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Archiving the Unarchivable

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Image courtesy: Fatin Chowdhury

Part of Special Issue #1 – QTBIPOC Space – Remapping Belonging in Toronto

Marvellous Grounds is a mapping and an archiving project that considers the intimate links between space and time: between who gets to be here and who gets remembered. Visual artists are often at the forefront of documenting the tenacious presence and realities of communities on the margins. Through portraiture, landscape paintings, graffiti murals, performance art and other forms of creation they document lived lives, translate and expand upon stories and personal narratives of community members, and create a record of the zeitgeist and moment of their artistic practice. The four artists in this special issue use painting and photography to document activist movements, ancestors’ teachings and queer culture in Toronto. Each artist draws on their personal histories as a starting point for beginning their explorations, and each artist offers a unique entry into this public record. In a moment when Diana Taylor remarkably asks us to consider how we archive the un-archivable, these artists offer us a way of telling and remembering through their creative practice.

Fatin Chowdhury, Black Lives Matter – Tent City, Digital Photography, 2016


This slideshow by Fatin Chowdhury demonstrates the work of an artist who is passionate about using photography to document and examine the intersections of climate and racial justice through an anti-oppressive framework. Fatin is interested in projects that address social inequality, transition to renewables, indigenous sovereignty and climate migration.

“For 15 days, black lives matter toronto occupied toronto police headquarters to demand an overhaul of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, justice for the murder of Andrew Loku, and to end anti-black racism and excessive police violence. “you cannot celebrate blackness on one end and then make life inhospitable and violent for black communities,” Sandy Hudson told media after first day of occupation. On their second night, peaceful protestors were met with violence by the police. chemicals were poured over the wood by men in hazmat suits so the fire couldn’t keep going.
“we will not back down.” Despite violence from the police on the second night of their occupation, activists remained resilient and attracted national attention that has pressured the city and province to listen and work to meet their demands.” (Source: Fatin Chowdhury)

Raven Davis, Fish in the Sea, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013
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Fish in the Sea
Acrylic painting
30”x24”

Image Description: Fish in the Sea was created in a traditional Woodlands, Anishinaabek style of painting. There is an Indigenous woman with long black hair portrayed on the left of the canvass is nursing multiple fish. Three of the fish are painting with colour and the other fish in the foreground are grey. They represent different male identified people that have been in my life. The three fish with colour represent my three children.

Above the fish, the Indigenous woman’s hair follows the water and morphs into a blanket design. Behind the blanket design, there is a sun and a bear claw representing my clan and strength. The blanket represents shelter, warmth and the unconditional care, nurture and protection I give to my children.

I painted myself in this painting. Portrayed with a circle around my head symbolizing the almost saint like qualities with regards to patience it takes for mothers/2 Spirit people have for their children and partners even in the most traumatic times. In my experience, I was expected to be a mother, lover, caregiver, a caretaker, a provider femme, passive, not confrontational, “lady like,” a “traditionalist” when it was ceremony time, but also a sexually available behind doors. These are qualities that are often expected by Indigenous women in heteronormative constructs.

I created this painting because my mother would always tell me when I was young, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” referring to people (men) I could date. As I grew older, I realized although there is plenty of people available to date, which does not mean it would be an equal beneficial relationship. Nor did it allow for me to nurture the parts in me that were 2Spirit and allow me to understand family structures or responsibilities in relationships that differ from heteronomativity.

Fonna Seidu, “From TO to Baltimore”, Digital Photograph, 2015
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Seidu’s image documents a rally held in front of Toronto Police headquarters, months before the Tent City occupation at the same site that Gloria Swain describes in her article “300 Hours”. The image is a close up look at the faces of activists at the rally, and includes their poster messages. The two activists in the foreground look off at action happening outside of the frame, as they hold signage proclaiming ‘black disabled lives matter’ and ‘say their names’. The image thereby lists important connections between disability justice movements, sex worker activism, and other struggles for black liberation. It is clearly set in an urban centre, and situates this activism at a site of urban power, police headquarters, which is nevertheless unmapped and transformed by black activism. It is in conversation with the images by Fatin Chowdhury of the Tent City occupation, each telling different chapters in the story of the rise of the BLMTO movement and its connection to QTBIPOC organizing in the city.

Zahra Siddiqui, “Zahra”, Digital Photograph, 2016
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Photographer Zahra Siddiqui has created a composition that centres her own image and craft as subject and object. She is known for her portraits of artists and activists of colour set amidst breathtaking Toronto cityscapes that showcase street art and queer sites and geographies. This image is a departure in that it uses an intimate framing. Rather than standing atop a building in the city’s downtown core, we witness Siddiqui in a car, in a moment before her work begins. The camera obscures the face, perhaps also becoming an extension of her person – her way of viewing the world around her. The hands holding the camera and her torso are adorned with clothing and jewelry, signifying a decidedly QTBIPOC aesthetic, connoting her positionality and referencing her artistic mission to document and tell the stories of our lives in this urban setting.