By Kama La Mackerel, Artist in Residence

“Thinking Through Power: arts-based approached to anti-oppression” is a series of 3 workshops that I have researched and designed in the first month of my artist residency at the Department of Integrated Studies at McGill University.

Each of the workshop seeks to engage with power through explorations of testimonies, solo body-work, collective body-work, meditation and story-telling. I am grateful to Dr. Mindy Carter and Dr. Claudia Mitchell who gave me the opportunity to explore these themes within the context of their courses.

The first workshop I designed and facilitated was in a 300-level class called “Curriculum and Instruction in Drama Education” (EDEA 342-001). The workshop, “Telling Stories & Embodying Identities,” explored the relationship between the body, story-telling, and the stories that can be told and cannot be told. Through discussions, physical exercises, meditation and body-work, I facilitated a space for the 35 participants to perform solo and group work, to critically reflect and self-reflect on how we each carry stories of dis/empowerment within our bodies.

The second workshop I facilitated was in a 200-level class called “Communication in Education” (EDEC 203-003). The workshop, “Identity & Power: thinking about anti-oppression through the arts” sought to equip the 30 participants with basic tools to think and communicate about identity and power. We first unpacked understandings of identity, oppression and power as they relate to each of the participant’s lived experiences. We also applied different pedagogical tools to unpack and comprehend the articulation of power at systemic, collective, cultural, socio-political and inter-personal levels. We used techniques of testimony, story-telling and body-work to understand the multiple ways in which we embody power and oppression through our multiple identities. The workshop allowed the participants (who were all so keen and generous with their insights) to meaningfully engage with nuanced articulations of power and how these dynamics specifically play out for them in the classroom as future teachers.

The third workshop I developed and facilitated was in a 600-level class called “Advanced Applied Methods: Teaching Secondary English Language Arts” (EDTL 630). The workshop, “The Stories Only We Can Tell: on truth, poetry & empowerment,” sought to engage with story-telling as an aesthetic, social, cultural and political practice. Focussing on story-telling practices from the margins, the workshop developed and articulated an understanding of story-telling (through the use of words, bodies, sounds, rhythms, music etc.) as an emancipatory narrative tool for marginalized communities. I walked the 15 participants through the relationships between story-telling, identity and power, and the multiple ways in which story-telling is imbricated with power (whose story is being told, who is allowed to narrate stories, which narrative is definitive etc.). We also discussed Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” and we put into conversation Lily Myers’ piece “Shrinking Women” with my own piece, “Zom Fam.” The participants were deeply engaged and connected the material concretely to their own situations as individuals and as teachers.

On the whole, the responses to these workshops have been excellent. The students engaged with the material with an honesty and openness that allowed us to work through challenging questions together. Through the use of arts-based practices, we unravelled systemic and personal understandings of power, we explored our own positions of power/privilege in different contexts, and we garnered an understanding of intersectionality. I believe these workshops have initiated hard and much-needed conversations that will not only impact the students in their learning at McGill, but also in their roles as teachers and educators. 

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