The exploration of identity gives rise to points of resistance, particularly among those who diverge from the dominant social prescriptions around gender and sexuality. Identifying as queer rejects the binaries of gender and sexuality that shape the patriarchal structures of the social world. Historically considered derogatory, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBT communities as an umbrella term for a spectrum of non-conforming gender identities and/or non-heterosexual orientations. The inclusiveness of the term queer can provide freedom from the confines of a false gender binary. Simultaneously, this ambiguity can result in tensions and the erasure of queer peoples in a social world that favours rigid gender roles and privileges heterosexuality. Identifying as queer often challenges dominant norms around sexuality and gender, resulting in personal, political, social, and cultural consequences. All facets of identity, such as race, ability, age, etc. interact with each other and have consequences of their own if these aspects too diverge from the mainstream.
The 2-qtpocmontréal exhibition specifically examines the intersections of race, ethnicity and culture with two-spirit, queer and trans identities. The complexities of belonging to multiple groups that diverge from the mainstream results in varied worldviews as identities form, conflict and cohere with one another. These complexities are explored in the 2-qtpocmontréal art show and lecture series curated by graphic novelist, Elisha Lim. The 2-qtpocmontréal show was a celebration of racialized pride entirely organized by and featuring solely the work of two-spirit, queer and trans people of colour. The showcased works of the six artists of 2-qtpocmontréal; Ange Loft, Leroi Newbold, Kesso Saulnier, Walter K. Scott, Adee Roberson, and TextaQueen center on themes of invisibility, abuse, relations, survival, and colonization that have shaped their experiences and expressions of identity as queer artists of colour or Aboriginal heritage.
The meaning associated with sexuality and gender is influenced by the culture, time and space in which they occur. For example, the social meaning ascribed to queer identities has unique significance in North American Aboriginal cultures. The concept known as two-spirit encompasses variances in gender expression and sexuality as they intersect with contemporary Aboriginal identity. Two-spirit is a contemporary term describing the traditional understanding of people who possess both a male and female spirit. It is believed that those individuals who identified as two-spirit once occupied a meaningful place in the sacred circle as powerful visionaries and healers (Ristock et al, 2011). Oral histories recount reverence and acceptance for fluid gendered roles and diverse sexual orientations among North American Indigenous peoples.
The landscape for contemporary Aboriginal identity is a web of cultural, political, and social processes rooted in a history of oppression. The experiences of identity formation and cultural connections for Indigneous peoples must be contextualized within the history of colonization and forced assimilation. Imposed colonial processes such as, forced settlement, relocation of entire communities, residential schools and the prohibition of language and cultural practices has resulted in a legacy of abuse and discrimination in colonized countries.From their perspectives as Aboriginal, queer artists, Loft and Scott’s works center around colonial forces including colonization and religion. Both Mohawk, Loft and Scott’s pieces are inspired by Kateri Tekakawitha, the first Aboriginal woman venerated by the Roman Catholic Church. Underscoring the relationship between the Catholic Church and Indigenous peoples in North America is a history of oppression and cultural genocide. In particular, Scott was motivated by the tragedy of Kateri’s identity, exploited as a poster child for Jesuit missionaries as she relinquished her Mohawk cultural practices. Loft’s installation Cult of Kateri: Armour and Accessories originally began as a cultural research project examining Jesuit documentation of Kateri. Drawing inspiration from the beadwork of her craftswomen ancestral, Loft’s The Armour and Accessories pay tribute to the generations of women who dedicated their lives to Kateri.
Through a series of fictional movie posters entitled “We Don’t Need Another Hero”, Australian TextaQueen draws from the experiences of other Australian affected by colonization. TextaQueen employs the post-apocolyptic genre to represent Indigenous people of colour and immigrants as survivors of their post-colonial apocalypse and depict their “experiences living in settler colonial realities.”
The imposition of Eurocentric norms through colonization has influenced the dominant Western worldview and everyone who must operate within it. This includes the heterosexism, patriarchy and gender binary that pervade the understanding of sexuality and gender in the Western world. Further, this has “white-washed” the social understanding of identity that erases and ignores the experiences of queer or trans Indigenous peoples or people of colour. Similar themes of oppression, invisibility, and violence emerge in the works of artists Adee Roberson, Kesso Saulnier and Leroi Newbold. From distinct cultural and historical standpoints, they delve into the multiple contingencies of a black, queer identity formation. Drawing from his lived experience, Leroi Newbold’s mixed media graphic novel archives his childhood confronted with experiences of racial and sexual violence. Newbold also presented an artist’s talk about the need to create safe, representative spaces for queer people of colour in Montreal. Guinean Quebecer Kesso Saulnier’s installation of hand-stitched narratives touched on aspects of relationships and vulnerability interpreted from blues songs sung by Big Mama Thorton and Billie Holiday. Adee Roberson presented layered collages around the politics and dynamics of a queer black family.
From their unique and divergent perspectives, the artists of 2-qtpocmontréal explore the spaces in between multiple intertwined identities. In ‘mainstream’ forums, expressions and exclamations of the racialized queer experience often become essentialized or exoticized. By showcasing the work of six artists alongside each other, the 2-qtpocmontréal exhibition reflects the realities of the inherently political nature of identities that fall outside the dominant ‘mainstream’. Occupying the radical gallery, ,articule, offered the artists a supportive space in which to display the complexity of negotiating intersecting identities not reflected in the dominant discourses of the contemporary socio-political and cultural world.
Ristock, J., Zoccole, A., and Potskin, J. (2011). Aboriginal Two-Spirit and LGBTQ Migration, Mobility and Health Research Project: Vancouver, Final Report, September 2011. The text may be found at www.2spirits.com
Wilson, A. (1996). How we find ourselves: Identity Development and Two-Spirit people. Harvard Educational Review, 66 (2), 303-317.
Erin Cusack is contemporary dancer and teacher from Halifax, currently moonlighting as an academic at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. As a Master’s student, Erin’s research, writing, and advocacy work centers around sexuality, sexual health, queer theory, and Aboriginal health. Committed to a social equity focus, Erin grounds her work in the voices of queer youths’ experiences of strength, resiliency, and agency. Taking every opportunity to bridge the arts and academia, Erin employs visual methods including participant articling, artwork, and photography in her research to articulate experiences of queer youth that may not be reflected in mainstream language.
Erin Cusack est une danseuse contemporaine et professeure de Halifax, qui s’implique actuellement à l’Université de Victoria, en Colombie-Britannique. Dans le cadre de sa maîtrise, ses recherches, écrits et travaux de sensibilisation portent sur la sexualité, la santé sexuelle, les théories queers et la santé des personnes des Premières Nations. Mettant l’accent sur l’équité sociale, Erin ancre son travail dans la voix des jeunes queers qui font l’expérience de la force, de la résilience et des organisations. Profitant de toutes les occasions de faire le pont entre les arts et l’université, Erin utilise des méthodes visuelles, comprenant les pièces, œuvres et photographies des participants dans ses recherches pour articuler l’expérience des jeunes queers qui n’est peut être pas reflété dans le langage courant.