On Saturday I sat on a high stool in a bar, attending a QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) open mic, sipping on a pint of Little Brown Jug, and with an open mind listened to what came my way. On Monday, I sat in a theatre chair, attending the decolonizing lens, eating some freshly buttered popcorn and, with an open mind, listened to what came my way.
Both events presented me with stories that weren’t mine. Artists took to the stage with stories embedded in them for so long that the telling of it had already been edited and curated for numerous years, gestating and ready to be birthed. These were real stories. Born of a real desire to put them in a public space, because it is there, that they become real, for real. If an audience receives them, responds to them, hears them, they exist more than just in one’s mind. In fact, one performer, a Sikh poet by the name of Sharanpal Ruprai, started by reading from a recently departed friend’s book of poetry, knowing that speaking her words out loud is a way of remembering her, a way of keeping her alive, or at the very least keeping her thoughts alive. I did not know her friend. But I now know her words.
I also learned many new words. Sharanpal cleverly inserted the 5K’s of Sikhism into her poetry: kesh, kangha, kara, kachera and kirpan. Each presented through stories of a young girl trying to understand her world, challenged in joining her friends in the pool, or understanding how to navigate her traditional culture (kachera/undergarment) with her current culture (mosquito bites). Similarly, Amanda Strong’s visually impressive Four Faces of the Moon took me into a universe where Michif, Cree, Anishinaabe, Lakota and French co-existed unapologetically. I didn’t need to understand each word, to understand that this was a story of understanding ones past, honoring ones past, in order to understand one’s present, to honor one’s present.
Through these artistic expressions, and through the presence of the audience, these artists, these people, were healing, we’re feeling empowered, we’re allowed to take what is in them and give it a real, tangible, existence. Not all of it was pretty. There were moments of anger. During an absolutely formidable beat boxing crescendoing performance at the QTPOC event, the artist decided to stop the performance, and let three shots of tequila spill out as an ‘us vs them’ rant to the crowd. Stating that any whites in the room, and there were quite a few, should feel uncomfortable. It’s one thing to tell me to be uncomfortable: it’s quite another thing to present me with stories which self-guide me to a place of non-comfort. Jackie Traverse accomplished this by skillfully, but with brutal honesty, expressing how damaging the Sixties scoop was to a generation through her short film Two Scoops and again in Empty where she tenderly exposes alcoholism for the disease it is. These stories are uncomfortable. We feel responsible in some way. At bare minimum these stories are compelling because we are now aware they exist, for real. Once the words are taken from deep inside someone, put in a public space, where others take them and let them sink into them, sometimes deep inside, the impact is tangible, is engaging, for all. Art is the journey of the artist, but its also about the journey of the audience. We are not left unchanged by what we experience.
In the coming year, I will continue to seek these opportunities to sit in a room and be made to feel uncomfortable, despite the good beer and tasty snacks. I hope you will do the same, as despite the moments of legitimate anger, the moments that connect us are worth putting up with the rants that divide us.
Gratuitous Art plug: Chic Gamine may no longer be together, but they remain a band that has been able to move me to various emotional places as well as showcase some beautiful rhythms from various cultures. Their song Follow Through feels like a fitting offering… and remains one of my all time favs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZgV8P6c_zI