Courage Lab, is part of a new collaborative project between Neighbourhood Arts Network, ANVU and SKETCH, aiming to gather diverse artists, educators, organizers and activists to courageously investigate, share and experiment with concepts, ideas, tools and practices for exploring equity and anti-oppression through the arts. On Wednesday, April 1, the most recent lab explored decolonization.
The Oxford dictionary defines decolonization as “the act of withdrawing from a colony, leaving it independent.” Although this may be physically and politically true, some may argue that we still live in a colonized context.
So at Courage Lab, intergenerational artists, educators, organizers and activists, gather to ask the question: what does decolonization look like?
Courage Lab in session
We came together to share perspectives, with open hearts and minds and a desire to honour each other’s journeys – a courageous act in itself. But of course, you can’t talk about decolonization without acknowledging our relationship with colonization. If there was one thing to take from this Courage Lab, it’s the fact that we all play a part in perpetuating colonization, even in small ways, in our daily lives.
Two of the night’s presenters–Duke Redbird, Elder and poet; and Liz George, visual artist and co-facilitator of the visual-arts project Circles of Influence–gave us their own personal reflections and framed the history of colonization, and reminded us that even artists are engaged in the process of colonization. For example, Northern Ontario mines that produce materials found in the art supplies and cell phones we purchase and use, which create drainage that contributes to unsafe drinking water in several Native communities. This perpetuates the initial settlers’ disregard for the impact of ignoring the importance of the land and it connection to the livelihood of our nation’s First Peoples.
Duke Redbird sharing the history of colonization in Canada
Liz, along with Lindsay DuPré (also from Circles of Influence), then explored the complexity of colonialism through art-making. Six Toronto youth artists, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, were up next to exchange ideas, knowledge, experiences, and personal stories to create a leather-based installation.
“It’s a way of talking about colonization, not a way of solving it,” Liz explained, stating the epitome of our reason for gathering.
Circles of Influence co-facilitator Liz George talking about the project (pictured below)
We then broke into groups to share more perspectives on decolonization. We listened to each other’s stories about how we carried colonization in our names, how our socio-economic situations affected this process, and how we will attempt to decolonize and unlearn the ideologies we have grown up with.
Group work during Courage Lab (above and below)
Courage Lab participants looking over group illustrations
We closed the night in a circle around the illustrations from our group discussion. Led by a spoken-word piece by artist-of-the-night Komi Olaf, we shared how we would take what we had learned and apply it to our own individual work.
We started the night acknowledging our own contributions to colonization, and through sharing stories and moments of vulnerability, we ended the night with the tools to hopefully recreate and reclaim ourselves and our work within this context.
-By Jonsaba Jabbi, Communications Assistant
Photo credits: Fonna Seidu