shy activism

Categories: Activist Art

Five years ago, I got a message on my phone inviting me to join a group of scholars as they embark on a 7-year research project working with artists in the sphere of activism.

When I got the notice, I was sitting with other audience members on the floor of a brightly lit stage in Glasgow watching Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis rolling over each other’s bodies like copulating worms.

When I opened the email in the lobby, my first thought was: I’m not really an activist or at least, not the kind anyone would wanna write home about. The closest thing to activism I thought I’d ever done was go to the grocery store with my hair pulled back in a bun.

Once I got back to Toronto, I opened the one hundred page project brief that was sent to me and read this on the first page:

“In this project, ‘activist art’ refers to: disability art, Deaf art, Mad art, aging and e/Elder art, fat art, and Indigenous art. We, the researchers, artists, curators, practitioners, and community members on this grant, explore the relationship between cultivating activist art and achieving social and political justice. We believe that activist art holds the power to represent these aggrieved communities who are routinely represented as non-vital, a representation that often produces violent and even deadly effects– differently; as artistic, creative, agentive, political, community-connected, and full of vitality.”

By this definition, I recognized myself as an activist, passive maybe, shy, and full of questions, but an activist nonetheless and before I turned the page, I knew I was in.

I read about the 70 artists, researchers and collaborators who would be involved and a week later, I drove to Guelph to meet the team who would become the managing committee: Tracy Tidgwell, artist and member of Fat Rose, Nadine Changfoot, Professor and brain behind Aging Vitalities, and Ingrid Mundell, Managing Director of ReVision: Centre for Art and Social Justice. With Anishinaabe Elder Mona Stonefish and lead co-investigators Dr. Eliza Chandler and Dr. Carla Rice at the helm of this ambitious project, I knew that we would do some great things together.

The people and vision behind this research has inspired much of the values and strategic development of our work at CUP so, it is with a heavy heart this week that I’m leaving the team so that I can more fully concentrate on Creative Users.

Working with this team has been an enormous privilege and because of it, I’ve learned to appreciate the large spectrum of activism that, through art, is channeled in both provocative and nuanced ways.

Even though my role at Bodies in Translation has ended, I know our work as strategic partners is just about to begin and for that reason, I can’t wait.

Check out Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology and Access to Life here.