I'm in Toronto, Canada doing art workshops, an exhibit, and some building with some outstanding artists and organizers as part of the Mayworks Festival. I've had an incredible time here, connecting with folks involved in everything from the labor movement, to the immigrant rights movement, to the Queer movement. Art is the unifying language of all of these groups, and it is through art that one can draw out the intersections, and bring all communities together.
My time in Toronto began with an artist talk for my solo exhibit, "Agitation & Transformation." For people living in the US, Mayworks is a unique phenomenom. Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts is a multi-disciplinary arts festival that celebrates working class culture. It was founded in 1986 and is Canada's largest and oldest labour arts festival. The Festival was built on the premise that workers and artists share a common struggle for decent wages, healthy working conditions and a living culture. The festival is supported by labor unions - amazingly! I have been invited to Canada twice now, both by labor activists who were working to bridge their unions with the arts community. While there are artists in the U.S. actively building ties with labor, the formal infrastructure of something like Mayworks does not exist here.
I checked out the Toronto Women's Bookstore (TWB), founded in 1973, and connected with multiple generations of women who have given life to this bookstores. TWB is dedicated to promoting anti-oppression politics and feminist politics. Their mandate is to be an information provider and community resource. I went a little crazy at the bookstore and bought up books left and right. Actually, a great set of reading materials about all the areas I'm exploring, from corporate globalization, to food justice, to steamy sex novels! What's most amazing about this bookstore, is that they have grown from a single shelf to what is now the largest, non-profit feminist and humanisitic bookstore in Canada!
The highlight of my trip was working with young women at Regent Park, a low income housing complex that is home to mostly immigrants to Canada. Over 50% of the population living in Regent Park are children 18 years and younger (compared to a Toronto-wide average of 30%), with about 68% of the population living below Canada's Low-Income Cut-Off Rate. I was hosted by Regent Park Focus and worked with about ten girls ages 10-13. I know that for most of these young women, I will be one of the few women of color artists they will interact with before adulthood. My own experiences are similar - I was mentored by two Chicana artists before I was 18 years old, and they inspired me to be the bold woman artist I am today. It's crucial for young women of color to see representations of themselves in the role models they interact with, this includes being exposed to artists, musicians, writers, and other creatives. But in places like Canada and the US, and even in Europe, this is a challenge and a direct effect of not just white privilege but also male privilege.
I felt honored to have the opportunity to be able to speak this group and I wanted to make sure to discuss concepts around self-esteem and empowerment. I shared my experiences of attending a mostly white middle school, about my black grandmother, about access to healthy food, and about the power of using art as a transformative tool for our communities. It was great to also be in a girls-only space because it in those spaces where we can actively talk about gender expectations, challenge them, and build sisterhood. I was in girls-only programs when I was a young teen, and that's where I would learn how to be assertive and independent. Other spaces oozed of maleness, even though they were mandated to be neutral, and operated to maintain the status quo.
Like all mostly black and brown communities, Regent Park had recently suffered the death of a young man in the hands of police. Alwy Al-Nadhir was only 18 and unarmed when he was murdered by the Toronto Police on October 31, 2007. He was his mother's only son. Shortly after his death, a justice committe was formed to speak out against police brutality. I was pleased to see that the youth magazine which is developed at Regent Park Focus, Catch Da Flava, contained various articles about police brutality, community empowerment, and even Gaza! From Greece, to Oakland, to Toronto, to Mexico City, let us all stand against police violence and terrorism.
One of the great team of artists I met were two founders of Mayworks, Carol Condé and Mark Beveridge. The two have collaborated with various trade unions and community organizations over the past 25 years. Karl helped found an Artist Union in Canada! WOW! Their artist statement reads, "Given the present social divisions of labour, our work attempts to bridge two audiences. Working people and those in the arts. We feel that it is not only important to articulate the concerns and experience of working and community life, but that it should also be able to stand up to the sophistication of corporate culture and take into account the complexities of cultural representation."
Despite the fact that I'm sleep deprived and tired from sitting on crappy plane seats, experiences like this really allow me appreciate the life I have. My art travels from Oakland, CA, to Mexico City, to Vancouver, to Toronto, to various states. Mexico, Canada and the US - the three countries that form part of NAFTA, the most notable of the "free trade" policies that have devastated all working people of the world. When I travel, I talk about the resposibilities of us as consumers - how we can crush the globalization machine and how we can, through art and media, present an alternative and expose the corruption behind these policies - policies that divide families, exploit workers, and violate mother earth. If corporations have no borders, than neither should we as workers of culture. I thank my abuela and my mother, both working women and victims themselves of unjust economic policies, for giving me the strength and self confidence to work towards justice and collaborate with others who do the same.
A big special THANK YOU to Florencia, Silvana, Esther, Kellie, and all the gang that hosted me while I was there. I'm honored to have met you all and hope to see you again soon!
The photos below and the one above are from the poster design workshop I did on the final evening I was in Toronto. All the images are from the new book by myself and Josh MacPhee, "Reproduce & Revolt." You can purchase the book by clicking here.