Author: Lisa Myers
The writing for this issue of Marvellous Grounds reflects performance and art practices that express and assert the perspectives of QTBIPOC (queer and trans, Black, Indigenous and people of colour). Although Marvellous Grounds emphasizes written word in an effort to support folks who are often excluded from the context of academia to publish their work, this book and web-based project makes me think about voice. Voice suggests sound and utterance, yet also resonates through writing, interviews, discussion, conversation, art, and performance. Being vocal creates presence. Some voices become amplified as a collective voice but are then still dismissed and minimized. Some seem silenced while still speaking. Some are heard. Some voices have broken down doors. Some voices acknowledge the work of those who came before and that makes their own voices stronger. Voices are grounded through a web of relations, amplified in their transmission and reception.
This issue of Marvellous Grounds also gives me pause to reflect on moments past and how distant voices can still be heard. A few years ago I was researching in the archives at Grunt gallery in Vancouver and I came across documents referencing two performance art events. These cabarets stood out to me, as I was not familiar at the time with this history of Indigenous performance art where art space was made for voices that delved into intersectional issues related to queer, trans, and gender variant experiences. One of the performance events was The Two Spirit Series, curated by Archer Pechawis at Grunt in 1993, and included solo performances by Denise Lonewalker, Percy Lezard, Cliff Red Crow, Warren Arcan, Zachery Longboy, and Raven Courtney. 1 The documentation videos and still images on the Grunt gallery online archive provide glimpses into these works and allude to a social context where intersectional expressions of race, gender and sexuality critiqued the looming societal norms of homophobia and racism. The stakes were high, the stigma related to dominant views on race, sexuality and non-binary gender identities posed the threat of violence in various forms. Previous to that event was the First Nations Performance Series (1992). These events created a collective voice and made way for personal, critical and interrogating gestures through performance. 2
The other happening that I came across in the Grunt archive took place in 1995. This performance series had the provocative title Halfbred, and brought together mixed race, bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer and transgender artists of colour and Indigenous artists to develop work on living between cultures or existing in several cultures at once. This was striking to me. I found it affirming that there were artists breaking down doors and creating space for performance art, spoken word and writing that asserted these underrepresented perspectives. This performance series resulted in a website with videos documenting each performance and also a section with writing about the exhibition. The website still has an online presence, evidence of an impressive effort and focus of media artists from that era who were using the Internet for art. Some links are no longer live, however there are three buttons “bisexuality,” “miscegenation,” and “transgender” that link to video menus of performances by Indigenous artists Archer Pechawis, Neil Eustache, Margo Kane, Aiyyana Maracle, writer Marcus Nabess, and poet Connie Fife. The website Queer (Intersections) has also archived some of these videos. The life of performance art and media art on websites and net art by Indigenous artists, even if only documented in fragments or not yet fully recognized in contemporary art circles, has created a legacy that continues to speak.
Recently, Indigenous editor at large at Canadian Art magazine, Lindsay Nixon, wrote the timely article “Making Space in Indigenous Art for Bull Dykes and Gender Weirdos” reflecting on the past and asserting the need for making space for queer Indigenous artists within what she describes as the Indigenous art canon. 3 Her feminist analysis called for the consideration of work that happened in the 1980s and 90s outside the gallery walls of major institutions, explaining that the work vetted by the art institutions excluded art practices that encompassed lived experiences expressing diverse gender identities and sexualities. Although not addressed in Nixon’s article, the artists performing at Grunt gallery in the early 90s faced and responded to various challenges of exclusion during an era where there would have been no invitations for exhibitions at public regional galleries (where the work would have been written about in exhibition catalogues) or any coverage in Canadian Art magazine. I see the performance events at Grunt gallery, Nixon’s text, and the artists she mentions, as being in conversation with writings in this issue of Marvellous Grounds. The writings, artists, performances and artworks collectively form a presence and continuity for future generations to look back at and think about the doors that were opened, and the discussions that were started, affirmed and continued.
- My research was in the Grunt gallery physical archives on site in 2014, however Grunt has an extensive digital archive online. From this online archive I have confirmed for the purposes of this paper that The Two Spirit Series was part of an event called Queer City at Grunt gallery. For more information: http://performance.gruntarchives.org/history-queer-city-two-spirit-series-1993.html ↩
- The term two-spirit was coined in 1990 during the third Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg. From my understanding, the term two-spirit was deemed a more culturally appropriate term for another gender role that relates to LGBQT identified Indigenous people, however not everyone identifies themselves with this term as they have other words to express their gender and sexual identity. This emphasizes the diversity of perspectives on sexuality and gender variance among Indigenous people. The text most referenced for the origin of the term two-spirit: Anguksuar, LaFortune, R. “A postcolonial perspective on Western [mis]conceptions of the cosmos and the restoration of indigenous taxonomies,” in Two-spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality, and spirituality, ed. S. E. Jacobs, W. Thomas, & S. Lang (Chicago: University of Illinois Press), 217–222. ↩
- Nixon, Lindsay. “Making Space in Indigenous Art for Bull Dykes and Gender Weirdos.” Canadian Art. April 20, 2017. ↩