Photo credit: Lily Hook

Bois d’Ébène by Kama La Mackerel

Part of Special Issue #2 – Bodies as Archives: QTBIPOC Art and Performance in Toronto

Author: Kama La Mackerel

Bois d’Ébène was performed by tio’tia:ke/Montréal-based, Kama La Mackerel, at Fondering Darling in August 2017, in the context of the series La Place Publique.

Photo credit: Lily Hook
Photo credit: Lily Hook. image courtesy of the artist.

first grieve
then sink into the silences
claw your fingers at history
demand accountability
unbury the dead
dig the earth for
bones bodies scars
ancestry
honesty
truth

In Bois d’Ébène, I engage with Québec’s history by delving into its systemic silences. There were more than 4000 Slaves in Québec, both Indigenous and Black, a fact that somehow holds little to no imprint in the contemporary popular imaginary, a speck of history deliberately erased from collective memory.

Canada and Québec were built on the broken backs of people of colour: Slaves, indentured labour, migrant workers, temporary foreign workers. At the crux of both colonial expansion and the building of the modern western nation lies the disposability of bodies of colour, as was seen through the genocide of Indigenous peoples, as was seen through Slavery, as was seen through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, as is presently seen through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Photo credit: Shaina Agbayani
Photo credit: Shaina Agbayani. Image courtesy of the artist.

Bois d’Ébène is a performative reckoning with history. The performance takes place in the middle of a street in Montréal, on Rue Ottawa, which is closed for the evening for La Place Publique, a series curated by Fonderie Darling to reclaim public spaces to exert artistic and political practices. The performance takes place within an installation made of textile cut-outs in the shape of the map of Québec and arranged like the outline of the Québec flag; and brown paper cutouts in the shape of the fleur-de-lys. The fleur-de-lys is not only the symbol of Québec nationalism and the Québec province, but it is also a symbol that was branded on the bodies of Slaves as a form of punishment.

dig these colonized lands
find the buried blood sweat bones teeth salt
listen to the ancestries
they ask us to grieve. to grieve.
to set them free. to set them free.
to set them free. to set them free.
to set them free. to set them free.

The performance is a deep act of mourning. It is an attempt to speak to the Bois d’Ébène, 1 to grieve ancestral loss, and to conjure the voices of all the Slaves who were never wept for, who never had tombs or memorials, the ones whom nobody remembers. In doing this work of mourning, I hope to offer peace to the ghosts of the ancestors, to set them free of their colonial hauntings, and to allow them to claim a dignified space within a decolonial vision of Québec.

Notes:

  1. Bois d’Ébène was one of the terms used in french to refer to Slaves, literally meaning “ebony wood.”