramos’s comments about humor, she added that art and laughter have the power to “disarm hatred or ignorance.”

Feminist Tour of the Stedelijk with Sekai Makoni

Sekai Makoni, Photo by ClaireBontje
Sekai Makoni giving a tour at the Stedelijk Museum. Photo by Claire Bontje.

The next English-language event of the day was a guided tour of the Stedelijk Museum led by English artist, speaker, and activist Sekai Makoni. Makoni’s artistic and academic work is characterized by an intersectional interest in Black Feminism, spirituality, and activism. She is a graduate of the Critical Studies program at the Sandberg Institut in Amsterdam and currently produces a podcast, Between Ourselves, in which she explores the experiences of Black women in Europe. In keeping with the artist’s integrated approach to contemporary art, this tour explored four different works through the shared themes of play, activism, Blackness, and togetherness.

We began at Barbara’s Kruger’s 2017 installation Untitled (Past, Present, Future), an immersive text-based work situated in a transitionary space between the museum lobby and exhibition halls. Visitors moving through this space are bombarded with English and Dutch sentences, printed in all capitals and plastered on the gallery walls and floors. A George Orwell quote takes center stage, informing us: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face, forever.” Other statements come from Kruger herself, like the simple request, “PLEASE LAUGH,” or the Dutch sentence fragment, “GEZOND VERSTAND” which translates to ‘common sense.’

Barbara Kruger, photo by Gert Jan van Rooij
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Past, Present, Future), digital print on vinyl, acquired in 2012, the installation of the work in 2017 is made possible by ProWinko ProArt. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Makoni guided our group through a basic visual analysis, beginning with observations about the work’s use of color, space, and light. Next, she asked us to consider Kruger’s intentions—what the artist hoped to communicate to viewers—and how the work’s formal aspects enabled that message to be delivered. Only after this collaborative process did Makoni supplement our ideas with a brief overview of Kruger’s feminist oeuvre, and the qualities that characterize 20th-century American activist art. By waiting to contextualize the work, Makoni created space for free-thinking and participation. That viewers interpreted Untitled correctly without a didactic lecture is a testament to the work’s clarity, as well as Makoni’s skill as an educator.

Esiri Erheriene-Essi, photo by Daniel Nicolas
A Lineage of Grace (for Toni and Cindy), Esiri Erheriene-Essi (2019). Photo by Daniel Nicolas courtesy of the artist.

In contrast, Esiri Erheriene-Essi’s A Lineage of Grace (for Toni and Cindy) (2019) contained a number of visual references unknown to our (mostly European) group. Makoni adapted nimbly, identifying the American Civil Rights slogans pinned to the figures’ clothes, and the patchwork of figures from Black pop culture hanging behind their heads. She discussed the significance of political activist Angela Davis, whose likeness on a button is pinned to the baby’s onesie, and wondered aloud if the eponymous Toni might be a reference to Toni Morrison—the famous Black American author who died last year.

Inspired by Makoni’s lecture, an observant Hungarian woman in our group wondered whether the family might represent the progression of activism from generation to generation. Another attendee inquired about the significance of Black American activist symbols in a British context, given that Erheriene-Essi is Black British. In response, Makoni described the experience of a global Blackness—a recognition of shared histories that enables Black figures from different countries to feel significant to communities around the world.

Of the four works discussed on this tour, only Kruger’s came from the permanent collection, while the remaining three hang in the museum’s temporary exhibitions. A Lineage of Grace (for Toni and Cindy) is shown in an exhibition dedicated to last year’s Prix de Rome, for which Erheriene-Essi was a nominee. At the beginning of the tour, Makoni acknowledged the lack of female artists represented in the permanent collection—a common feature among modern art museums that Stedelijk director Rein Wolfs seeks to change. “We still have far fewer women than men in our collection,” Wolfs said on International Women’s Day. “It’s important to send a clear message in a strong and also an activist way. And for us, Mama Cash is a really good partner for that.”

Events like the Mama Cash Feminist Festival certainly raise awareness about feminist issues as they pertain to art, but the permanent collection can only be diversified bureaucratically through new acquisitions. I hope that Wolfs intends to expand the museum collection accordingly, but for now, I am impressed by the inclusivity of the temporary exhibit program, which enabled Makoni to create an enthralling tour.

I am in awe of all the artists and organizations that participated in the Mama Cash Feminist Festival. Their work demonstrates how art can be used as a tool for both empowerment and education—to uplift underrepresented communities through art-making, and then share their stories with the world. It was also remarkable to see so many groups with seemingly disparate causes converge on one sunny weekend. Organizations dedicated to LGBTQ+ and sex worker rights shared the stage with those advocating for communities of color, illustrating the increasingly intersectional goals of Dutch feminism and International Women’s Day in The Netherlands.

In Discussion with Nathalie Quagliotto: Safety Yellow, Play, and Pilot Art List

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Twisted Reality, fused damaged metal shopping carts colliding, 2014.
Presented in Sudbury for the FAAS4 May residency organized by the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario.

Questions by Adi Berardini

Nathalie Quagliotto’s sculptures add a sense of playfulness to conceptual art. By using play and the uncanny, Nathalie challenges what a typical gallery experience can look like for viewers. She looks at architecture and questions how the materiality of everyday spaces can form our experiences. Quagliotto is well-known for using “safety yellow” in her work adapted from the industrial yellow found in caution signs or playgrounds, making subversive statements that often linger between innocence and adulthood or caution and action. Additionally, by using the language of consumer culture such as neon signs and shopping carts, she makes us consider our roles within larger societal structures. She has recently started PILOT: Art List featuring paid opportunities for artists.

Quagliotto is a Toronto and Montreal based conceptual and social practice artist. She received an MFA in sculpture from the University of Waterloo in 2009 and a BFA in studio art from Concordia University in 2007.  In 2008, she was Martin Creed’s studio assistant in London, England.  She has shown nationally and internationally, such as the Museum of Design in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and her work is in private and public collections, such as the Collection Majudia in Montreal, Quebec. She has shown at various artist-run centres and galleries across Canada, namely the Khyber Centre for the Arts, the AGO, Blackwood Gallery, UAS, Neutral Ground, Langage Plus, the Art Gallery of Mississauga, and the Estevan Art Gallery.  Additionally, she has partaken in residencies, such as the Calumet artist residency in Indiana, the Accessibility CMD+R media art residency in Tennessee, USA, and more recently the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale artist residency.

I was wondering if you could explain your interest in subverting everyday objects? Are you interested in their connection to the uncanny or how they can critique social structures?

I like to take everyday objects in my work, whether it’s a neon sign, a lollipop, playground objects, or tote bags (the list can go on and on) and reconfigure them ever so slightly that your interaction and relationship with them is disrupted. I like that an object can get really unsettling when you change its intended purpose or form.

 

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Nathalie Quagliotto. Maturity Turn, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

It seems that you use interventions that encourage play, like tic tac toe in your piece ‘Maturity Turn’ Can you explain more about the sense of play, intimacy and social connection you explore in your practice?

Yes, this is particularly evident in the playground installations I’ve created, like in this piece you mention, “Maturity Turn”. Such installations are participatory and play on the notion of how a form or structure can be safe at the same time as it can be a challenge, and how the invitation to play with the work can act this out.

My interest in the playground sculptures and installations lie in play theory and incorporating the history of playgrounds as being objects of social reform. Playgrounds have a long history, from the early 1900s, of making a gradual change to society by improving the lives of the public through play. The more dangerous a structure was, the more challenging it was and thereby made a person more productive in other aspects of their life. These structures, built quite high at the time, have disappeared because of being labeled as dangerous.  Lower playgrounds appeared in the second half of the 1900s, specifically around the time of the playground construction boom of the 1960s.  Many of these metal and concrete playground pieces have also gradually disappeared in our time and are being replaced by safer plastic items: the kind of metal structures that playground architects Paul Friedberg and Richard Dattner would have agreed on in the 1960s and 1970s.  I am attracted to such older objects because they were once solid, acceptable pieces to be placed in public. However, as time progressed, so did ideas surrounding public safety, and this affected social reform through time.

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Nathalie Quagliotto. Gallery Intervention. 2013. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy of the artist.

I notice that you use signifiers of capitalist ventures (like neon signs etc.) for public interventions, for example, in Gallery Intervention where you place a neon sign that says “Gallery” in the hockey arena. I was wondering if you could speak more about this piece? In what ways are you interested in these unconventional signifiers?

This was a rather quirky intervention!  I was invited by the Blackwood Gallery of the University of Toronto Mississauga campus to create an installation for “Door to Door 6” back in 2013 and the point of the exhibition series was to place art completely outside of an art context.  I decided to place three yellow neon signs that read the word “GALLERY” in the Streetsville hockey arena in the Vic Johnston Community Centre in Mississauga. By placing commercial gallery signage in a completely different environment where it would normally be found, the project created a type of pop-up art space. The gallery context was transformed into a site-specific intervention that pushed the public who possibly had little experience with art to think about what an artwork, an exhibition, and a gallery could potentially be.

I’ve used neon various times for different installations and interventions. I think neon as an object has an incredible potential to attract attention because it can get kind of strange and unsettling if you take it out of its commercial context of store and restaurant windows in society.

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Nathalie Quagliotto. Gallery Intervention (2013) Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid courtesy of the artist.

Your work seems to bring a sense of critique to the gallery itself. I was wondering you could speak more to the critique of the gallery space and your approach through your work?

I like to disrupt conventional notions of behavior in the gallery context and allow people to hang out and interact with the work. I like to encourage participation. This I’d say is more evident in my installations and sculptures involving playground equipment or general objects of play in the gallery context where I invite the audience to touch the objects.

Who are some artists that you admire or look to for inspiration?

Lately, I’ve really been into Alicia Eggert’s and Alejandro Diaz’s neon work.

Do you find that there are challenges working as a conceptual artist in a male-dominated art world? If so, what are some challenges?

I’d like to see more women land museum shows. Also, I definitely think there are challenges that women artists face on a commercial level in terms of selling artwork.

Can you speak more about Pilot: Art List? What was the inspiration behind starting this new project?

The project started in November 2018 as a way to encourage a multitude of professional artists out there to only apply to opportunities from institutions and galleries that pay them.  I look at calls all the time and I have for years, and I have to say that in the 10 years I’ve been out of my MFA degree, I’ve never found a list on any platform on only funded calls, so I finally decided to make one.  This is probably the most beneficial list that an artist can sign up to and it comes out every two weeks.  I got the word out through social media over the past year and there are currently hundreds of artists signed up to the list across Canada and in the USA. The calls on each list are researched and hand-picked for funded exhibitions, residencies, fellowships, and public art primarily from Canada and the USA. Right now, artists can sign up at https://nathaliequagliotto.com/PILOT-ART-LIST . I honestly think this is one of the best social projects I’ve created because of the number of artists it’s actively helping.

You can view more of Nathalie’s work at https://nathaliequagliotto.com/.

Pleasure Prospects: Counter-Prospective Feminist Futures

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New Mineral Collective, Pleasure Prospects, 2019, single-channel video, 4k. Commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art. On view at 259 Lake Shore Blvd E as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019). Courtesy of the artists.

295 Lake Shore Blvd, 2019 Toronto Biennial

September 21-December 1, 2019

By Courtney Miller

The calm, soothing voice of a narrator asks the viewer, “…how to extract meaning, not material?” Pleasure Prospects, a video installation by the New Mineral Collective (NMC), analyzes the current state of resource extraction industries, countering realities of environmental destruction with imagined reparative futures. Responding to the Toronto Biennial’s overarching question what does it mean to be in relation? artist duo Tanya Busse and Emilija Škarnulytė present a dreamy, placid recourse through contemporary dance and alternative medicines, refusing a capitalist trajectory of progress. In an era of panicked attempts to combat the climate crisis, what function does feminist utopian dreaming serve? Positioning environmental ruin as a continuous invasion against a shared life body, NMC knows that this crisis is already well underway, in which Pleasure Prospects demonstrates the impetus for healing.

What happens when artists create space for dreaming and respite?

Beginning with what appears to be footage from a mining trade show, suited bodies strike-through booths and across polished floors, while screens depict the earth’s surface in networks of grids and topographical markers. The counter-narrative to surveying from an overhead view presents the viewer with gentle caressing gestures, touching both human and earth bodies. Whether skin or sand, hands move slowly across surfaces with the intention to console rather than siphon. Shifting from cold, hard edges and detached socialization, machinery is replaced by moving bodies, and what the NMC calls ‘geo-trauma healing theory’; dance, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy. Pleasure Prospects introduces what ‘the least productive mining company in the world’ offers as an approach to repairing and softening, in resisting extractive industry through radical care and rest. The setting of this presentation is Toronto’s Cinesphere, recycling the 1971 geodome theatre to a site of future projections. In the literal slowing of time, dancers glide in undulating and rotating motions, as synchronized swimmers float in star configurations through purple plumes of smoke— possibly a nod to Judy Chicago’s Biennial iteration of her Atmosphere series.

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New Mineral Collective, Pleasure Prospects, 2019, columns, casts of prospecting bore holes, rammed earth, hand-pulverized black copper slag, copper, zinc, steel, aluminum, fine gold and silver shavings, concrete. Commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art. On view at Small Arms Inspection Building as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019). Photo: Vlad Lunin. Courtesy the artists. 

The Pleasure Prospects narrative begins with an overview of the extractive mining industry’s penetrative effects stemming from a decidedly neoliberal drive for supply and demand. Thinking through what it means to be in relation, the NMC recognizes human impact on land by acknowledging the “apocalypse all around us, and how to alter it.” Current conversations of the climate crisis from a Western perspective tend to position environmental threat as a future concern, rather than a process already begun. Recently, Métis scholar Zoe Todd and settler scholar Heather Davis have argued that the beginning of the Anthropocene on Turtle Island coincides with colonial contact, marking the beginning of apocalyptic changes for Indigenous nations[1]. The Biennial’s curatorial vision of The Shoreline Dilemma calls attention to the shifting and evolving Toronto shoreline, the history of this area as a meeting place for Indigenous societies for over 12,000 years. While the Pleasure Prospects video installation does not touch on Indigenous realities or colonial systems of the Toronto area, the focus remains on extractive industry as the culprit for one of the most aggressively scarring enterprises. Furthermore, NMC offers a contribution to WalkingLab’s and RiVAL’s programming The Bank, The Mine, The Colony, The Crime, in the form of an audio therapy guided tour of the headquarters of a mining company in Toronto’s Financial District. Although the Cinesphere and brief aerial views of Ontario are recognizable locations in the film, the Toronto shoreline is not specified, suggesting that the NMC operates through a global lens. The Biennial’s overarching question, what does it mean to be in relation? can be interpreted within this work as everyone in relation to each other, or extractive industry versus everyone else.

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New Mineral Collective, Pleasure Prospects, 2019, single-channel video, 4k. Commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art. On view at 259 Lake Shore Blvd E as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019). Courtesy of the artists.

In directly challenging the monetary driven power of the extractive industry, what happens when artists create space for dreaming and respite? Rest becomes a radical concept when the NMC touts itself as the least productive mining company in the world. Delivering a persuasive and soothing pitch for their services, the collective seeks to engage in counter-prospecting, the opposite of production, yet not the antithesis of work. The idea of counter-prospecting involves resting, dancing, repairing, and calming, as methods of extracting meaning fueled by desire, poetry, love, and resistance. A minimal amount of technology is present in the film, functioning more as props than tools: two women relax on the beach with a filing cabinet and laptop, and an indeterminate measuring/recording device fashioned out of aggregate materials, is carried in one hand and placed on the ground while dancers whisk by. The reparative approach towards resisting extractive industry, represented through dreaming of a feminist utopia may not outline a definitive plan of action, but rather an alternative to incessant production. This method calls to mind strategies within Afrofuturism and Indigenous futurities to invest power in imaginary prospects. In being ‘unproductive’, the NMC gently calls to halt further destruction of the environment in recognition of the damage already done.

The title, Pleasure Prospects, speaks to the pursuit of pleasure as an industry as well as to the connotation of the equine hobby. Whether this link is intentional or not is uncertain; a pleasure prospect is an equestrian term denoting a horse representing an aesthetic standard of balance, grace, and willingness. Given that these standards place human expectations on the output of intelligent animals, this can be paralleled with a Western view of the earth as an endless resource, taking without giving back. Within the spoken narrative is a clearly defined intention for resisting female characterization of the earth – a protective move in avoiding the essentialization of the earth’s body. Resisting extraction through gestures of care, the New Mineral Collective illustrates a compassionate alternative future.

[1] Heather Davis and Zoe Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” ACME: A Journal for Critical Geographies, 16(4) (2017): 761.

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Emotional Objects: Contemporary Textiles and Queered Femininity

Emotional Objects curated by Emily Gove

Ana Morningstar, Yasmeen Nematt Alla, Yahn Nemirovsky, Danny Welsh, Hannah Zbitnew, and Lisette Markiewicz

Xpace Cultural Centre

January 17th-February 15th, 2020

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Left: Hannah Zbitnew, The Absence of the Witch Doesn’t Negate the Spell, 2018. Right: Ana Morningstar, I Am Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I am Getting A Receipt This Time, 2019. Photo credit: Polina Teif

By Rebecca Casalino

The intersection of textile work and femininity becomes increasingly complex as more women and non-binary folks introduce their narratives into the public discourse. This active queering of textiles lends itself to the undervalued history of artworks created in the margins and the ‘low’ aesthetics associated with craft. Emotional Objects exhibits work that explores textiles through lenses of Indigeneity, affect and witchcraft. Artists Ana Morningstar, Yasmeen Nematt Alla, Yahn Nemirovsky, Danny Welsh, Hannah Zbitnew, and Lisette Markiewicz present their works in tandem; queerness and femininity act as threads weaving through the exhibition.

Dealing with topics of beauty, land, and magic, curator Emily Gove presents a range of artworks, each employs unique understandings of materiality. Artists Welsh, Morningstar, and Zbitnew use feminist, queer and Indigenous frameworks to create art objects that challenge formal material norms and that inject their narratives into the exhibition space. In choosing these artists, Gove presents works that employ “construction, de-construction, and re-forming to re-imagine garments, samplers, and practical everyday items” [1] to interrogate emotions often dismissed in the public sphere. Exploring the emotional possibilities in textile-based materials and techniques, each artist untangles the medium using feminist sensibilities.

Danny Welsh, Behind Closed Doors, 2019. Photo Credit_ Polina Teif
Danny Welsh, Behind Closed Doors, 2019. Photo Credit: Polina Teif

The inclusion of non-binary artists in feminist conversations allows for slipperier definitions of womanhood and a more nuanced understandings of gender expression. Welsh’s Behind Closed Doors (2019) presents a quilted tunic displayed on a soft fabric backdrop installed with a photo of the artist wearing the piece as well as an incantation. The photo features Welsh modeling the garment against peach velvet backdrop with a serious look, sporting slicked-back hair and contoured cheekbones. This dramatic presentation creates an aura of beauty and glamour around the work. Used makeup wipes create a patchwork of the artist’s daily routine, holding their pigment in a tie-dyed fashion. The rotating blocks of beige, black, blue and pink reveal a palette that exists in a domestic oasis, hence the title of Welsh’s work. The collection and use of materials that are usually waste evoke an abject nature within the otherwise beautiful work. Welsh pushes this contrast further with previously golden safety pins adding a broken, now oxidized green, border to the soft material of the garment. The changing and deteriorating nature of the garment elevates the fragility of the piece and, simultaneously, pushes it further into the realm of decay.

The garment is paired with an incantation on the wall. Highlighting a few stanzas themes within the work become evident:

“body-centric eccentricity

metamorphic multiplicity

authenticity

synchronicity

a preformative reoccurring ritual

secretly spiritual

heavily habitual

 

hybridization

embodied transformation

manifestation

domestic Dalmation

durational display

today’s the day time to play

wipe away” [2]

This magical layer of the incantation adds a witchy femininity which speaks to the ritualistic aspects of makeup and gender presentation. Makeup becomes armour and a mask as people who embody feminine characteristics walk through the world. The celebration of femininity outside of the domestic space, beyond closed doors, allows for conversation around gender’s performative aspects and an exploration of modes for expressing power and agency. The added dynamic of the abject allows for a more complicated embodiment of beauty. Welsh’s presentation of their garment, photo, and poem creates a quilt of dialogues for viewers to interpret.

Ana Morningstar, I Am Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I am Getting A Receipt This Time, 2019. Photo credit_ Polina Teif
Ana Morningstar, I Am Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I am Getting A Receipt This Time, 2019. Photo credit: Polina Teif

Centering on the conceptual, Morningstar’s installation sits as a pile of white tarp bags filled with black soil tucked in the corner of Xpace’s main space. The collected earth is interrupted by small glass trade beads, adding symbolic value. Morningstar captions documentation of the work on Instagram, writing about her use of blue and red glass trade beads, “[t]he blue beads are a direct reference to treaties on ““canadian”” soil, Red are referencing the spirits in the soil-not only of the animate but of the ““inanimate’’”[3]

Stenciled with red paint are phrases like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Rez Dirt” and “For up to 500+ Years of Resistance!” Morningstar uses satirical humour to engage with land rights. Her piece is titled I Am Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I Am Getting A Receipt This Time (2019), which is a direct reference to a Facebook status meme written by Jay Jay Tallbull.

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Facebook status meme via Jay Jay Tallbull.

Meme-slinging in Indigenous communities acts as a humourous, entertaining, and educational way of spreading content about resistance and resilience. Watching Indigenous meme creators drop truth bombs across social media platforms cracks the facade of a happy multicultural Canada presented by mainstream accounts. Morningstar manifesting Tallbull’s meme in sculpture adds a physical presence and weight to the issue of land rights. With the RCMP roadblock on Gidimt’en territory, again, a tense sense of deja vu hangs ominously. Memes about the racist origins of the RCMP, the issues surrounding resource extraction and UNDRIP (The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) are circulating fast as supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Nation strive to educate and inform Canadians. The issue of land is now at the forefront. Morningstar’s gesture of collecting the land in bags and “Getting A Receipt This Time” emphasizes past and present instances of Indigenous land rights being ignored by white western bureaucracy.

The aging woman is an uncomfortable concept in western culture, which emphasizes youth and beauty as markers of womanhood. Displayed on a custom shelf at eye level with stairs ascending upwards into the gallery wall, Hannah Zbitnew presents three pairs of hand fabricated shoes. Each set uses leather, terracotta-coloured ceramic, and woven fabric producing an earthy tone to the objects. The shoes follow the order of the Triple Goddess presenting Maiden, Mother, and Crone (which represent women’s life cycle) in the design and treatment of the shoe. The Maiden is represented with a sensible chunky heel, made from clay, with an open toe design. These shoes’ uppers are loosely woven with green cotton—they are casual and easy to slip out of. The Mother is represented by a closed-toe open back shoe with a tan leather sole.  Sensible shoe design is stereotypically associated with motherhood, and the aging Maiden losing her beauty but gaining wisdom. A clay rope wraps around the beige woven top of the shoe adding stability and form. The Crone is characterized by simple flat slippers with a pointed toe, leather sole, and a woven beige upper.

Hannah Zbitnew with Lisette Markiewicz, The Absence of the Witch Doesn’t Negate the Spell, 2018. Photo credit_ Polina Teif
Hannah Zbitnew with Lisette Markiewicz, The Absence of the Witch Doesn’t Negate the Spell, 2018. Photo credit: Polina Teif

This movement through the life cycle of a woman characterized by footwear creates a visual dialogue that allows viewers to engage and respond with their own understandings of the correlation of aging and fashion. The silliness and extravagance of high heeled shoes make young women feel sexy, successful, and sore. This sexuality is lost in the more muted tones of Motherhood where practicality and fashion become equally important. Finally, the Crone is comfortable and wise but pale. Zbitnew’s title The Absence of the Witch Doesn’t Negate the Spell (2018) is a quote from an Emily Dickenson poem [4], hinting at feminist undertones to the work, but also functions to lead the viewer into her neopagan understanding of Mother, Maiden, and Crone. Zbitnew allows femme magic into each stage of life. Bending the western perspective on aging and womanhood Zbitnew invests care into each pair of shoes meditating on the value of each phase of life; recognizing that women’s power does not come from the heel of her shoe but from the spell they cast.

The multiple narratives and truths explored in Emotional Objects rejects monolithic and universal biases surrounding textiles and femininity. This multimodal approach to tackling issues important to individual artists highlights the multifaceted nature of queerness and femininity. Gove’s emphasis on textiles privileges affect as a source of knowledge. This epistemological contrast to masculine western modes of understanding elevates witchcraft and queerness as alternative methods for exploring complex emotions. This feminist untangling allows women and gender non-binary people to gather in spaces to discuss new forms of knowledge and art-making without the hinderance of phallocentric narratives or ideals.

Bibliography

[1] Gove, Emily. “Emotional Objects Curated by Emily Gove.” Xpace Cultural Centre.

[2] Welsh, Danny. “Danny Welsh, Behind Closed Doors, 2019. Photo Credit: Polina Teif.” Xpace Cultural Centre.

[3] Morningstar, Ana, ““I’m Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I’m Getting A Receipt This Time”. Instagram.

[4] Gove, Emily. “Emotional Objects Curated by Emily Gove.” Xpace Cultural Centre.

In Discussion with Kosisochukwu Nnebe: What I might be is uncontainable

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Kosisochukwu Nnebe. I want you to know that I am hiding from you / since what I might be is uncontainable.
Installation shot. Photo credit: Justin Wonnacott and Kristina Corre. 2019. 

Questions by Adi Berardini

Kosisochukwu Nnebe is a Nigerian-Canadian visual artist. An economist by training and a policy analyst by profession, her visual arts practice aims to engage viewers on issues both personal and structural in ways that bring awareness to their own complicity. Her work has been exhibited at AXENÉO7, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Place des Arts, the Art Gallery of Guelph, the Nia Centre, Studio Sixty Six, Z-Art Space, Station 16, and the Mohr Gallery in Mountain View, California. She has given presentations on her artistic practice and research at universities across Quebec, including Laval, McGill, and Concordia, and has facilitated workshops at the National Gallery of Canada, the Ottawa Art Gallery, and Redwood City High School in California. She is currently based in Ottawa.

I was wondering if you could speak to your solo exhibition I want you to know that I am hiding from you / since what I might be is uncontainable and the meaning and inspiration behind it?

The exhibition initially began as an exploration of the concept of objectivity, and the ways it had been used as a tool against folks who look like me – Black women – as a way of (re)asserting white male dominance. However, in moving from theme to exhibition concept, one particular image took root and became difficult to shake: a podium in the shape of a slave auction block in the middle of a room laden with hidden imagery and messages. The image came to me clear[ly] and everything else flowed from there.

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Kosisochukwu Nnebe. I want you to know that I am hiding from you.
Installation shot. Photo credit: Justin Wonnacott and Kristina Corre. 2019.

Playing on ideas from feminist standpoint theory, the podium eventually became the centerpiece for the first installation, I want you to know that I am hiding something from you, which can only be fully experienced from one unique position within the gallery room: from atop the wooden steps. Here, within the space of the installation, as in society, what is seen, and unseen is dictated by one’s positionality. In order to truly understand the piece, the observer must become the observed, must give up the comfort of their position on the floor to mount a podium and become the object of interest for others. In many ways, this action asks us to value the perspectives and knowledge production of those people who had been enslaved, to understand that they had seen and understood the world in ways that would have been impossible for anyone else.

Beyond this emphasis on the biased – rather than objective – nature of perception, this room also aims to explore the potentiality inherent in hesitation, as explored by philosopher Linda Marín Alcoff. Entering into the room, the viewer is greeted by the sight of the podium in the center, with sheets of red Plexiglas hanging overhead, and two printed red banners on opposite walls. What I wanted was for the viewer to enter the room, be confused, and hesitate.  They would be faced with a couple of choices: either go through quickly, not see anything and leave, or stay in the room and try to engage with the works in a more productive way (like getting close to the banners). Or if they were courageous enough, they could go and stand on the podium. If they chose the latter, they would be rewarded by the materialization of hidden images and messages on the opposing banners that are only possible through a red screen. In this installation, hesitation is generative; it creates an opening, an opportunity to glimpse into a different way of seeing.

What is interesting is that what is seen through the red Plexiglas is yet another hidden message, this time in the shape of a spider that materializes on one of the banners. Often, when people would get on the podium, they would see the spider, and thinking they’re done and have seen what was required, would leave the room thinking they had fully understood the installation. Unbeknownst to them, the installation is a game of hide and seek where I, the artist, have hidden myself in the room and am asking them to look for me, to think beyond what a Black woman should look like and to see me as I would like to be seen – a trickster. The spider is an allusion to Anansi the Spider, a trickster figure in Ghanaian folklore. What’s important here is that even if you see me, you haven’t actually seen me properly – I’m still hiding, taking refuge in a politics of refusal.

From there, the exhibition moved from being about objectivity towards something that felt much more rooted and tangible to me: the politics of visibility and its implications on the Black body, and the Black female body in particular. The first installation provided me with one pole of the spectrum – notions of invisibility. More specifically, it asked, rather than thinking of invisibility as something that is forced upon Black bodies, what does it mean to find agency in speaking and representing blackness in ways that are not easily recognizable or understood? What remained, however, was an exploration of the sensation of hypervisibility that is so common to the experience of Blackness in Canada.

The second room takes up where the first leaves off, exploring the effects of racialized perception – the projection of race onto the body – on the lived experience of the embodied subject. In the opening passages of the chapter “The lived experience of the black man” in Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon describes an encounter with a young white boy and his mother in a way that is visceral and raw. The moment is one in which the narrator finds himself reduced to his race and seemingly stripped of all agency and indeed of his body altogether: “My body returned to me spread-eagled, disjointed, redone, draped in mourning on this white winter’s day.”

Since what I might be is uncontainable, is a direct visualization of this passage, which has, since the moment I first read it, haunted me as a visceral description of the pains of racialization. The second room thus becomes a simulacrum of my day to day navigation in society as a Black woman – with my body spread bare in front of all those who have the power to racialize me and then treat me accordingly, be it with violence or with love and care. As the audience navigates the room, the shadows of body parts flitting across their clothes and skin implicate them in this moment of racialization. However, beyond an emphasis on the potential for violence associated with this moment of being recognized as Black, the installation understands that racialization can occur between two similarly raced individuals. In those instances, what occurs then is the opportunity for kinship and understanding, which can be as comforting as it can be restricting.

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Kosisochukwu Nnebe. I want you to know that I am hiding from you / since what I might be is uncontainable.
installation shot. Photo credit: Justin Wonnacott and Kristina Corre. 2019

To speak to the complexities of Black identity and Black community, the installation employs audio from “Black Is… Black Ain’t,” the final documentary film by Marlon Riggs, which adeptly explores the give-and-take that comes with identifying and being identified as Black.  The documentary begins with a call and response, led by Riggs, wherein Blackness is described as: “Black can get you over/ Black can set you down/ Black can let you move forward/ Black can make you stumble around.” Embracing the notion of paradox, Since what I might be is uncontainable hints at the contradictions of race as a lived reality; the process of racialization – in many ways an act of naming – gives rise to both violence on the basis of difference and a sense of kinship predicated on shared experiences.

Since what I might be is uncontainable hints at the contradictions of race as a lived reality; the process of racialization – in many ways an act of naming – gives rise to both violence on the basis of difference and a sense of kinship predicated on shared experiences.

What is your process for choosing the medium for conveying the complexity of intersectionality?

I’ve been working with Plexiglas for a couple years now. Initially, my interest in it as a material came from what it allowed me to do in terms of layering. The first time I worked with Plexiglas, I used it to layer different representations of Black womanhood, in such a way that, depending on your position, you could see each depiction individually, or all at once. That was actually what spurred my interest in exploring feminist standpoint theory through my art practice.

From that first piece, I also became very interested in the kinds of shadows that are cast by Plexiglas. This is, of course, something that you see in my latest work, “I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / since what I might be is uncontainable.” For one of the installations, I used replicas of my legs and arms printed on Plexiglas. The light source in the middle of the room projects the shadows of those body parts onto the walls so that they are larger than life and taking up the entire space – in its shadow form, my body becomes uncontainable. There’s also a bit of wind in the space that creates movement in the pieces of Plexiglas as well as their shadows that again reinforces this sensation of consuming and overpowering the entire room as well as all those in it.

Increasingly, I am also interested in the body of the viewer and how I can also use that as a medium. In particular, with the piece with the podium, I was expecting that people wouldn’t want to climb onto it, either because they were unsure whether they were allowed to, or because they found it awkward, or because others would be watching – especially on opening night. At first, that night, people were shy to get on the podium for those exact reasons. However, within 15 minutes, I had people lined up waiting their turn to climb it, children and entire families getting on it, friends going two at a time, etc. It’s something I wasn’t expecting, and which now excites me. When you use people as your medium, you have no control over how they will react in a space.

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Kosisochukwu Nnebe. I want you to know that I am hiding from you.
Installation shot. Photo credit: Justin Wonnacott and Kristina Corre. 2019.

It seems like you’re up to the next big project. What do you have planned next?

I am currently curating an exhibition that will be opening at the Carleton University Art Gallery in February 2020 and will be on display until April 2020. The idea for the exhibition came from my time working as a policy analyst on the development of Canada’s first Food Policy. It’s the first national policy that covers all aspects of the food system, from production to waste, and touches on four main themes, including food security. In my position there, I ended up developing a strategy for engaging Indigenous communities on the policy, that entailed building relationships with organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and travelling to Yellowknife, Nain, and Thunder Bay to engage firsthand with communities.

During this time, I was constantly in conversation with Indigenous people, and Indigenous women, in particular, learning about their food system as well as their relationship to land (these two go hand in hand). These conversations made me realize just how political food is and prompted me to start questioning my own relationship to food, as well as to this land that we now call Canada. Over the course of close to two years, these questions kept bubbling up inside of me with no outlet through which I could begin to address them.  When you’re working as a representative of the Federal Government and doing that kind of engagement, it often supersedes other relationships you may have with the people you’re working with. You become a physical embodiment of government and there can be a lot of tension and mistrust (for good reason) that you have to navigate. It left me a lot of unanswered questions around the kinds of relationships that are possible between Indigenous folks and Black Canadians.

With time, I found that the best way for me to begin to answer some of these questions was through art. I approached the Carleton University Art Gallery with the idea of curating an exhibition together bringing Black and Indigenous women artists – KC Adams, Deanna Bowen, Roxana Farrell, Bushra Junaid, Amy Malbeuf, Meryl McMaster, Cheyenne Sundance, Katherine Takpannie –  to explore their relationship to food, to this land, and to each other through the lens of food.

The end result is an exhibition entitled “They Forgot That We Were Seeds,” which uses foodways to re-imagine the history of Canada as a settler-colonial state, placing Black and Indigenous women at the centre of an effort to construct a counter-archive. Sugar, salt and cod take on layered meaning as the histories of labour, displacement, and adaptation they contain are excavated. Touching on issues of land, migration, and food justice and sovereignty, the exhibition offers a glimpse into decolonial and sustainable futurities rooted in Indigenous worldviews. In it, Black and Indigenous women are more than just the seeds that history has tried to bury—they represent deep roots and a harvest more plentiful than we could ever imagine.

Check out They Forgot That We Were Seeds at Carleton University Art Gallery from February 9, 2020 until April 19, 2020. The opening reception is February 9, from 2 – 4:30pm.

This is an adapted article from our first print issue. To purchase a copy, please visit our online shop.

Take the Sacred Pause: Talking Tarot with Laura Dawe

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs tarot deck 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

By EA Douglas

In early 2018, a blocky mauve building with green eaves appeared on my Explore feed and brought Laura Dawe and her work into my life. A painter, a filmmaker, an occasional tattooist, the host of BUMP TV’s Valentine’s MATCHtacular, Dawe released her Pack of Dogs Tarot Cards in 2019. We got on the phone to discuss her process of making the deck and the rituals surrounding her readings and creative practice.

EA Douglas: Let’s start with your own history with the Tarot. When did you first start engaging with Tarot? When did you decide to make your own deck?

Laura Dawe: I decided to make my own deck and I started engaging with Tarot at the exact same time, which was when I was a 14-year-old goth and I knew nothing about it. I didn’t own a deck, I didn’t know anyone who did, I had never had my cards read or anything. But obviously the mystical depictions, I was just like “this is the coolest thing ever” and I started to make a deck.

Then I went to Newfoundland for my grandfather’s funeral, and my Uncle was there, and he’s actually an artist as well. He’s pretty deeply religious. We went for a walk to the Ocean and I was telling him excitedly about this thing I was making, thinking that he would think it was cool, and he basically had an intervention. He was like, “These are tools of the Devil, if you open the door for the Devil to come into your life you may never be able to close it.” I abandoned the project and then didn’t really start doing the Tarot thing until my ex-boyfriend bought me a deck close to 10 years ago. I used that deck to make some very major decisions in my life, that still resonate until this day, and slowly I started learning the cards.

While I was doing my Master’s, it occurred to me that I might make a deck. I was making a lot of art about archetypes and studying Carl Jung who made his own Tarot deck. Then I’m writing this movie and in the movie, the girl has a Tarot deck, they live in a very resource scare apocalyptic world. I knew the aesthetics of the movie; I knew how she would make a deck and so that’s how I ended up making mine. Basically, pretending I was her.

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs, tarot deck 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD:  I have a quote here, that each Tarot deck “tends to have its own voice and story written in the images.”[1] I know it’s called Pack of Dogs, and the large black dog almost prances from one card to another. What’s the source behind the dog?

The dog has been in my paintings for a long time, kind of representing our shadow selves. I have a painting that I made when I was having a very serious shame-over called Bad Dog Wants to Be Good. It’s a black dog smoking a cigarette with a white dog in its mind, surrounded by empty wine bottles and there’s a full moon outside.

It’s sort of that idea, it’s different for all of us, as an extrovert (like) me, sometimes I will leave a social situation and feel this incredible shame that I dominated the conversation or neglected people. I would think about that and (know) I can’t control it. I think we all have these things, some people have anger issues, some people binge eat, some people have all three or seven.

We all have these little black dogs running around inside of us and I feel sometimes they’re definitely deeply tied to our unconscious; sometimes we’re aware of them, sometimes we’re not, sometimes we’re aware of them and we still can’t control them.

For example, the Lovers card we think about like “Oh! It’s definitely a good omen for romance!” While that is true, there’s also a lot of guilt linked to the Lovers card for a lot of readers. RuPaul said it best “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” So, in my version, it’s a woman embracing a black dog and they’re embracing equally. I see that as a kind of a self-union.

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs, Lovers card. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: Loving yourself first?

LD: Loving and accepting your shittiness. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t all be trying to make sure our shittiness doesn’t spill into the world, but we also need to not punish ourselves for being human. Accepting because there’s no other way to make sure it’s accepted.

EAD: That’s super cool. The black dog stood out to me.

LD: They kind of represent our anxiety, (when) I say shadow self I mean that in the Jungian sense.

EAD: The things we don’t want to admit about ourselves.

LD: Even when we’re looking for it in analysis we sometimes can’t find (it) because of how much of our personality is a fortress that we build to protect ourselves from our humanity.

Someone offered me the tip of like if you want to get in touch with your shadow self, think about someone who sets your teeth on edge. Someone who stresses you out so much you find them so offensive and guaranteed the qualities you find so appalling in them are your shadow characteristics.

EAD: Oof, yes. The Tarot deck consists of 78 cards, each one containing an image or archetype. Did you approach each card with an idea in mind?

LD: The way that I did it was imagining I was this woman and she would have been travelling, so she would’ve been making one card at a time. I made most of the deck where I would be doing a reading for myself or someone else and then whatever cards I would pull I would then make those cards for my deck. It made it easier to remember the meanings because it was tied to a reading.

Also, it helped me try and communicate the meanings because I was applying it to a situation; I would find a way to express it to myself to make sense.

Like most Tarot decks it is based in many ways off of the Rider-Waite. There’s some of the cards that are pretty closely Rider-Waite and those are the earlier ones. I started to understand how to use my own voice the more that I made, some of them I would go back later and remake them so they’re much more my own thing.

LAURA DAWE bad dog wants to be good
Laura Dawe. Bad Dog Wants to be Good. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: Were there any that were super hard to make?

LD: The Three of Wands, I do not know what that card means. Every single time I pull it I’m like “I’m going to look this up” which means I should really know. I really struggled to draw it because I don’t know. It’s a picture (of) a dog climbing some candles and there’s a chicken wing in front and it’s smiling. I feel like it’s a bit of meditation on the grass is greener mentality. When I say the grass is greener I kind of mean projections, the suit of Wands (is) a suit of manifestations, and so projection/manifestation (are) synonymous in some ways.

EAD: When you’re performing the Tarot readings does interacting with them bring them into your studio? You were making the cards after you read for someone, but now that the deck is completed and that’s what you’re using?

LD:  Oh, I never read in the way that I read now until this deck was made. I would (read) in the way that anyone would read with their friends at a party. It was never the way that it is now where I am off book. I didn’t do that until I went to Foire Papier in Montreal; that acted like my deadline to get the deck finished. I read for people there and I was really scared. Of course, people loved it because it’s all about them.

EAD: It’s also such a unique experience in the art world, I think that being the artist and then sitting there and providing an intimate moment…

LD: A service?

EAD: A service but also a chance for intimacy because Tarot readings are so intimate.

LD: They’re extremely intimate. You pass small talk and you zoom past medium talk right into, “My Dad is dying.” And then you’re like, “What was your name again?” You hold intense eye contact with people, you don’t know what the card is going to say, you don’t know what is going on with them. It’s a profound privilege to get to communicate so deeply, so quickly and to feel so trusted. 

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs The Sacred Pause 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: Have any of the conversations you’ve had over the Tarot come back into your work?

LD: I guess everything does affect, who even knows what ways (things) manifest. I haven’t been painting really at all for a couple of months and I’m circling the studio, I need to make a bunch of paintings for the new year. I’ve been thinking about them, all the time, and prepping the studio. I’ll go in there, stare at the wall, build a canvas and then get freaked out and run away.

It’ll be interesting to see when these paintings start coming out, whether this kind of archetypal language (will appear). Those are the conversations you have with people, it’s the Major Arcana moments in their life. No one is rushing for Tarot reading if they don’t have big questions. The people who are first in line are heartbroken, they’re grieving, they’re moving, they’re falling in love, they’re stagnant in a way that feels unbearable, you know? I (am) curious to see.

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Pack of Dogs, Sun Card. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: I look forward to seeing it too! I have another friend who reads Tarot and between readings, they put their deck on a milky hunk of selenite, to clear the energy. Do you have any rituals around your readings?

LD: I have a cloth I use, a piece of canvas, that I read on. Each of the elements in the deck represents an element in nature. So, I’ll light a candle for fire, anything works for earth, a flower, a grapefruit, whatever. I have a baby goblet that I’ll put some water or wine in, and then for wind, if we’re near an open window it’s okay. Otherwise, I might light an incense (to) activate the air a bit. I feel like it’s grounding, it grounds the reading a bit. It sets the tone and invites things to enter in equal amounts. Although the cards really typically just reflect what is exactly going on and what the person already knows.

EAD: Sometimes you need someone else to spell it out. What sort of rituals are built into your creative practice? What rituals do you have in the studio?

LD: I wish I knew! I want to become a structured person because I am wildly not. I clean the studio usually. If I haven’t been in there in a while the big ritual is to go in and re-organize and clean, see what’s there.

If I am really struggling to get into a painting, I’ll put on This American Life. It really brings me back to my studio so many times over the years. Ideally, I’ll be zoned into the work by halfway through the episode, and if I can’t get into some kind of flow by the end of the episode then I may have to give up.

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs, Devil Card. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: Okay, last question. Do you have a favourite card in the Tarot?

LD: Jeez, I mean if it’s something you want to pull, obviously, The Sun. Which is also the 19th card, which I am born on the 19th and 19 is lucky my number. I don’t know. I wouldn’t call it my favourite.

My first response was the Devil – it’s the card I pull the most. It has seen me through many different experiences [and] it has changed meaning for me many times. I think it has to do with addictive thinking and not being in control of our mental domain so it can be a reminder to me about checking in. If I pull the Devil then I need to personally pull a Hanged Man and take a bit of a spiritual step back and chill.
EAD: Put your head upside down and figure it out.

LD: Put my goddamn head upside down and take the Sacred Pause.

Pack Of Dogs Tarot Cards are available to purchase through the Likely General website.

[1] Jaymi Elford, Tarot Inspired Life (Woodbury: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2019), 9.

Dark Angels and Amazons: Natasha Wright at SFA Projects

Sista Chapel by Natasha Wright

SFA Projects, 131 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002

November 13, 2019, to December 15, 2019

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Sista Chapel by Natasha Wright, installation shot. 2019. Courtesy of SFA Projects.

By Nancy Elsamanoudi

The paintings on view in Natasha Wright’s show, Sista Chapel at SFA Projects, convey power with an erotic directness. These bold, exquisitely layered large-scale paintings lure the viewer to muse over the grumbling vibrations of murky, subterranean elements. These works call to mind myth, the underworld, sorcery, dark magic, ancient rituals, primordial energies, and impulses; a violent, dangerous world constantly on the brink of chaos.

Wright’s paintings are peopled with larger than life goddesses, coquettes, amazons and mythological and magical creatures. Her work taps into an imaginary space that collapses the difference between the ancient and the present. These threads that exist simultaneously are seamlessly brought together in the same painting: Cardi B and the Venus of Willendorf, Pac-Man and a sleeping pink nymph, an enormous unicorn smashed against the picture plane against a seafoam green background that at least partly mimics digital space or crouched monsters lurking in an open field at night.

The Unicorn, 60 x 48_, Oil on canvas
Natasha Wright, Unicorn, 2019 oil on canvas 60 x 48. Courtesy of SFA Projects.

The ambiguity at play in Wright’s paintings is compelling. Wright freely incorporates both abstract and figurative elements in a way that heightens the tension and the sensation of suspense in her work.  Her work has a playful openness, a searching quality to it. She seems to allow forms to emerge intuitively.

The thick black lines she uses brings her figures into sharp focus, but then she also sharply crops her figures in a way that frustrates an easy read of them. Various body parts, such as the head, wings, legs, arms are cut off and often lie outside of the picture plane. The figures in Wright’s paintings are cropped as a means of intensifying a feeling—a sense of discomfort. Wright’s work fixates on sensation and the role of the body is central to her work. But the body in her work is not particularly idealized or sexualized. Instead, the body takes on a totemic function—it is more an archetype, a cultural coding of the vitality inherent in a human being.

At times, Wright’s work seems to also touch on death, the macabre and violence. Bodies and parts of bodies are distorted past the point of recognition; the figures writhe in pain. Wright seems to be exploring the precarious and fragile vulnerability often ascribed to the female experience. In Street Ophelia, for instance, a violently contorted female figure appears to be splayed on the ground.

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Natasha Wright, It’s Complicated, 2019 charcoal and oil on dyed canvas 60 x 60. Courtesy of SFA Projects.

Wright is clearly not interested in making pretty paintings—her paintings aren’t precious. The bodies in her paintings are frequently awkwardly contorted. Grey is often the predominant color and her limited palette of greys, pinks, black and green lend her paintings a gravitas, a weight as does the texture in her work.

Wright builds up the surfaces of her paintings by using a range of materials such as sand, glitter, glass beads, charcoal and black magnum with hand-made oil paint. There is a haptic, textural quality to her work.  The resulting images tend to be suggestive; they seem to hint at a story involving an unfolding drama or possibly a moment of impending danger. She gives the viewer a fleeting glimpse into her world and imagination.

Wright’s work speaks to a fascination with darkness and Wright is tied to her feminist temperament. Wright repositions the female figure at the center by re-envisioning the feminine gaze and rethinking the importance of female agency. The adventuress, the seductress, the muse, the fallen or scorned women all become protagonists that motivate her studio practice. The painting When Black Swallows Red, for instance, looks like large swaths of leather mixed with latex, it is suggestive of the way black leather and latex might feel strapped tight against the skin and in doing so calls to mind straps, whips, and pain folded into pleasure.

Willendorf (Cardi B) 60 x 48_, oil on canvas_
Natasha Wright, Willendorf (Cardi B), 2019 oil on canvas 60 x 48. Courtesy of SFA Projects.

Wright is drawn to the dark, mysterious and dangerous aspects of feminine power and the female experience. By focusing on the body as a vehicle of power and agency, Wright’s work seems to rebuff the so-called feminine virtues of purity, chastity, and modesty.  This can be seen in Already a Saint, a painting of cropped thrusting forward, half-naked torso clothed in animal skins. Or The Swan, a painting that seems to be referencing, “Leda and the Swan.” In this painting, a bent, twisted sullied, grey swan that looks like a dark angel covered in volcanic ash is flying into a lake.

These paintings speak to feminist concerns, but not in the way that is didactic. Wright seems to be most interested in what may be construed as threatening, destabilizing or emasculating about feminine power.  This feminine power has traditionally sparked fear or has been seen as evil, unnatural and suspect, resulting in images of conniving hags and witches.  Wright’s paintings attempt to reclaim and prize this “darkness” of female power by treating it like black gold—tapping into it as an energy source and an intuitively life-affirming way of knowing.

Sarah Mihara Creagen: The Sisters’ Fart Corner

_GLH9814_Photo Guy LHeureux
Sarah Mihara Creagen, The Sisters’ Fart Corner installation shot. Photo documentation by Guy L’Heureux, courtesy of Articule. 2019.

Articule

262 Fairmount O. Montreal, Quebec

November 9 — December 8, 2019

By Penelope Smart

The walls at Articule in Montreal are piss-yellow — the perfect backdrop for The Sisters’ Fart Corner, a new series of ink drawings and animation by Brooklyn-based Canadian artist Sarah Mihara Creagen. Fart Corner is a playful body of work that is rated R. For those who do not wish to talk about piss and shit, kindly close your browser.

It would be a shame to shy away Creagen’s subject matter, though, because what she lays bare in black ink and bright backsplashes of watercolour is fascinating: figures playing out imaginative personal narratives of surgery, recovery, sex and IBS-related business. Yes, there are exposed labia everywhere, especially in Grafting: union must be kept moist until the wound has healed, but what is truly explicit here are bodies, consent, and ownership. Creagen’s figures — most of whom have female anatomy — expose truths about bodies that we are happy to accept and own, such as self-love practices in the form of masturbation or reading a favourite book on the toilet, as shown in Washroom Stall Chit Chat w/Chastity belts. Leaking into each frame, however, are a host of corporeal realities that we are quick to reject and shame: sex, BDSM, farts, pee, and other solids and fluids — especially where vaginas are concerned.

_GLH9882_Photo Guy LHeureux
Sarah Mihara Creagen, The Sisters’ Fart Corner installation shot. Photo documentation by Guy L’Heureux, courtesy of Articule. 2019.

Queerness makes its presence known and felt within Creagen’s blurring of bodies, boundaries, and the raucous interplay of the sacred and profane (pure and impure, clean and soiled). Creagen succeeds in translating the mess of gender not only through her representations of genitalia, submission and girly accessories (heart sunglasses, thongs) but in her exacting and elegant script-style coupled with natural untidiness. Sex is a tricky noun and verb in these works: an opening, an incision. An act of self-mastery, a site of violence. As a reprieve, on a separate wall, Creagen offers the viewer an overly innocent animation called Gardening lessons: grafting, examining, splitting. The seven-minute video’s shadow play is pretty, but the value of botany as a motif in Fart Corner is the grounding effect of seeds, earth, soil. Her animation works as a simple affirmation of sexual health.

Hot air is something special here.

Creagen shows passing wind in two distinct ways: In the title piece, The Sister’s Fart Corner — a large diptych that’s properly installed in the corner of the gallery — fart gas takes on a Sci-fi laser-quality or Care Bear count-down rays (out your butt). In Weather Butt, fart gas produces auric colour-fields that expand like smoke-stack plumes. While Creagen’s subject matter is art historically connected to Edo-period scrolls in which a male figure’s farting was competitive and political, the act of belching and flatus here can be read as a personal metaphor for subversion and superpower. Wielded for good or bad, it’s inside your insides — or what’s churning inside your intestines — that count.

_GLH9898_Photo Guy LHeureux
Sarah Mihara Creagen, The Sisters’ Fart Corner installation shot. Photo documentation by Guy L’Heureux, courtesy of Articule. 2019.

To the outside world, Creagen describes herself as “White-passing Japanese,” which is more than a hint that themes of identity and representation are being served up with sides of awkwardness, derision (hissing, even) and self-doubt. Creagen connects her experiences of being mixed-race with the vulnerabilities of the examining table and bondage. Swirling around Fart Corner is a freaky, sneaky message: you cannot cut your feelings out of your flesh, and you cannot flush your feelings down.

The pottery humour gets literal with TP scroll, an installation made of pieces of toilet paper sewn together with blue thread. It’s two-ply, draped, and tattooed delicately with Sumi ink drawings. At first glance, it hangs like a detention-worthy highschool prank. Then, oddly, it softens into a recovered memory of the iconic sky-blue book cover for Robert Munsch best-selling Love You Forever (1989). The story tells of a parent’s unconditional love for their child, and on the cover is a turd-cute toddler having a field day with toilet paper. Creagen’s tiny toilet paper narratives, filled with bare butts and roses, speak to reverie, privacy and personal moments.

Fart Corner is an airy, safe space for tits and ass. The stakes are highest, however—in the faces of these figures. Creagen’s careful, caring hand can articulate micro sensations. It is as though her finely tipped brush understands an essential biological sequence: synapses fire, and then muscle, tissue, and cells become the curl of a lip; the twitch of a nose. The bugging of an eye. Squint, look up close, the facial expressions are the most uncomfortable moments — and the most pleasurable. The title piece The Sisters’ Fart Corner, a bodacious woman, with a fart-sister by her side, throws her head back in full cackle. She is fully alive. She gives no fucks and is one hundred percent liberating to look at. She is farting her heart out; she is free.

Colour, Perception, and Affect: Christina Mackie

September 21-November 2, 2019

Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver, BC

by Helena Wadsley

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Christina Mackie, 2TRACKS, 2019, audio, 9 minutes, 54 seconds. Installation view, Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver, 2019. Photo: Rachel Topham Photography. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

The new location of Catriona Jeffries in an industrial area of East Vancouver has high black fencing hems in the courtyard, with a stretch of busy train track just metres away. Installed in the far corner across a stretch of beige gravel is Christina Mackie’s audio piece, her first work in this medium. She recorded the grinding, squealing and clanking sounds of the trains that trundle past frequently. The only difference between the real and the recorded is that the audio piece plays at regularly timed intervals. The mimetic sounds pull at memory in an affective way; the recognition of the sound as it becomes more audible conjures up images of station platforms on dark nights in the mode of a romantic film set. It is haunting and surprisingly delicate, which also sums up the large installation waiting inside.

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Christina Mackie, Colour Drop, 2014. Installation view, Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver, 2019. Photo: Rachel Topham Photography. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

When I walk into the gallery, my gaze is drawn upwards, my neck bending back to see the towering cones of Colour Drop. The fabric is membrane-like, so delicate it is almost not there, visible only for the colour each is dyed—red, blue and yellow.  The windsock-like forms hover over circular, parched puddles of textile dye. At the beginning of the exhibition, the shallow pools were half full of the liquid dye, the colours matching the silk and nylon fabrics of the cones. On the final day, the blue and yellow have dried up completely, giving the tray of blue dye the appearance of ice on a puddle—sharp shards cracking the surface, a visual record of time passing. The pools have the feel of topographical images of mining residue, evoking the sense that nature has been altered. The red pool never fully dried, and one half of it is like viscous blood. The cones were inspired by Mackie’s childhood when she accompanied her marine biologist father on expeditions and observed similar forms in the nets he used to collect plankton.

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Christina Mackie, installation view, Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver, 2019. Photo: Rachel Topham Photography. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

Perception changes over time, hence we often remember visceral images as if they were larger than life. The way we experience art, as with everything, is mitigated by memory, intuition and reason combined, while Mackie’s interest is in the perception of colour. She presents colour that is created by the light that filters through it, whereas we are more accustomed to seeing colour when light is reflecting off a surface. That the viewer can be expected to experience only visual perception feels limiting conceptually because perception is tied with personal experience and memory. The cones also refer to the processes of making colour, especially as Mackie has deliberately chosen to use dyes rather than pigment or paint, and more specifically, dyes that are no longer used, evoking the past as historic as well as nostalgic. As with the audio of the train rolling through, my perception of these large-scale works is scrambling memory with pure visual experience.

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Christina Mackie, Token no. 14, 2019, stoneware, silk, cup hook, 19 x 9 in. (48 x 23 cm). Installation view, Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver, 2019. Photo: Rachel Topham Photography. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

In the Token series, Mackie pays homage to clay, approaching it with what seems like a child-like naivete. Some of the pieces appear crudely formed. This and the Chalk series are wall sculptures constructed in layers. In Chalk, the layers of chalk gesso invoke the surface of white lard. The dyes sink into the porous gesso, but the colours remain brilliant. The stoneware works have an imperfection which is balanced by the allure of the glazes, taking me back to the desiccating pools of dye, crystallizing on the narrow points of the silk as well as the pigment poured onto the layered chalk panels. The glazes, the dye pours on chalk, and the dye in the trays illustrate the different processes of applying colour. Both ceramic glaze and dye can be completely transformed by heat, oxygen, or time. Mackie re-creates dyes that are no longer used, referring to a different type of time passage, an extinction of materials through the evolution of new ones.

Minimalist sculptures are self-referential, with strong attention to materials and form and how these interact with the space they occupy. They tend to be geometric, pristine and repetitive forms. Mackie has three cones, dipping into circles. The primary colours reflect on how we see colour when light is filtered through it rather reflected. On the other hand, post-minimalist art, which included feminist art that celebrated textile-based techniques and organic forms are alluded to in the fabric cones and in the torn strips of cloth that wrap around some of the ceramic pieces. Mackie’s work contains these contradictory elements, subverting a patriarchal history of modern art by giving equal attention to the materials and processes, and allowing imperfections of the hand to remain visible. The Token series conveys the potential of clay as a formalist medium, but its vigour is in how Mackie has pushed the potential of glaze as a medium, like a glue. The shapes impersonate the spills of dye over chalk, which in turn refer to the pools of dye and the nuggets of glass. As I leave the gallery, a train is chugging past, its clanking and wheezing referring me back to Mackie’s audio piece and the obfuscation between reality, simulacrum, and memory-affected perception.

 

Orienta 7: Mapping the City in Unexpected Ways

 

Students in a guided tour at Moulay Alhassan Gallery
Students touring Orienta 7, courtesy of Chourouq Nasri.

By Chourouq Nasri

Oujda, Morocco

October 10 – November 30, 2019

The way art can transform the city is the theme that knits together the key moments of Orienta 7, an art event organized in Oujda, Morocco from October 10 to November 30, 2019. Orienta’s curator, Azzeddine Abdelouahabi is an artist and art critic who lives between Amiens (France) and Oujda (Morocco). To show art’s potential for social and spatial subversion, he invited local and international artists to remap the city in a new way. Their artworks coalesce into narratives that unlock the parallel between the intimate and the global.

A vast range of media (from painting and sculpture to installation and art-video, digital art, photography and political activism presented as art) are used by artists as a way to expand the limits of representational art and to bring art to life in new spaces in the city. The curator conceived each of the locations of the event as one of the seven provinces imagined by medieval geographer and traveler Charif Al-Idrissi in his map of the world. He distributed the artists among seven venues between the medina (the old city) and la ville nouvelle (the new city).

Mohamed Rachdi
Mohamed Rachdi. Frontiers, aluminum sheet, Orienta 7, Oujda 2019.

The first exhibition in this event is set in Charif Al-Idrissi Library in the narrow, tortuous streets of the old city. Palpable in this first province is a sense that both the city and the event are living systems, mutually shaping one another. Mohamed Rachdi’s art installation occupies a large area of the old library courtyard. The artist created a big round silver basin and filled it with water and objects in the form of alphabet letters. As we get closer to the basin, we have an urge to plunge our hands in the water and play with the letters. On the wall in front of the basin, letters made with scraps of maps read: the world belongs to us. The work is powerful in its simplicity. The artist attempts to understand the philosophies of nomadism; he centers the experience of belonging on the need people feel to move across borders. Boundaries, according to Rachdi, have a different significance depending on who you are. They are constantly shifting and evolving in response to political, social and climate changes.

On the other side of the library courtyard, two sculptures representing Charif Al-Idrissi are set next to each other. One is made with bronze and the other with sponge, an unusual and unpredictable material. The first artwork will last for a long time while the second, paying tribute to the legacy of a fragile and ultimately temporal medium, is doomed to perish shortly. The sponge grey sculpture also symbolizes the transience of life and the intense emotions of living on the edge that Chariff Al-Idrissi, who was an adventurous traveler, must have experienced. Jawad Embarki is searching for a way to make art fulfill a recuperative function, to not only memorialize a loss but to create something out of it.

Imad Mansour
Imad Mansour. The Death Boat, plaster molding and ink on paper, Orienta 7, Oujda 2019.

A sculpture in the form of a sailing boat with three men’s busts in it confronts visitors as they enter the library’s main gallery. The white flower-shaped boat is a funeral tribute to the migrants who die at sea—causing both discomfort and fascination for those who look at it. Like much of the media images we are overwhelmed with, it makes us feel compelled to witness although we would rather look away. Imad Mansour, an Iraqi artist living in Morocco created his sculpture with regular white plaster, the same material he used for another art installation in a different venue. In the middle of one of the rooms of Omar Ibn Abdelazize high school, a building known for its architectural charm and historical significance, a pile of white tied knots lie on a table, as if to point to the interwoven strands of the different exhibitions. The work is also an attempt to draw together the threads of displacement and alienation which have become a condition of contemporary culture within art.

Bachir Amal
Bachir Amal. Stories, mixed technique on paper bags, 660 cm x 450 cm, Orienta 7, Oujda 2019.

The artworks displayed on the walls of the gallery seem to say that life goes on while migrant death tolls continue to rise. Bachir Amal’s unsettling combinations render the complexity of modern life. The artist has used paper shopping bags as canvases for his paintings, drawings, and calligraphies and assembled them into surreal configurations. What makes the work so arresting is its simultaneous evocation of seemingly contradictory states: colonialism, consumerism, and aesthetics. While the collage directly evokes Magritte’s Key to Dreams, it also brings to mind the pop art works of Andy Warhol.

To explore the relation between people and their environment, Hafid Badri uses the language of maps in a very original way. He fashioned scraps of maps combined with Bachar Alassad and other dictators’ pictures into complex forms, reducing countries and even continents into wooden shoe molds hung on a wall and presenting an uncanny tableau. The small sculptures look elegant from a distance, but on closer inspection, we realize that the artist uses the language of surrealism to confront political violence.

Hafid Badri
Hafid Badri. Heartless, collage and wood assembly, Orienta 7, Oujda 2019.

Lala Mariyam Park, a beautiful garden in the heart of the old city explores personal and collective experiences of marginalization and oppression in a different way. Artists Esseddiq Fadhil and Fatima-Zahra Zahraoui have produced a constellation of unusually large Gharnati musical instruments in unabashedly bold colors. The diasporic shift of Andalusi populations is further explored through a retrospective textual view of the history of Gharnati music set at the entrance of the garden.

In the new part of the city, a huge dinosaur sculpture is set in front of the archeology museum that is in preparation. The dinosaur is stylishly provocative, but the provocation seems oddly detached from its subject. This surprisingly huge statue is intended to put the passersby out of their comfort zone—to remind them that Oujda has a rich pre-historical heritage.

One of the most-notable exhibitions of Orienta 7 is organized at Moulay Alhassan Gallery. The exhibition proves a moving tribute to Brahim Bachiri, a Moroccan artist living in France who died earlier this year. Mohamed Rachdi who designed the exhibition scenography took full advantage of the space offered by the gallery and transformed it into a philosophical and aesthetic territory where the art of Bachiri is celebrated. Upon entering the gallery, we are met with a video of the artist shaving his head. The work was made a few years ago as a homage to Driss Berkani, a French man of Moroccan descent who was the victim of a racially motivated murder. But the feeling we get watching the video is that the work is a rumination on death, namely the death of the artist, and on the immortality afforded through art. As if to reinforce this feeling, a white mausoleum-like structure enshrining a photograph of the artist’s naked torso is set in front of the video. The artworks across the gallery walls and floors reflect the multidimensional artistic trajectory of Bachiri and show the artist grappling with his own experience living in France and being of Moroccan heritage in a context marked by Islamophobia and racial discrimination.

Brahim Bachiri
Brahim Bachiri. Artiste Halal (a lawful artist), neon stamp in French flag colors (blue, white, red), 200 cm x 200 cm, Orienta 7, Oujda 2019.

“A halal (lawful) artist” and “Slaughtered according to Islamic dietary law”, the formulas Bachiri sculpted using neon found their way onto the gallery walls. The words bring to mind brutal images posted online by Daesh jihadists and remind viewers that in the aftermath of 9/11, it is difficult to disentangle Islamism from terrorism. The formulas which are used to ensure the Islamic origin of meat have been voluntarily politicized by Bachiri and transformed into a way of denouncing state-sanctioned violence and brutality. The words have become a sort of stamp that provides an overview of the artist’s varied satirical art practices which highlight his layered, idiosyncratic visual identity, one that places a particular emphasis on calligraphy. The viewing experience could almost be meditative; it eschews the easy possibilities of false catharsis. The exhibition narrates a story of activism.

Orienta 7 visitors walking through the streets of the old city to explore the different venues of the event.
Students touring Orienta 7, courtesy of Chourouq Nasri.

The photos of Khalid Alachari appear alongside Hakim Boulouiz’s in one of the most visually compelling shows of Orienta 7. The works of both artists are an exploration of how identity takes place. The two artists have created artworks that are not merely representational but are worlds in themselves. Alachari focuses on tiny unnoticeable details in such a way as to transform ordinary landscapes into extraordinary abstract-like paintings. Boulouiz, on the other hand, makes fine, carefully composed photographs incorporating flashes of color, unexpected juxtapositions and paving the way for many layers of meaning. His fine art photos attempt to understand what and how people convey, contest, or otherwise negotiate aspects of contemporary urban life. They also offer a rare perspective on the artist’s relationship with the city or what he calls “mise en ville”. Boulouiz’s photos make the viewer feel puzzled, unsettled and mesmerized.

Many of the works displayed in Orienta 7 can be fully appreciated only by prolonged, up-close viewing. They are not isolated in time and space and must be put in context. The ultimate purpose of this important art event is to encourage the viewer to think differently, to stop and take the time to confront their own preconceived notions and to participate in the remapping of the city.