Art-Making April 1, 2021

Reflecting on reVisions: Black & Asian Artists talk artmaking in a racist world

By Jonsaba Jabbi

We’re living in heavy times. Amidst a global health crisis, we found ourselves immersed in another wave of a racial uprising which continues to shift our world.

But as artists, cultural workers and creative instigators, we still find a way to push through this oppressive world through art. At times, it’s the only language we can speak.

Last Thursday, a group of artists gathered together to speak to each other. About our rage, our hopes and the ways in which we still push through to create art and take up space in the world as artists.

 

A still from My People Rise by Glamma Kimaiyo

As part of SKETCH’s new conversation series, reVisions, our inaugural talk was entitled Art Solidarities: How Do I Make Art in a Racist World?

Moderated by fellow artists and SKETCH friends Min Sook Lee and Glamma Kimaiyo, reVisions featured multidisciplinary artist/entrepreneur Orion Mayas, performance artist Tyler J. Sloane, spoken word & visual artist La-Vane Kelly and painter/illustrator Christie Jia Wen Carriere.

They shared with us the role art plays in their lives while navigating the realities of living in an oppressive world.

 

Art is a playing field to express what’s on your mind that can live in the world and make its own impact

For Orion Mayas, responding to racism through his art came from the misrepresentation of his identities in the media as a Black Trans person. “There was nearly none to no existence of people who looked like me on television,” he said, “So I internalized that as that I simply did not exist.”

“What I do is pass the mic to people and let them tell their own stories and collaborate with other storytellers to rewrite the narrative that has been displayed in the media.”

Through his media production company, Orion Rise Productions, he is using his own platform by providing platforms for QTBIPOC folks to learn, unlearn, and tell their own stories.

 

Art is recognizing the artists who came before me

Multidisciplinary artist Ty Sloane credits artists such as Ravyn Wingz, Naty Tremblay, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard for laying the foundation for their artistic practice. “I would not be able to be grounded without the mentors and artists who came before me,” they reflected.

“For me to see myself in these people, I now feel like I could be grounded.”

“I identify as someone who lives in many worlds,” Ty expressed, “I’m mixed-race and I’m mixed-gender….I’m an adoptee who grew up in a white family in a white town.” Sharing how they were processing the recent events of anti-Asian violence, Ty recognized that all of their artmaking as an artist was about combating racism. “I’ve been navigating racism at every step of the way which became my fuel to combat it.”

 

Art is a way for me to slowly answer the questions I keep asking myself

For Chris, her work doesn’t overtly respond to racism directly but there was a time that she thought it had to as a mixed-race person. “I’m half-Chinese, half-white, so I used to come from that identity politics place when it came to making my art,” Chris said. “But I started to get very frustrated with that, it started to feel very limiting even when I wasn’t making art that reflected those ideas.”

“So I started to think about how I can make art where I feel safe to acknowledge those experiences and my identity without it being about that all the time.”

Chris found the answer by reevaluating who her art was for and became intentional in creating art for her community. “It’s about keeping it [art] in our hands rather than extracting my research and funneling it through the institutions.”

 

Art allows my experience to be validated

For La-Vane, the simple fact of creating art as a Black artist was in itself an act of combatting racism and these systems of oppression. “As a youth, I never saw myself as a visual artist,” he said, “Being Black, I felt like I was being confined to one kind of genre which is music, so being a spoken word poet and a visual arts painter, those things were not visible to me in my childhood.”

“Me creating art and allowing people to see that and being a visible pillar in my community is how I can combat these systems of oppression within my work.”

 

Art is Grounding. With everything I endeavour, I discover more about myself

Glamma Kimaiyo

For some of us, acknowledging and claiming space as artists is a huge step we often don’t afford ourselves.

“When we do our work and our practice and let everything morph into what we’re meant to be, then we become a platform for another person to grow and learn about themselves.”

“For me, even the notion that I am an artist  and that I can do art or that whatever I have to say is worth it is where it all begins for me.” Glamma acknowledges, “I’ve been an artist for so long but I’ve just started to call myself an artist so it’s these invisible oppressive things that weigh down on me and a lot of racialized people.”

 

Art is the way in which we can rehearse the future that we’re going to fight for

Min Sook Lee

I always understood racism as a tool to exert power, Min Sook Lee conveyed during the talk, “So for me, racism and power are intertwined.” But she affirmed us to continue taking up space in the arts. “The work you’re making now is so urgently needed,” she told the panelists. “But it’s a challenging time to be making work right now but it’s just some of the ways your art is insisting on creating a new world.

“Our art gives us power to create cultural spaces that transform into political spaces through our artmaking.”

Support the work of the artists here.

To keep up with the reVisions panel,  follow them on Instagram at:

Orion – @orion_rise_productions

Ty – @tylerjsloane

La-Vane – @pour_kid.tor

Christie – @chris_jwc

Glamma – @glammagirlswag

Min Sook Lee – @minsooklee

reVisions is a series of public talks hosted by SKETCH. This event was supported by the Government of Canada as part of the International day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Special thanks to them for their support in making this happen.