My art practice is grounded in what I call grassroots cultural practices: approaches and methods of cultural and knowledge production that do not come out of art or academic institutions, but rather emerge from the lived experiences of marginalized communities as a form of resistance and/or healing and/or self-representation. As a practising artist who did not have access to formal arts education (I did not go to art school, I lack the BFA and the MFA), my creativity and artistic inclinations came out of survival: art as a need, not a luxury. My skills were largely learnt through self-teaching, trial-and-error, and the benevolence of QTPOC (queer, trans, people of color) community members who skill-shared their knowledge of everything from screen-printing to knitting to body-based work. My art practice emerged from the DIY cultures of zine-making, spoken-word nights in humid basements, Youtube tutorials and cheap wig drag.
My art and my creativity also emerged from my elders and the generations of women of colour in my family whom I saw get-by on a daily basis, finding ways to take care of their families despite not knowing how to read and write, but whose wealth of knowledge about the world was deep, intelligent, and premised on their own lived experiences. These are the women who came out of servitude and learnt to navigate patriarchy and colonialism on plantation islands.
There is a common understanding of “real” and “valuable” knowledge-production, intellectual labour and research as that which occurs in academic settings, in libraries and research centres (“The Ivory Tower”). My work is located in “grassroots” knowledge and cultural production: I believe that marginalized communities are “experts” of their own lived experience and that they have a tremendous amount of resources, skills and knowledge that they generate individually and collectively, and that they pass on from generation to generation as a form of survival, community resistance and celebration. These are the pedagogical skills and tools that structure my art practice, and that allow me to honour the tenacious self-determination and resilience of the queer, trans, radicalized and migrant communities to which I belong.
Within the context of the P. Lantz Initiative Artist in Residence Program, my approach will be centred around creating conversations between the institution and community-based knowledge, McGill University and tio’ia:ke/Montreal grassroots arts, academia and non-academic sites of knowledge production. I will do so by engaging the students and Faculty of the Department of Integrated Studies in Education with the following projects: “Thinking Through Power: arts-based approaches to anti-oppression“ (Fall 2016), “FREEZE! micro-aggression ahead!” (Fall 2016), “From Thick Skin to Femme Armour” (Winter 2017), “Self-Love Week“ (Winter 2017), and “My Body Is the Ocean” (Winter 2017), and other ad-hoc short-term projects. Each of these projects engages with my practice as a performer, poet, visual and studio artist, and each acts as clusters around which I will be facilitating workshops, giving artist presentations, writing critical pieces and hosting exhibits and performances. I will also be available to intervene (through workshops, presentations etc.) in classroom settings to generate dialogue between these projects and specific course content.
Keywords: decolonization, post-colonialism, colonial history, subaltern, marginalization, resistance, anti-oppression, gender, trans/gender, LGBTQ+, alternative pedagogy, arts education, story-telling, representation, photography, visual narratives, DIY, grassroots arts, emancipation, healing, haunting, ritual, ocean narratives.
Photo credit: Pascha Marrow