Saturday, 18 of January of 2020

Retweeting Black Canada

On January 13, 2012 King George Nigga, a tweeter who when asked by my sister why he (I presume it is a him) uses my image as his avatar stated, This picture is the most complete and comprehensive representation of Black Canada ever produced.

I’ve been told by many people that Miss Canadiana holds personal meanings for them but this endorsement was particularly humbling. Thanks King George!

But what does it mean to represent? In my cultural production workshop, I am presenting a self-representation. I’ve decided to tackle the complex image of myself as Mss Canadiana.

When I began this project I wanted to represent my own feelings. I felt alienated from the Canadian nation. I wanted to portray my experience of living in a space of perpetual irony.  A space that tries hard to pretend that it is welcoming and inclusive but where at any moment the underlying tensions spring out and reveal themselves. These little “surprises” remind me why I’m constantly on guard and perpetually resisting the seduction of an uncomplicated belonging.

Here is a recent incident my sister Karen and I experienced. I invite you to share yours.

At a Black history event in a small Ontario town, a White man felt compelled to tell my sister he had a Black nanny as a child. The event was about the history of the Black settlement that predated the current White settlement in the area. After two women in the room revealed that their ancestors were part of the early Black settlement, another White man in the room asked, so when did the Black settlers come and when did they leave? We left shaking our heads. Miss Canadiana still has work to do.

I am certain that my image as Miss C represents different things to different people. Her meaning is open and complex. She has usurped the space a White body is expected to occupy so she represents an uneasy relationship to a comfortable belonging.

I never set out to represent Black Canada. I created an image that is true to my own lived experience. But after putting her out there I realize she’s much larger than I am.

This post represents an important milestone in my academic life. My first article has been published in a journal that just launched today in Trinidad! It’s a new arts journal called Caribbean InTransit. This is issue #2 and it focuses on location.  The guest-editor is Honor Ford-Smith. Many thanks and congratulations to Honor and editor in chief, Marielle Barrow!

You can download it free here.

Black Geography

Two Sisters by Robert Purritt

As part of the exhibition 28 Days: Reimagining Black History Month curated by Pamela Edmonds and Sally Frater, I participated on a panel of artists and curators moderated by Rinaldo Walcott debating the idea of Black history month.

British artist Sonia Boyce spoke about collective memory and cultural amnesia. She told the story of working with a group of young Black women to recall Black British female singers and their silence when they realized that it took them a while to come up with any names. She began then to amass a massive database. Now, several years into the project, people have continued to send her material. Her work responds to the call of archival material that she says begs to be activated.

Robert Pruitt was skyped in from Houston. His work, pictured above is straight out of the Starfleet academy. Karen and I are so excited to encounter a fellow Afrofuturist.  Check out his piece, Glass slippers below.

Glass Slippers by Robert Purritt

Media artist Dana Inkster, who lives in Lethbridge, spoke about “the escapable double bind” of living in a house she didn’t build. She describes her struggle to free herself to be able to make the work she wants to make to which involves uncovering Black histories and making them public. She recounts her personal experience of gatekeepers, institutions that manage the public record and control whose stories are told and who owns the stories. For instance, the NFB, an iconic cultural institution whose mandate is to represent all Canadians, gave her the green light on a story about of Canada’s shifting prairie landscape that would have reshaped the public record. As she worked with them they made it clear that they in fact, owned her story and controlled the terms of engagement. In the end, she made a very different film and the story she wanted to tell was silenced.

UK curator, researcher Paul Goodwin noted that Black in the UK is a contested term that includes the identities of people of Asian as well as well as African and Caribbean descent. Paul spoke about the management of cultural difference through state multiculturalism that focus on visual signs of difference such as skin colour. He introduced us to Wilson Harris, a Guyanese writer who advocates a cross-cultural approach that opens up culture to self-critical analysis and discovering the self through another. He concluded that although Black artists are excluded from how modernity is framed in cultural institutions, they, in fact, played a central role in the formation of modernity.

My talk was about my body as an interface to a Black geography that reveals Black histories concealed within the White geography of Canada. After my talk, someone asked me if being Black limits the work I do. My work is definitely shaped by the experiences I’ve had because I live in a Black body but I do not feel that I choose my work. I feel that It chooses me. I am a vessel through which these stories come into being. The stories I tell in Miss Canadiana’s Heritage and Culture Walking Tours called out to me because I live in an area where Black bodies and histories have disappeared without a trace in the middle of one of the most multicultural sites in the world.

Rinaldo Walcott, who refers to himself as a critic of Black art and in my view, is an avid advocate of post nationalism, asked me how my work as a performance artist engages or resists the notion of the Canadian nation. I’m not sure what I answered then but here’s what I wanted to say. There is a tweeter who calls himself King George Nigga @BLACK_CANADA who has appropriated an image of Miss Canadiana as his avatar. When my sister Karen asked him why he was using my image he responded, “This picture is the most complete and comprehensive representation of Black Canada ever produced.”

My work stems from my feeling of alienation. Miss Canadiana, for example, was born out of a sense of irony. Canada imagines itself as a modern multicultural nation yet my image as a representation of Canada is still astonishing. If Blackness was not perceived as foreign, this image would not elicit the responses it does. Ten years after I created Miss Canadiana, my body is still not the body expected to represent Canada. My image disrupts the neat binary of Real Canadian and Diverse Other that is reinforced by state sanctioned displays of diversity…like Black history month.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Black history month is necessary—otherwise we’d be living perpetually in White history month. There’s all kinds of wonderfulness that surfaces this time of the year. Looking around me at all the beautiful people in the room during the exhibition and the talk, I am grateful that we have opportunities like these to get together with each other.

How Fred Wilson Vanished

E Plurus Unum a public monument proposed by Fred Wilson

I’m beginning month two of my cultural production class. We’re reading Jennifer Gonzalez’s book, Subject to Display which examines the work of artists, James Luna, Fred Wilson, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Pepón Osorio, and Renée Green, who use installation as a medium to reframe race.

Stuart Hall, in his lecture, Race, the Floating Signifier talks about the necessity of understanding how racism functions in order to be able to dismantle it. He views race not as a fixed category, but a floating one. While there is no biological basis for race, it is brought into being through the meanings we make out of it. He calls this, race discourse. The artists in the book lay bare ways that visual culture has attempted to fix the meaning of race. Through revealing these mechanisms they subvert racism.

I’m going to give a short introuduction to one of the artists, Fred Wilson. I became acquainted with Wilson’s work several years ago, when I was doing research on installation art. This form of art is basically, the placement of objects in space, generally referencing the body. I happened upon the shocking installation he created below of an antique baby carriage with a klansman hood inside.

From exhibition "Mining the Museum" by Fred Wilson

In another installation from the same show he displayed ornate silver tableware beside slave shackles from the same era.

These works were part of a show called Mining the Museum. The Maryland Historical Society opened its inventory to the artist. Wilson displayed works together that were normally never shown in the same space or were hidden away in their inventory. Through juxtaposing these objects, Wilson’s unsettled their meanings and brought history and memory to the surface.

Wilson’s practice is disruptive to say the least. He destabilizes the notion that mainstream galleries and museums are pristine spaces that present truth in absolute and neutral ways.

He hacks into institutional frameworks of museums to show how race discourse shapes the work and how it functions within the system to contain, produce and reproduce racist hierarchies through visual display and presentation.

His work, My life as a Dog, for example, featured in the opening chapter of Gonzalez’s book was an intervention in a gallery. He invited docents from the gallery to a private tour of an exhibition. He then slipped into a security guard’s uniform and stood quietly in the gallery. None of the docents recognized him. He had disappeared in plain view.  “He had become an anonymous man, an invisible man, a black man.”
(Gonzalez, 2008 p.1)

By turning around the gaze, he placed the looker squarely inside the frame. The docents found themselves at the centre of his performance demonstrating how they were implicated in the way Black bodies are framed within the gallery.

Now if you’re curious about image at the top of this page, here’s the story. Wilson was granted a commission to do a public project in Central Indiana in 2007, In the entire area, a downtrodden slave holding broken shackles was the only public image of an African American. Wilson wanted to turn this sculpture on its ear by transforming it into the victorious symbol above holding a flag with every country of the African Diaspora. Wilson’s vision for E Pluribus Unum was never realized as the project, supported by the Central Indiana Community Foundation was cancelled due to public opposition.

Here is Wilson explaining his vision.

If you want to see and learn more about Fred Wilson, here are a few sources. There are lots more where these came from.

Is Space the final frontier?

Speakers for the Dead is an NFB documentary created by Jennifer Holness and David Sutherland. It tells the story of a town in rural Ontario, where a White farmer buried the tombstones of a Black cemetery to make way for a potato patch.
(Holness & Sutherland, 2000)

Greetings gentle readers. It has been some time since I’ve written. As you will recall, I began a master’s degree in September 2010. When I set out on this journey, I had no idea the slippery slopes that lay ahead. I still don’t. I am in the midst of it right now. Every mountain I climb makes me realize there are more ahead. To quote my friend Jennifer’s father, “never say whoah in a hard place.” And so, I keep on, keeping on.

This semester I am taking an image based, Cultural Production Workshop taught by Deb Barndt. Deb is a professor in the Environmental Studies Program and she coordinates the Community Arts Practice Certificate. Deb, in a word, is a powerhouse. Her work integrates global and local food systems, popular education and activism. One of the requirements of this course is a journal so I have decided to attempt here to write in this blog in order to chart the progress I am making in my program. I am working towards a project that will use performance and locative media to create a psychogeographic walking tour of the Grange’s hidden Black histories so my posts will reflect what I am learning. It is my hope, gentle readers, that you will accompany me on this journey.

This is post #1 and I will start by looking at the work of Katherine McKittrick. I’m currently reading her book, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. McKittrick is a professor at Queens University, though; I have heard that she lives here in Toronto. Her area is geography. She probes the intersection of race, feminism and space. For me, this is new territory (ok I intended that pun). I am interested in McKittrick’s work because I am trying to understand why Black history is excluded from Canada’s foundational narratives. There are numerous examples of Black Canadian histories that have been suppressed, overwritten, absent or literally paved over. Marie Angelique, for example, a slave woman who allegedly burnt down Montreal, isn’t even mentioned in most history books. The shattered tombstones of a Black cemetery in Priceville, Grey County (see film above) provides evidence of the lives of early Black settlers who were pushed out of the way make room for the current White settlement. I want to tell these stories, starting with the stories of the Black history of the Grange area of Toronto where I live. I want to breathe live into accounts of people like Peggy Pompadour, a slave of Peter Russell, the administrator of Upper Canada. We know about Peggy because historians like Afua Cooper have rescued fragments of letters and newspaper ads in the archives that mention her.

So why am I looking at geography? Well, geography is about space and space is a way of making meaning. My thinking is that by studying space, it will give me some clues about how/why Canada does that complex dance of imagining itself as a multicultural country yet absenting histories that do not fit the narrative of British and French founders.
As a media artist working with locative media, I’ve been drawing on the concept of space but I’ve never tried to articulate it using words. So I’m attempting here to summarize what I’ve gleaned from McKittrick about the concept of space.

Katherine McKittrick explains that geography isn’t just about the land, the physical space, it is the way we ascribe meanings to it. De Certeau, in his famous text, Walking the City, describes how we write the story of the city through walking. “The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces.” (De Certeau, 1984 p.93)

People generally think of space as something external to ourselves. Space just is. This makes it seem neutral, inert, not something we have any control over. We see space as the container we inhabit but we are not aware that we ourselves actively created it.

Since we humans are the ones making the meanings, then space is about us. It is, in fact, a mirror image of ourselves, and our power relationships. McKittrick says that inequities in our society are produced because of the way we ascribe meaning to space inequitably. We map our power relationships to space and the bodies that inhabit space so we reproduce inequalities through our production of space. (McKittrick, 2006 p.xi)

Ok, enough about space for today. I will keep reading and write more another time. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your responses.

Works Cited
De Certeau, M. (1984). The practice of everyday life. Berkeley, California, USA: University of California Press.

Holness, J., Sutherland, D., & National Film Board of Canada. (2000). Speakers for the dead. Montreal: NFB.

McKittrick, K. (2006). Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the cartographies of struggle. Minnesota, MN, USA: University of Minnesota Press.

Irie Christmas!

The Outerregion crew couldn’t let the year end without wishing everyone many blessings for a peaceful Christmas & holiday season and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.

We will be celebrating with our family in our “Jamaican-centric” style – imbibing much sorrel, Christmas (black) cake, duck-shaped hard-dough bread on Christmas morning served up with ackee, plantain & calaloo as well as many games of dominos and ludy and Christmas movies around a crackling fire.

Christmas is not Christmas in the Turner household without the constant blare of background Christmas music – DJ’d by our father, Lloyd. One of his favourite Christmas albums, played often in our home, year after year, belongs to the late great Jamaican bandleader, Byron Lee and his Dragonaires. Enjoy this Christmas soca medley below from Mr. Lee’s “Christmas Party Time in the Tropics” album. Put on your dancing shoes!

YouTube Preview Image

One love,
Karen & Camille

3 Jamaican Plays launched in Canada

Karen and I attended Honor Ford-Smith’s book launch of 3 Jamaican Plays: A Post Colonial Anthology at the Trane Studio tonight. Honor edited and introduced each play of the volume. This book is important for many reasons. Chief amongst them is the fact, that it chronicles an era, during and after Jamaican independence. The publisher of the book, Paul Issa said, “I think the 1970s and 1980s are the golden age of Jamaican plays. And many of these plays are on the verge of disappearing,” Lucily, he and Honor plucked them out of obscurity and into print to be given a new chance to live. As the unequalled Djanet Sears noted, these plays must be put into conversation with theatre from the Black Liberation movement in the USA and other anti-colonial movements worldwide.

Miss Canadiana was asked to speak. It was an unusual context in which to be asked to participate so I wondered what I could add. How did this event connect to Miss Canadiana? I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Honor over the past year and I’ve learned a lot—not only about Jamaican social and political history but how it connects to the larger global picture. It has been an ongoing, eye-opening experience.

Tonight Honor really shone. She described herself as a member of a pivotal generation, born in the 50’s, who experienced the transition from a colonial regime to self-govenrment. The plays in her book reflect that robust and hopeful time as well as its shattering aftermath.

So how did Miss Canadiana connect to this? Well, I told my story, the story of how I became Miss Canadiana. The one I have told, what seems like millions of times. Miss Canadiana grew out of my desire to rupture the mythology of Canada, the multi-culti land where everyone belongs. Miss Canadiana is the result of inserting my image in place of what/who is expected to represent Canada. Miss Canadiana troubles the waters, as does Honor Ford-Smith. Like Miss Canadiana, Honor’s presence, and her work disrupts stereotypes of the Jamaican nation to express the multiplicities of modes of belonging and to uncover the colonial narratives that play out and become our lives.

You can find 3 Jamaican Plays at A Different Booklist at

Here are a few reviews

The Race Card

Outerregion is committed to sharing work of other afrofuturists and artists that disrupt the expected and engage the public in unusual ways, which is also what we strive to do.

Today’s post features an innovate project, Race Card, developed by African-American journalist and author, Michele Norris. In looking for a visual to put with the post, I was shocked and horrified to find hundreds of pictures of other depictions of ‘race cards’. Three of the most shocking are above. Clearly, this term conjures up thoughts of Black people who have been given free passes to offend, antagonize, unjustly accuse others of racism, pretend to be victims, and get whatever job we want – even the presidency of the United States!
I digress – back to Michele’s work. Michele Norris, in her public speaking work, used a technique to start conversations on race where she gave participants cards and asked them to write exactly 6 words to sum up their thoughts about race. She thought that a few responses would trickle back to her via email or snail mail, but instead dozens of people have emailed her from all over the world with their responses. She’s posted many of the responses on her website.

The 6-word responses run the gamut from humorous to sarcastic to brutally honest to touching and tender.
Check out Michele’s site, and write your own 6 words:

One love,

Hidden in plain view

Greetings fellow travelers. As you know, on May 8, 2011 Miss Canadiana lead her first walking tour of the Grange’s Hidden Black history. We are now pleased to present guest blogger and fellow Afrofuturist, Kunle to share his thoughts on the event.

I learned about the power of Miss Canadiana on my birthday, Sunday May 8, 2011, on the Miss Canadiana Mother’s Day edition of Jane’s Walk. Miss Canadiana, think African Princess Diana of Canada, gives heritage and cultural walking tours. Her theme of this walk is the hidden black history of the Grange. She started at the north-east corner of Peter and Adelaide where, in the mid-to-late 90’s, I was the doorman at ‘Apothecary’, the coolest night spot on the block when Jeff Campbell, a Canadian of Afro Caribbean heritage opened his food and entertainment emporium. For the record, I suppressed potential conflicts at the door with primal elegance. Now I know where the strength and compassion came from. I was called to work here by the ancestors. I used to think ancestors meant only ancient.

Miss Canadiana is ‘rocking the red’ in full length taffeta satin with white gloves and sparkling tiara. I note how the sun transforms prismic head pieces into halos. And there is a film crew! This isn’t a walk it’s an event. But I am starving; don’t ask why. As we proceed, I grab a roti from a Caribbean eatery that magically appeared on Peter. I was not immediately aware of the poetry in me eating food of the islands as we celebrated the purpose of early Caribbean (primarily) residents of Toronto. I_t  w_a_s  g_o_o_d!! With a full belly, I could really appreciate the knowledge and presence of Miss Canadiana. I really liked how she facilitated conversation between participants with having us engage with each other through questions such as, “What is your family heritage in Canada?” Did I mention there was a film crew? A guy could feel very important walking down the street with a bunch of people, eating a roti – with a knife and fork, and being followed by a film crew. On his birthday! For the record, the day was complete with a moment with my mother.

We stopped at another key point of reference on Queen at the top of Peter. I can see this history is hidden in plain view. I am intrigued by what people passing by are thinking. Miss Canadiana is cool as she is tall. She doesn’t need the cameras to cause a stir: she is the stick! I hear voices saying, “It’s Miss Canadian”. I guess when you wear a full length red gown with matching tiara, white gloves and sash that says Miss Canadiana, the “a” could be silent, eh. What is the difference? Does canadiana imply canadianish, and so maintains a certain artistic integrity while Canadian is? We on the walk have an awareness of what Miss Canadiana really is while people passing by see her as ‘real’. We on the walk are inside a story of the past while passers by, the community surrounding the audience, aka the status quo, are outside a story of the present. Sounds like the story of Azani, towards an afro future.

On this day, it is clear Miss Canadiana’s spirit is imbued with heritage excellence. It is magnified by the red and the white, the essence of Canada. It is the flag. In Miss Canadiana, the sublime warrior spirit of Shango is also evoked. Red and white are his colours too. Jane Jacobs, a spiritual afro futurist and a model of resistance and resilience would have loved Miss Canadiana and what she is walking for.

“No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at … suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. You’ve got to get out and walk.”
(Jane Jacobs, Downtown is for People, 1957.)

Through stories of the past, Miss Canadiana is bringing communities together. To walk along Spadina Avenue at Dundas, and to cross over on any Sunday afternoon is an experience of deep sea human navigation. To do so in the presence of an African Princess Diana of Canada, who everyone now perceives as “Miss Canada!”, transcended communal boundaries. To recognize the juxtaposition of the Grange, Chinatown and Kensington Market, how Toronto evolved as a place of plurality, and the contribution of English Caribbeans to the social ecology of the world’s city, on my birthday, was a gift.

Adding further resonance to the day’s spirit, the patron saint of Jamaica, Marcus Garvey, is part of the story. He stayed in a house in the Grange when he came to Toronto in support of the UNIA’s (Universal Negro Improvement Association) Toronto chapter. In revealing the story, Miss Canadiana also exposed the hidden legacy of Caribbeans from all nations working together to achieve a common goal. The precept that they can’t is a post modern concept. Remember, Donald Willard Moore was from Barbados and Garvey from Jamaica. Moore co-founded the UNIA and the Toronto Negro Citizenship Association for all Afro ascendants. The Baileys, who lived on Sullivan St and facilitated Garvey’s visit to Toronto, had a legacy of their own. Ruth Bailey, was one of the first Canadian born Afros to successfully graduate from a Canadian university in nursing, along with her friend, Gwennyth Barton. Ruth Bailey and her siblings were elementary school contemporaries of Frank Gehry, one of the most important architects of the 20th or any century. Could his success be attributed in some small way to sharing space with the Baileys?

The recent history of the Grange includes The Bamboo, in close proximity to the plaque erected by a cohort of Miss Canadiana in memorial to Peggy Pompadour. I could have expected to see ‘Peggy Pompadour’ in performance at The Bamboo, where Afro Caribbean music, including reggae, was the mainstay. Miss Canadiana herself is a ‘put on’ and grounded in reality. Such is the nature of art in contextual practice, when concerned with the study & production of every-day-life as art, place-based & engaged with its environment, naturally. The learning is exponential, the experience eternal. This is the kind of art that heals. We need more of it.

Kunle is a Kittitian born artist and afro futurist who champions art & expression that enhances the cultural ecology of earth.

Mother’s Day Walking Tour

What could make your mother happier than to spend a day with you doing something active and fun? Well the Outerregion crew has the perfect activity for you and your Mom—a walking tour!

Miss Canadiana’s Heritage and Culture Walking Tour will take place on Sunday May 8 at 2pm as part of Jane’s Walk and Miss Canadiana will be your tour guide! Come and hear stories of our shared Canadian heritage, the ones that you won’t find in the history books. One of the mothers you will hear about on the tour is Peggy Pompadour, a brave slave woman, owned by one of Upper Canada’s founding fathers in the late 1800’s, who was jailed for resisting slavery.

Many thanks to:
Darren O’Donnell, Dramaturge
Afua Cooper, Historian/Researcher

Outerregion gratefully acknowledges our funders:
Toronto Arts Council
Ontario Arts Council

go to Jane’s Walk

Brother Dudley: Radical Rebel

“What we have done for ourselves dies with us, but what we have done for others is immortal,”
were the words of former Deputy Police Chief, Keith Ford. He said these words at the funeral
of activist Dudley Laws, an important leader in Toronto’s Black community. My first memories
of him were back in the ’80’s when I first came to the city. I often saw him with Lennox Farrell
and Charles Roach. At the funeral I learnt that he was a welder by trade and a colleague of my
father’s. He often attended events of the Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association in Hamilton, an
organization my father helped found and still runs over 30 years later.

A testament to his dedication and hard work, Laws’ funeral was the largest I’d ever been to.
Thousands flooded the church. They stood in the aisles when there were no more seats. The
balcony filled up and folks spilled into a basement room to listen on the audio feed.

The Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to a federal riding, spoke about
her long-time collaboration and friendship with Laws pre-dating organizations that have been
instrumental in advocating on behalf of the Black community. Thando Hyman, principal of the
Africentric school sang a tearful and soulful good-bye while politicians Alvin Curling, Mary Anne
Chambers, Margarett Best and Mike Colle sat behind her on stage.

Ford noted that Laws was labelled a radical for defying unjust laws and daring to demand equality.
Charles Roach, who must have been devastated to lose his close friend and collaborator he had
worked with for over 40 years noted that radical/rebel is how he was referred to for giving voice to
the voiceless.

After listening to accolade after accolade, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who will replace Dudley
Laws?” Who among has the courage to stand up to the police and keep standing and speaking,
unrelenting until change happens? Who among us truly cares enough to not just complain about
social conditions, but actually start organizations to address issues affecting our people like Black
Inmates and Friends Assembly or the Black Action Defence Committee? If we say we honour
Dudley’s memory, then we need to continue to make change happen. What or whom are we
waiting for? A quote that comes to mind by African-American novelist, June Jordan, used by
Barack Obama is, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Dudley Laws was motivated by the life and words of the Honourable Marcus Garvey. We leave
you with a Garvey quote that inspired Brother Dudley:

“Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people; action, self-reliance, the vision of
self, and the future has been the only means by which the oppressed has seen and realized the
hope of their own freedom.”

One love