C Magazine

Communing with (Art) Ancestors

“The art and the culture of emergent groups who choose to find their affiliation through issues of race or gender or sexuality or AIDS, those groups and their art is labelled in the negative, belated sense, as some kind of medieval […] culture of complaint. And this easy attribution of victimage is deeply troubling to me because it isn’t aware of the new […] social sense of community as it emerges. It isn’t aware [of how] those kinds of communities are creating very particular notions of themselves.”

Homi K. Bhabha, speaking to Jamelie Hassan and Monika Kin Gagnon at the AGO, as part of a public program series titled Locating Communities, on May 4, 1995.

In the middle of a protracted period of depression, and suffering from a sense of decades-long neglect by her local art community, Pamila Matharu, the Toronto-based cultural producer, curator, artist and public educator, came across two discarded video tapes in an overstock recycling shop that set in motion a sharp turn in her fate. This was in 2006 or ’07, and the tapes were both dated October 1993—and apparently the property of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Their labels advertised readings and panel discussions with a cache of cultural theorists and artists—most of whom Matharu had never heard of, but felt excited by their suggested race-related scope, and by their collective title: Identity in a Foreign Place. It would be 12 years before Matharu was able to see what these tapes contained—they were Hi8 videos requiring specialized technology to view—but also, Matharu needed a spur. Once she finally got it, though, she saw her own concerns and anxieties mirrored back to her. The tapes contained searing examinations of the very issues that were variously holding her back and pinning her down: performative allyship, cultural labour, burnout, neglect and ghettoization. These impatient conversations about “what needs to change?” had taken place more than 20 years

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