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On art and erasure

This is just a quick post, as a response to a video that was posted this week that explores some of the challenges faced by artists working in Edmonton:

http://prairieseen.tumblr.com/post/56440156936/talkin-bout-art-in-edmonton-part-1-big-fish

The blog post itself bills the video as diverse, representing “people with diverse backgrounds in our fair city [who] have built careers for themselves in the Visual Arts industry”. But I think this merits a broader discussion. While it’s wonderful to see local artists trying to engage in a critical dialogue about the specific challenges of making art in Edmonton, I’m hard pressed to believe there were no PoC or Indigenous artists that could have been invited to participate in this panel. In fact, I’m hard pressed to believe there weren’t artists that represented a broad range of age and socio-economic backgrounds, too. What are your thoughts? I’m wary of the perception I have of the Edmonton arts community being particularly white-washed and insular. This is informed partially by my experience of watching my Dad, an Indigenous artist, negotiate his own challenges within the city’s arts scene before he moved to Vancouver. So that’s my own bias, there.

However, I do think there are some relevant discussions to be had about how race, history and identity are (or are not) dealt with in our arts community. While many would argue that the Edmonton arts community is fairly progressive and open-minded, there are certainly moments when I question how aware those within the community are of the cultural and political implications of their work. Earlier this month I was uncomfortable when a colleague pointed out this local artist’s bandcamp page: smokeycoon.bandcamp.com/

First, using a racist slur as your bandcamp name is unacceptable. Secondly, I’m unclear as to whether the use of Indigenous imagery in this artist’s work is meant to honour or ridicule our city’s Indigenous history. At a time when the City is not living up to its duties as per Treaty 6, and at a time when most Edmontonians believe Indigenous people are a ‘problem’ that ‘get in the way’ of progress, it’s our job to push back against these appropriations, erasures and distortions. This means challenging discourses of erasure in city planning, in politics, and even in the arts community. And it also means challenging moments when Indigenous people are excluded or mis-represented in the socio-economic, political and cultural stories we tell about the city.

I yearn for Edmonton to have an arts community that can produce stuff like this, which celebrates Indigenous artists alongside others: http://plugin.org/exhibitions/2012/my-winnipeg-theres-no-place-home-0

It’s not that hard, Edmonton. But you have to be aware of your privilege and erasure before it can actually be dismantled. So, just think of me as your annoying little Metis gnat, refusing to overlook this stuff, buzzing away about things that need to be addressed.

Discussion

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  1. Pingback: I can have diversity? | Urbane Adventurer - August 6, 2013

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