Violence with a Political Purpose: A Discussion on Dr. Laura Robson’s Lecture, “The Politics of Mass Violence in the Middle East.”

hUManities Blog, Snap Shots

 “When we are cruel to others, we know that our cruelty is meant to bring them back to their true selves, of which they are ignorant.”

-Michel Aflaq

How do we learn from, and how should we interpret, mass violence that fails to fit into the analytical categories we have established to make sense of it?  What should historians do when they are presented with instances of violence which undermine both the geopolitical and disciplinary boundaries of Middle Eastern historiography?  These are the questions which underlined Dr. Laura Robson’s recent lecture, “The Politics of Mass Violence in the Middle East.”

Dr. Robson’s choice to open with a quote addressing the political potential of mass violence within a postcolonial and – contradictorily – neocolonial geopolitic foregrounds the specific conclusions and disciplinary suggestions offered throughout her lecture.  Mass violence often has a specific purpose, and an exploration of its use across state boundaries by various regimes can shed light on the broader historic and ongoing colonial experience of the Middle East.

The specific historiographic work presented within the lecture was certainly interesting.  Dr. Robson – highlighting specific examples presented in her recently published book of the same name – skillfully traced the complex phenomena which contributed to the mass violence experienced within the modern Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.  By harnessing mass violence as an analytical tool, Dr. Robson underlined how mass violence in the Middle East should not – and for that matter, cannot – be interpreted and rearticulated as irrational or, conversely, indicative of longstanding ethnic or spatial divisions.  Neither should mass violence be interpreted as a failure on behalf of modern Middle Eastern nations to establish effective or stable state structures.  Mass violence existed as a colonial political tool long before the establishment of current national bodies, serving as a way to divide colonized peoples and establish specific ethnic client populations. 

Dr. Robson’s articulation of the postcolonial implications of this relationship was even more profound.  Mass violence as a tool to assert national and territorial control exists only with the political and material support of the global community.  Whether it be American arms, European chemical weapons, or training from Soviet and Post-Soviet Bloc states, this violence is an unignorable transnational phenomenon.  Mass violence therefore stands as a strong analytical tool through which historians can explore the recent and continued recolonization of the Middle East.

However, the historiographical problems highlighted by Dr. Robson, and her proposals on how to remedy them – were the highlight of her presentation.  Neither genocide studies, due to its focus on strict definitions of what does – and does not – qualify as a genocide per se, nor the historiography of the modern Middle East, due to its focus on outcomes rather than causes and processes, are really in a position to explore the phenomenon of mass violence.  An exploration of mass violence in the Middle East requires the use of mass violence as an analytical tool itself.  Only by bringing mass violence into the conversation can we fully explore the causes, contexts, and intents guiding historically conditioned and conscious postcolonial subjects across national, state, and temporal boundaries.

CARE Microgrants: Round 2

Community Projects, hUManities Blog

Following the success of the first round of the CARE Microgrant project, we joined hands again with QPOC (Queer and Trans People of Colour–Winnipeg) and made a new connection with MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art) to curate a second round.

In continuum with the motivations behind the first call, the second round of the CARE Microgrant project also provided swift financial support ($300.00) for small creative project proposals influenced by the humanities. We welcomed proposals from students and community members that explored the multiple dimensions of care, caring, and being careful. These included the (gendered and raced) labour of healthcare, the physical and/or emotional aspects of care, caring for or about a certain cause, or what it means to be careful in this moment of social distancing, for example. Projects that centred queer, critical race, and Indigenous approaches to care were prioritized. Jury members consisted of representatives from QPOC, MAWA, and the UMIH (staff, board members, and student interns).

As with the first round, we hope these heartfelt, small gestures of care meet you well. Please refer to Round 1 for more context on the beginnings and motivations behind this project.

Award Recipient Submissions:

Niamh Dooley –

During these trying times I have found more time to bead and make more art, not only creating pieces I am passionate about but for my overall well-being. Beading to me is often a therapeutic activity, a way of connecting to my maternal relatives and ancestors. Since my Kookim passed away before I started beading, it’s a way of connecting to her, looking at her designs for inspiration along with all my other relatives who bead, especially floral designs seen in their work.

This mask is created on canvas prepped with rabbit skin glue using floral beadwork with size 11 Delica beads, shell button centres and a quill leaf, one on each cheek with leaves stemming from them outward. Incorporating other elements into the mask such as elk hide leaves, elk hide straps, and sinew edging the mask to accompany the beadwork. Along the bottom of the mask is a fringe of seed beads, using over 3000 beads to dangle. On each end of the mask is a rainbow detail with Delica beads as a representation of myself incorporated into the mask as an Indigiqueer, alongside the inspirations of my maternal family.

Chukwudubem Ukaigwe –

How High is the Moon analyzes Black civil rights in the ghost of ontology.  Filmmaker, Chukwudubem Ukaigwe takes an anthropological approach in mapping Pan-African Black resistance, drawing and analyzing parallels between history and present realities, and also speculating future relationships between race, class, and ideological groupings. Music is the bedrock and spine of this film; shaping the narrative, and creating push and pulls, therefore building a progression of tension throughout the film. The film is composed of manipulated videos from archival sources, which are tailored gently with scripted roles/ filmed scenes that were written and directed by the artist.

This film leans heavily on a literary Catharsis. Parts of the Monologues and dialogues from this film (written by Chukwudubem Ukaigwe), were chopped up, reconstructed, and stitched into a poem, which was published by the Winnipeg Art Gallery with the title; ‘This Cup’. The film treats poetics as an art form that supersedes an expression of abstract emotions. It reveals the reality of living within the atmosphere of a poem.

Please see full video screen through the link below:

Ashley Au –

Golden Hour is a piece of music that brings to light the challenges in providing support and care to loved ones from a distance—especially those who struggle with anxiety and depression, which has been exacerbated by the global pandemic and the resulting periods of isolation that comes hand in hand with protecting community health.

Lyrically, the song shifts perspectives between the supporter and the loved one seeking support,

pairing a moment of crisis with a serene instrumental arrangement—a reflection of the delicate balance one must find when supporting someone through a mental health crisis from afar.

Soundcloud link courtesy of the artist. Golden Hour, 2020 written and composed by Ashley Au:

Clea August –

Bipolar is a very tricky thing. No one knows why it happens or why meds work, or don’t work.

Bipolar is a storyteller, a trickster; weaving truths and lies so seamlessly until all you see is the beautiful tapestry and none of the blood and bone from which it’s made. All the pain and screaming and fear, so nicely tied up, stitch by stitch. Bipolar is a master weaver, hiding each loose thread, each missed stitch with careful attention. On one pole, you feel thick and slow, every movement, every moment is weighted and dull and too big to fight. Bipolar tells you ‘Hang on! Hang on! This is the price!’ And you know, deep down, you know it’s right, because the other side, oh the other side is bright! Your rightful place as a god awaits there.

And Bipolar weaves the story of your ‘God hood’; word by word, sentence by sentence it winds the tale of things to come, if you have the strength to endure.

No sleep, no food, no sadness, no hate. A perfect being awaits you, full of joy and thought. A new bright God to be worshipped by all, and they will worship oh yes. They will offer up gifts and sacrifices, if you can just hang on. If you can weave a story long enough to get to the other side and you hang on and you wait, and you hide every faulty thread, to be born again and again and again. You will hear every lie and every horrible truth and live as you were. In the light and joy of unending happiness, you are watching your old life burn away. That small and sad mortal thing becomes ash as you become what you should always be. “Yes, Yes!”, Bipolar says, “Remember who you really are! You are a goddess and the earth shudders when you wake!”.

Until then you sleep, you function, you go through the motions of humanity, always waiting, always.

Kay –


as my life began to slow down, I found solace in the energy that has always lived inside of me: to me being two spirit is one of my greatest gifts – I care for the fire inside of me, the way I do the water. my greatest contribution to this life, will be the life I make when the time comes. 

Self-care is community care: take this time to heal yourself, to love yourself so you can also love the communities we are building.

In many ways my life has changed the way I think, the way I feel: everything I do now, I do for the purpose of care, whether that be care for myself, care for the community, or care for my future. 

with love, kay

Wednesday, June 17th, 2:03am

vulnerability is an act of ceremony


and resistance


writing comes with a certain amount of self-disclosure

these words tell you

the story of abuse

but also, the story of healing


to a certain extent I believe

I live my most vulnerable life-

sharing pieces of myself

everywhere I go

things I wish to not be returned


I cannot begin to tell you

the nights I’ve fallen into lust

only to wake up unsatisfied

and unseen


vulnerability is an act of ceremony

intimacy is sacred


wanting you in a way that serves the deepest parts of my soul

making me feel secure, the way picking medicine for my community does:

when I allow myself to fall fully, into me

it will be my most revolutionary ceremony,

true vulnerability, allowing myself to be known fully, and seen truly

my most radical act of resistance: will be the love I have for myself

it’s written in the sun, and the stars.

Friday, July 3, 10:14pm

walking in two worlds: my physical body here

my spirit somewhere, holding your hand.

losing you, but having you so close to my heart.

small moments, of frustration and anger

I wish you could just be here

why must I suffer to feel you

my night spent under the stars was the closest thing

to being in your arms I have felt in years,

I no longer imagine sitting on your shoulders

because you came to see me in my dream:

rubbed my back

kissed my forehead

our time together is never long, but it leaves me feeling full.

I worry that I sound crazy, talking about you

talking to you; screaming at you

how could you leave me

why don’t you visit me more

how can I get you to hold my hand

your journey to the spirit world was years ago;

that is your home now.

how lucky am I to have you come back to earth

when I am doing the most sacred things,

to rub my back when I am fasting;

to hold my hand while I am in prayer.

I would love more of you;

and when that day comes,

we will have had years of times together,

and years of time to make up for.

Saturday, August 2, 11:23am

my dearest; please know

I pray for your happiness

as I pray for my own-

the way I pray for the land we will live on together:

I often think about praying you down from the stars

and the joyous feelings I will have when I feel you in my arms;

when my body becomes your home I will know

everything I have done up until now, to heal is for you.

Recently, I have found solace in the idea that

as of now, your spirit lives in a scared place

that as I do my work, to heal

you are dancing with our ancestors

and learning the ways they love you:

when we are both ready for you to come down from the sky

you will have the hearts of

aunties you haven’t met;

and a grandma who breathes love, and strength

my dearest Nellie; you are so loved.

Tuesday, August 11, 3:14pm

it has been my connection to ceremony

that has taught me love

for the women in my life;

these connections are ones I hold dearest to my heart

sweet as berries and as fierce as fire

they have taught me many lessons

this kind of a connection makes my heart sing

being loved in a way that makes you feel so vulnerable

but so safe.

A love that’s more than a love.

These women in my life celebrate my success no matter how big or small it may seem,

praise my beauty in however it may look like

their voices empower mine – together in harmony.

we succeed as one.

when things get hard they offer a shoulder to cry on;

tell me the hard truths

and remind me of all the beauty in the world

I pray for you,

I love you.

you are my whole world

Stephanie Phillips –

I am a person of color who is often mistaken for Indigenous in Winnipeg, where I’ve lived most of my life. I have also struggled with an addiction. I never realized how racist Winnipeg is until I sought help for my addiction at the age of 24. Prior to this, my family, friends and people who met me on my path generally treated me with respect. When I decided to seek help, I was subjected to questions such as “How do you get money, if you’re not on welfare?” and, upon learning I was employed by a university professor, “Are you her nanny or are you her maid?” I was her research assistant. The racism was beyond anything I had encountered, and it was perpetrated by workers in health and social services.

Four years later, Brian Sinclair died from a treatable infection after spending 34 hours in the waiting room of the Health Sciences Centre without being seen by a doctor. Because of his race, hospital staff assumed he was drunk and “sleeping it off”, ignoring his clear need for medical care. I was furious and sad, but not surprised. Brian Sinclair died due to racism in the health care system, something I was and am familiar with. I read about his life online and was touched by his story. I read he once ran into a burning building to save the inhabitants; that his family said he carried himself with determination and dignity, despite his challenges; that he was “humble, but not a pushover”, in the words of a pastor who worked with him. I hoped to capture his spirit at peace in his portrait, to honor a man who both thought of others and respected himself.

I’d like to think that things have changed since Brian Sinclair’s death, but recent headlines show systemic racism is alive and well in Canada. I feel that until people’s attitudes change, tragedies will continue. Brian Sinclair’s cousin, Robert Sinclair, said: “It’s terrible to remember that he actually died that way. I’d like to think that he passed away teaching us all something, teaching us that as human beings, we have become so insensitive to each other.”

Here is a link to an interview with Robert Sinclair,  talking about racism in the health care system:

For those wanting to learn more about Brian Sinclair, here are some links:

Here is a link to an article about Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman who died this October in a hospital in Quebec while being degraded by staff. The article also discusses racism in the health care system

Purple Haze –

Purple Haze, 2020 drag performance. Courtesy of the artist.

From the Horrors of Lady Frances; Purple Haze is a Latinx Drag Artist who started with the Sunshine Bunch four and a half years ago. Also, a co-owner of Winnipeg based Drag Nail business Accènt’aigü Nailz. She is the current reigning Miss Like That 2020! and her high energy performances always leave you wanting more! 

Drag is performative with gender expression and it infuses art, dance, musicality. It blurs the line between heteronormative ideologies and it’s a hell of a good time. This piece will explore the intersectionality of gender, drag performance and Latinx cultural identity with the help of music, choreography, and videography.

Nadya Crossman-Serb –

This painting is a representation of Métis beadwork, and the traditional waterways Métis people use to trade and live. The Red River and Assiniboine River flow with medicine plants on a black background to represent brocade bags, vests, and other Métis items of clothing. 

Carla E. Hernandez –

Written, narrated and edited by Carla E. Hernandez. Music: Paradise Jaywood. Camera Assistant: Wendy Hernandez.

Queer Fear is a short film that will take you through Carla’s 28 year journey of struggling to accept her sexual identity. After combating deep suicidal thoughts, Carla realized her mental health had been suffering for far too long and it was time to make a change. An emotional breakdown followed by a global pandemic, forced her to sit in isolation with her thoughts after years of suppressing them. Realizing now more than ever how important self care is, Carla begins a search for the answers she has been avoiding all these years. The journey to conquer queer fear for Carla wasn’t easy, but she proves that it’s not impossible.

Wendy Lee –

Wendy Lee. 2020. Image and work courtesy of the artist.

During the Covid pandemic, we are all interconnected by strands of love and life. The rainbow mask encompasses everyone, gender, race, LGBTQ community in safety. The heart is dedicated to the diligent healthcare workers that stand on the Frontlines with their gloved hands to protect and care for others. In this new reality,  we are troubled with uncertainty, but our friends, neighbours and communities have come together in kindness and compassion when it really counts. 

Thiané Diop –

Thiané Diop, 2020, Mr. Whistle Blow-Me.


By Mr. Whistle Blow-Me

With a special thank you to Dione C. Haynes for all your help and support.

These last few months have been full of everything for me: the good, the bad, the difficult, the complicated and the joyous. One of the more public ways in which this has manifested was through my creation of the hashtag #cmhrstoplying. This Instagram and Facebook-based hashtag is meant to hold the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) accountable for its anti-black racism and other forms of racism that it participates in, perpetuates and upholds. The words “stop lying” were chosen to address the CMHR’s attempt to pretend that these public calls were a surprise to them instead of long-standing concerns that some of my former colleagues and I had brought up within the institution for years and which ultimately lead to each of us leaving. 

I have taken this experience and crafted a drag number through my alter ego, Mr. Whistle Blow-Me, I specifically chose to use drag performance as a medium because of its long history of subversiveness and social commentary. My drag name acknowledges my experience as a whistle-blower while also highlighting my irreverence through humour. This piece has allowed me to reflect on my experiences at the CMHR and channel the complex web of emotions that has come with my decision to speak out publicly and hold a national institution accountable. I move from my initial excitement to experiences of being racialized, tokenized, and not fitting into institutions that I have been taught all my life to aspire to be a part of. 

The title of my piece, Mister, is directly drawn from Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. Mister is a rooster who lived at the Sweethome plantation with many of the novel’s main characters. When thinking back to the plantation, one of the Sweethome men, Paul D, describes the rooster. He says “Mister, he looked so…free.” Paul D goes on to say “Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn’t allowed to be and stay who I was. Even if you cooked him you’d be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn’t no way I’d ever be Paul D again, living or dead.” (Morrison 86). What I want to capture in this performance is how existing institutions that were not built for me or others like me, that actively are working against us and our humanity, requires us to make ourselves smaller and give up pieces of ourselves. I chose to walk away, but I am still trying to figure out what those experiences mean for me. I’m still picking up the pieces after everything. I’m not sure if I still have all the pieces of myself that matter to me.

Chanelle Lajoie –

Chanelle Lajoie. 2020.
Chanelle Lajoie. 2020.

Chanelle Lajoie (She/Her) living on Treaty 1 Territory, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe, Dakota, and Dene Peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.

The best way I can offer care is through the making and sharing of comestibles. As an Indigi-queer person living independently, and further isolated from community and culture by Covid-19, I would like to document the consumption of a traditional meal as a practice of becoming both filled and fuelled through food as care.

Tanja Faylene Woloshen –

Tanja Faylene Woloshen
materials: aluminium screen, thread, bamboo straws, paperclips, spandex
photographer: J. Ostrowski
dancer: anonymous

As a dance artist, I have been self-teaching myself sculptural design. My work for the Make Anything Care Microgrant is research-creation for a wearable art/ costume piece with respect to a future (posthuman) nervous system. For this project, I am contemplating the interconnectivity of care.

This costume project will be part of a developing dance production exploring ecology and ecosomatics. Inspiration comes from Valla Walla; she describes: “(e)cosomatics is an emerging interdisciplinary field which connects movement education, improvisation, healing arts, psychology, ritual, performing arts, and good old-fashioned play with ecological consciousness. The practice of ecosomatics heals the separation between mind, body, and Earth by encouraging direct sensory perception of one’s body both in the natural environment and as the natural environment.”

This folds into my queer dance practice of multiple ways of being together.

Gratitude to UMIH & MAWA.

~ Tanja Faylene Woloshen

Omid Moterassed –

Omid Moterassed. 2020.

Nichol Marsch –

How to make a pumpkin pie with Nichol Marsch.

For a long time, I have been passionate about the idea of food and recipe sharing among friends and family, and the importance of self-sufficiency in preparing food. For this project I was motivated by the concepts: Cooking and baking are an activity that historically brings people together: Food can activate our memories: and the act of cooking can be therapeutic.

I hope you find this recipe valuable, and useful in your cooking journey. I encourage you to bake for yourself, swap baking with friends and family, drop a pie at a family member’s house, or find somewhere that takes food donations.

This project was made possible by the Make Anything CARE Microgrant, presented by the Institute for Humanities at the University of Manitoba, and QPOC Winnipeg, with support from MAWA.

How to Bake a Pumpkin Pie, with Nichol Marsch

Recipe and Video Tutorial (25min)

Nichols Pumpkin Pie Filling – (enough for 2 pies)

3 Cups Pumpkin Puree, 1 Can condensed milk (dairy-free substitute: Condensed coconut milk), 2 eggs (omit for vegan pie)

3/4 to 1 cup Brown sugar, 1-1/2 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon nutmeg and a pinch of salt.


1. Preheat oven to 400oF / 204oC

2. Combine pumpkin puree, condensed milk, eggs and sugar in a bowl and stir until combined

3. Add your spices! add some extra if you like a bit more spice.

4. Fill your pie shells(pre-made shells or make your own).

You can also use tart shells, mini pie shells, or bake the filling on its own for a nice pumpkin pudding!

5. Place the pie in the oven, cook for approximately 40 min, watch the colour of your crust should be golden brown. 

Vegan Crust

2 Cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt. 3/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, and 4-8 tablespoons cold water.

Non-Vegan Crust

5 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 2 tsp salt, 1 pound lard or (1/2 butter, 1/2 lard), 1 tablespoon vinegar

1 egg – lightly beaten and Ice water.

Bonus Recipe: Pumpkin Muffins

½ cup butter , 1 ⅓ cup sugar, 2 eggs beaten, 1 tablespoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon Salt, ½ teaspoon ginger, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 cup pumpkin puree

¾ cup milk, and 2 ¼ cup flour.


1. Preheat oven to 300oF / 148oC

2. Cream butter and sugar, and then add eggs

3. Mix in salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices

4. Mix pumpkin into mixture

5. Add milk and flour and mix until combined.

6. Fill muffin liners ⅔ full

7. Bake at 300oF for approximately 25 min, use a toothpick to test if the muffins are done.

Now enjoy your muffins!

CARE Microgrants: Round 1

Community Projects, hUManities Blog

“I hope this email finds you well” was once a quotidian greeting. It was quickly overlooked, a protocol to indicate courtesy before attending to the predictable, routine orders of the day– going to work, school, meetings and such. Now, “I hope this email finds you well” is often followed by “in these strange times” or some other phrase indicating the anxiety we collectively feel.

The CARE Microgrant project conducted in collaboration with QPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color–Winnipeg) came about as a means to address collective feelings of isolation, frustration, and loneliness our communities felt in the early stages of Covid lockdown. Routine, daily activities as we knew them shifted and very quickly the pandemic lead to the loss of jobs, livelihoods and connections with people. This project was executed to support, in a small way, the artistic expression of students and community members so that they could reflect upon, work through and contribute to this moment. As a public humanities endeavour, this project aimed to showcase the creative research activities of our communities that exist beyond the classroom and the campus. We provided swift financial support ($300.00) for small creative project proposals influenced by the humanities. Jury members consisted of representatives from QPOC and UMIH staff, board members, and undergraduate student interns.

We reached out to students and community members and asked them to contemplate the multiple layers of “care”: care for ourselves, caring about those around us and our environment, being careful and considerate. Through two rounds of funding in the spring and summer of 2020, we received stunning and heartfelt projects, diverse in medium and subject matter, that addressed themes relating to place, culture, mental health, love, and queerness. In solidarity with our community partners, we have highlighted QTBIPOC perspectives and stories that focus on exploring gender, race and Indigenous knowledge. A third round has been curated with MAWA taking the helm in the fall of 2020.

This project also fostered an avenue for research, collaboration and learning from and alongside other humanities and arts institutes. We owe gratitude to the Shelter projects at the Center for Humanities and the Arts (University of Colorado, Boulder) and the Wilson Centre for Humanities and Arts (University of Georgia), and Forecast Public Art (St. Paul, MN) for serving as points of reference and inspiration.

We hope indeed that these projects find you well and resonate with you wherever you are–sharing, connecting and virtually being with us from the scroll-through of a digital device.

Award Recipients Round 1 :

Linda Diffey

My project is a reflection of what it has meant to experience the impacts of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic with my mother, a First Nations elder who lives with me.   Sheltering in place with her has provided an opportunity to learn about her experiences with quarantine as a child on the reserve, and to hear her reflections on health care as one of the first First Nations nurses trained in Manitoba.  At the same time, I am working on my doctoral thesis, which focuses on racism and health education.  I have recently taken up beadwork as a means of reconnecting to my culture, and also as a way of coping with the difficult content of my thesis and the challenges of dealing with the pandemic.  This project is a convergence between oral history, Indigenous resurgence, and the shared experience of my mother and I as we learned to deal with the many lost connections that have emerged as a result of COVID-19.  

For this project, I translated the stories, experiences, and lessons from the time spent with my mother in isolation into a beaded art piece.  The piece is informed by the Indigenous traditions of storytelling and grounded in an Indigenous worldview.  Just as the stories depicted represent both historic and contemporary experiences, the beaded work draws from both traditional and contemporary forms of beadwork in its design.

The form I chose for this piece is a kaleidocycle, comprised of six tetrahedra that are connected in a ring that can be twisted inwards and outwards to expose the different faces of the tetrahedra.  I used the different faces to depict the four stories/themes, and these are interconnected on the kaleidocycle to form a complete visual narrative.

Adriana Alarcon

Adriana Alarcón is an artist living on Treaty 1 territory. A first-generation immigrant from Guatemala of complex identities. Alarcón is Latinx, cis-gender, queer and living with a disability. As a Mestiza woman, she recognizes Maya K’ekchi’ and Spanish ancestry (though no direct claim to the Indigenous community). These identities guide her work that explores dialectics and examines coexisting contradictions in everyday life. Adriana incorporates cultural craft traditions and ancestral knowledge with contemporary narratives using fibre crafts, such as knitting, crochet, embroidery, beading and weaving. Alarcón has a bachelor’s degree from York University in Cultural Studies. She has combined her art practice with arts administration in Toronto and Winnipeg working at artist-run centres such as Space, CARFAC Ontario, Craft Action TO and MAWA. 

Azka Ahmed

Today, a short film by Azka Ahmed.
Azka (she/they) is a queer first-generation South-Asian interdisciplinary artist. Their practice explores concepts of healing, identity, and diaspora through evocative mediums such as film and spoken word. She has been published twice with the Poetry Institute of Canada and has represented Manitoba at the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam. Azka has performed at Brandon Festival of the Arts, UMCRAFT’s Slamming the Patriarchy Poetry Slam and had their work on display at the University of Manitoba’s Gallery of Student Art. Azka is a strong believer in the importance of practising vulnerability and continuous compassion, she hopes that their work inspires others to form deeper, more meaningful connections with themselves and those around them.
Project description:
“Today” follows an individual trying to navigate their day amidst the constant media reminders of the present state of the world. This film touches on how performing small actions to care for oneself can help alleviate these feelings. “Today” explores mental health through feelings of stress, paranoia, and anxiety brought upon by the overwhelming day-to-day reality we are living in while touching on topics such as the impact of media consumption, self-care, mindfulness, and checking in with yourself and those around you. “Today” brings hope for a better tomorrow.

Bonique Dawiskiba

How old were you (when White Supremacy first touched you?)

White Supremacy greets me at the front door every Sunday,
inviting me in,
reminding me how big I am for a girl my age,
“but black girls are just bigger I guess,”
sighing, bringing me something to eat. (five)
White Supremacy touches my hair,
strange fingers twirl around my curls,
reminding me how much money women pay for hair like mine,
reminding me how grown up I look for a girl my age,
reminding me how “other girls don’t usually like stuff like this, but
it’s different, you’re black.” (seven)
White Supremacy is 4 years older than me, but wants me anyways;
takes me to steal slurpees and candy, then
takes me into the basement, turns the lights down low
and reminds me how seductive Power really is. (eight)

As a Black/mixed Lesbian Woman living in Treaty One territory
Winnipeg MB, I’ve used the visual art of collage, and a quotation from
Audre Lorde’s biomythography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, to explore
the harm and lasting imprint White Supremacy/Power inflicts.
As COVID 19 forced social isolation, it also forced a period of self-
The healing and care that bolsters and is borne of intensive
is powerful and becomes the healing and care that fuels confronting
the parts of us White Supremacy/Power has touched.
When did someone first touch your body, your mind, your heart, your
hopes and dreams, with the seductive lies and painful reality of White
When, as a BIPOC person, were you told you weren’t enough and less than
and harmed for that? When, and why, as a non BIPOC person, did you feel
enough power and right over harming BIPOC people and culture?  

Ominous Whisperer

The Shadows of Eurocentric Beauty Standards by Ominous Whisperer:

Where do I start in the unfairness of standards
of beauty so lost in unparalleled graveyards
Where ghosts are kings and their paleness pandered buried so deep in the desired guards
Society dreams for me to stay still
As the knife stabs me for the kill
I am dead inside but I still want love
Wherever will I go to find such difficult voyage
I’ve drowned from internal oceans lost from my dove
My features engulfed by the Dead Sea Carnage
I am way too salty for even the saltiest of seas
There in the murkiest of waters can you see my reflection And of the people fleeing from the wide-nosed bees Because the ghosts put me in my own little section Where I am as invisible as a brown bat by bark
And extremity blocks me from masculine right
I am to never leave my mark
To a point where I just want to bite
At these western beauty standards
My fiery burns like the devil’s might

But to my angel light I cry through darkness
As I have this gay dating app
Where I loved myself and knew my beauty
But swift currents changed the melody
Block after block as I revealed my fragile face Where the door would slam to an innocent kitten Where no one wanted my trace

I decided to try wearing someone else’s mitten
The stench enveloping and blinding like mace
Of the standard of beauty in the gay community White, fit, young, tall, and sharp Eurocentric features And to give him pain streaking justice,

Message after message after message after message,
after message,
after message, after message, after message, after message, after message, after message, after message.

My creative project is a poem I made as a Queer Person of Color myself. It showcases in poetic language the inequality I face as a minority in the gay community. It is about my personal experience as a gay Asian man looking for love in a community that sees white males as the ideal gay standard.

In my poem, it tells a story of the use of a specific gay dating app. I traded my phone with my gay white friend who is just average in attractiveness. Despite this, I noticed that he got 70 times more people wanting to talk with him.

I wanted to tell this story to acknowledge what Eurocentric beauty standards generate in “preferences” upon the LGBTQ+ community, especially the gay community. I want to show how it affected my mental health, and how I strive to overcome that and how I do my best to find love against the barriers and struggles QPOC have to go through.

Kai Sparrow

I have taken the theme of care under the lens of caring for our hearts, our inner child, our families and our communities, which to me extends to seeking justice. This body of work encompasses attributes needed to face ourselves, and others to seek the justice we deserve and to find ways to love ourselves in a harsh, unyielding atmosphere of racism and bigotry.

Feather Talia –

Feather Talia
Tightrope Cover
(original by Kelly Clarkson)

This song selection and drag video is an attempt to show my emotions for the people that I care so dearly for. Tightrope, by Kelly Clarkson, is a heartfelt ballad that reminds us to face our challenges, especially when we are so far away from one another. We are all facing challenges with Covid-19, as well as our own personal battles and it’s easy to forget to care for one another or ourselves. 

With this song and video pairing, I wanted to visualize how you can care for your peers, family, and friends, but also ask if someone can care too much? Can we all love each other forever? This is a question I find myself contemplating almost daily, and I wanted to explore that idea by pushing my boundaries of performance through song and video. 

Nicole Jowett

Connect. Disconnect.

By Nicole Jowett
With quote from adrienne maree brown

Near the beginning
You said this was a moment
“to slow and deepen my pace and relationships outside the paradigm of desire”

And so it was

Choosing friends over lovers connection over touch

A new vision of intimacy Emerges

It wasn’t always like this

Repression tying trauma tight within the body Numbness and disconnect
From too much time spent
Not embodying the truth

But I’ve known progress

Healing through understanding and connection Breaking open
Shaking loose
Those things we hold

We hold together

Bike ride chat
Phone chat
In a park chat
Down by the river chat

So many walks

Hangout in the backyard Takeout in the backyard Dance out in the backyard

So many walks

And on those days in the pit You were there on every level When I needed that falling apart To let go

So fuck detachment

We will root by rooting
We will care by caring
We will connect by connecting Our full selves

This poem looks at deep friendship as a way of caring and connecting in a time of uncertainty and isolation. It also considers the impact of queer repression and the development of open and intimate friendships as a way of healing from that trauma.

My thinking during the pandemic has been greatly informed by the work of social justice facilitator Adrienne Maree Brown, particularly her book Pleasure Activism. The book looks at art, creation, and pleasure (including deep friendship) as key but often sidelined ways to sustain social justice work, especially for communities who experience ongoing oppression. Her work is based on a lineage and gathering of ideas that emphasize the voices of queer women/non-binary folks of colour. As a white settler and a queer woman, I recognize there are elements of her work that resonate with me deeply and aspects that are not part of my lived experience. I am grateful to be able to engage with these ideas.

Reflections on Sara Ahmed’s “Closing the Door: Complaint as Diversity Work” Lecture

hUManities Blog, Long Exposures

Author of Living a Feminist Life (2017) and On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012), Sara Ahmed is an Australian scholar who has gained worldwide renown in the field of feminist studies for her work on complaint. Ahmed resigned from her position as a Race and Cultural Studies professor at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2016 in protest of the university’s failure to seriously address the issue of sexual harassment on campus. Since then, Ahmed has been working as an independent scholar, specializing in the field of complaint, about which she has written and continues to write extensively. Her research draws on her own experiences on committees where she worked with or on complaints, and is also based on interviews she has had with people who have suffered from various kinds of injustice or harassment within educational institutions.

On Oct. 2, 2019, Winnipeg’s resident feminist killjoys -sponsored by feminist activists and scholars from the U of W and the U of M (including the University of Manitoba’s department of Women’s and Gender Studies, and Institute for the Humanities), were proud to host Ahmed as she gave a keynote lecture at the West End Cultural Centre, and there was a huge turnout for the event. Her work has resonated with many different marginalized peoples: people who have faced discrimination within institutions because of their race, gender, sexual orientations, or disabilities, to name a few. Her talk, entitled Closing the Door: Complaint as Diversity Work, was no exception, and she left many of us with a lot to ponder. The wide range of topics she discussed would take much more than one simple blog post to elaborate upon, but I hope to share at least a few of her many insights.

Complaint as diversity work, Ahmed explained, refers to “the work we have to do because we are not accommodated; the work we have to do in order to be accommodated.” She began exploring this by first discussing institutional mechanics. An institutional mechanic is “what one has to become in order to get a complaint through the system.”

She emphasized the ways in which institutional procedures for handling complaints are non-performative: they “come into existence without coming into use.” These procedures give the appearance of taking action without ever actually taking action or making meaningful progress. They are even more destructive in their ambiguity, since complaint procedures can actually stop a complaint from going forward or from ever truly being addressed, while they operate under the guise of being addressed. As Ahmed put it, “you can change how you address the problem without actually addressing the problem.”

Another facet of the non-performativity of institutions in addressing issues of discrimination, harassment, etc. is in the “coercive diversity” practised by these institutions, wherein these structures of discrimination, harassment, inequality and intolerance still exist, but are painted over with a façade of inclusivity. Diversity has now become a buzzword in mainstream Western society, and it is used profusely by institutions. People can be employed simply as “diversity hires,” as though to meet a quota or to prove to the world that these institutions are open to and accepting of all people. It is to present and preserve a certain image; to jump onto the diversity bandwagon, so to speak, and thus appear more appealing to the general public. This is nonperformative because the structures of power and the discourses that sustain inequality, hierarchy, discrimination or harassment still exist behind the mask. The oppressed party comes to stand in for a supposed lack of oppression; their body is meant to paint the institution in a positive, inclusive light.

Ahmed also described the confusing, unhelpful and often traumatic experience of going through the complaint procedure. For instance, the messy, tangled web of paperwork or steps one must take seem designed to discourage the complainer from the very outset of the complaint process. One becomes confused; “you don’t know what is happening, though you know this isn’t what is supposed to happen.” Far from providing comfort, certainty or reassurance that some action will be taken to address these serious issues, the complainer comes away feeling even more harassed by the very procedures put in place to address their harassment.

In the process of complaint, walls come up at almost every turn, walls which the complainers must labour hard to fight against. Ahmed described diversity work as scratching the surface of these blockades. The exhaustion felt by those pushing against these walls is soon realized to be the point of the complicated complaint processes, rather than merely an effect.

Confusion also takes the form of responses to these complaints, wherein the “yes” of the institution isn’t actually a “yes,” but more like a “we’ll see.” This gives the feeling that something might happen, and this false, illusory “yes” actually stops the complaint from moving forward. 

Apart from these methods of discouragement, Ahmed also discussed how people can be deterred from “rocking the boat” by warnings about the effects that complaints can have on one’s career. Many, including Ahmed herself, have faced the struggles that come with complaints and can attest to how making complaints can halt one’s career. This only makes it more difficult and discouraging for people to find the courage to speak up or fully go through with the complaint process – the fear of losing a livelihood or career one has already worked hard to attain, and that one might even be passionate about.  Complainers can even be accused of damaging the reputation of others: of the individual being complained about, the department in which either party works, or even the reputation of the institution as a whole.  In finding the courage to speak out about the physical, psychological or emotional trauma inflicted on a person, that person is then made to feel like they are the ones inflicting damage – on themselves or on the institution, and the damaging characters within them. This powerful combination of victim-blaming and accusations of self-sabotage was described by Ahmed as “complaint framed as self-damage…as closing the door on yourself and your career.”

Bringing this idea home to our universities, it is important to remember that complaints in educational institutions can affect the residential, professional and financial standing of either students or faculty who complain. It is not something one enters into lightly. One of the most empathetic parts of Ahmed’s lecture and her writings on complaint is how she always reminds us that there is only so much one person can take, and that one is justified in either choosing or not choosing to complain. She reminds us of the physical and mental toll that complainers have been through in their various situations, and acknowledges that not everyone may feel comfortable or ready to talk about these issues. She points out that “to traumatize is to hold a history in the body. There is only so much we can take in.”

Some go through very traumatic incidents that may take them a long time to deal with. Coupled with this, the added fear of losing one’s job and the effort involved in the complaint process lead many to choose not to complain. Ahmed thoughtfully acknowledges that their feelings and reasons for complaining or not complaining are valid. She also notes that a body can even stop functioning properly as it is beset with worry, anxiety and feelings of self-doubt, disillusionment or futility, as a result of the ordeal they have gone through; the stressful confusion of the complaint process, the probing and questioning; the bravery in the very act of bringing their complaints to the surface, and finally dealing with the fallout after they have complained. Ahmed emphasized that “the personal is institutional,” and that “diversity work is the work we have to do to survive the work we have to do.”

Ahmed also described modes of resistance against these insidious walls. You start to stand out by not playing along, by not laughing at inappropriate, discriminatory jokes, by not being “okay” with behaviour or speech that denigrates or that is offensive, by not seeing it as all “harmless fun.” Just by refusing to partake in laughter, one is set apart, alienated – you are killing their joy. Some bodies kill the joy simply by entering the room, for instance racialized or queer bodies; sometimes the joy is killed when a word is brought up like “race” or “racism,” and by simply using these words, one can be seen as a killjoy. The word itself “carries a complaint.”

Sometimes efforts are made to stop a complaint even as the inciting incident is occurring. Preventive measures are coded into social interactions, and they are designed such as to make you doubt yourself, your own interpretation of the situation as violence being done to you. A woman who is offended by sexist comments is told she is being “too sensitive,” and is dubbed as “being unable to take a joke.” The victim of bullying is prevented from even being able to identify themselves as being bullied; before the complaint has even fully formed itself or before the incident is even over, she is cast as a complainer, a killjoy or as unreasonable for reacting to something unacceptable. The pressure to “be okay” with things that are not okay is implicit, the person is being silenced without having even taken action. This is what Ahmed describes as “harassment in an effort to stop you from identifying harassment as harassment.”

In the process of complaining, one becomes a misfit. Misfits often end up on the same committees, a committee of outcasts, of “others” who are not within the dominant group. Feminist killjoys laugh together, out of a recognition of affinity, a shared struggle, a common bond over the labour involved in breaking down or at least chipping at these walls. Laughter can act as a coping mechanism, laughter can also act as a bond of kinship between oppressed parties who recognize and sympathize with one another’s struggles, who see the walls and laugh ironically at the obvious mechanisms used to prop up these walls.

As Ahmed has said famously, the one who brings up the problem is seen as embodying the problem; they become the problem, simply for speaking up about it. Similarly, reconciliation is pushed by institutions onto individuals as a way of hushing up complaints. A complaint, in this case, starts to represent your failure to resolve a situation more amicably. The complainer is seen as stubborn for refusing to let go of something they shouldn’t have to let go of; they are suddenly painted as the enemy or the one at fault for refusing to forgive and forget. Reconciliation then becomes not a friendly gesture but a hostile one, a forceful and oppressive one, which codes one’s unwillingness to comply as their being unreasonable.

Ahmed also described how the closing of doors can be the turning of backs – the institution turning their backs on your complaint, by having each others’ backs. When complaints are filed away, the ones who complain are also filed away, discarded and forgotten. The closing of doors can also be the refusal/ withholding of valuable references, leading to further closed doors with regards to career or further educational opportunities. The closed door can be the refusal of support. A door can be slammed in your face by the way someone laughs in your face or belittles you – the closed door of people not taking you seriously enough, a closed door of communication. All of these contrast the “open door” policy that is the rhetoric behind diversity hires. 

On Support:

Ahmed stressed the importance of creating collectives, such as the one which was present that evening to hear her lecture. She proudly declared that her fellow complainers are her “guides,” her “feminist philosophers” and her collective. Creating collectives is important because one finds solidarity in the similarity of situations; complainants may be facing similar problems or coming up against the same kinds of walls, even though their individual situations or complaints vary. Ahmed emphasized that one cannot do everything by oneself, which is why it is important to find one’s “people”. In supporting people who complain, one must be willing to stand by them in public, not just behind closed doors. Finally, support can entail giving people information, or not pressuring them to complain or talk about their problems; it can involve standing by them and not letting them face institutions alone or even just listening.

As previously mentioned, there was a huge turnout to Ahmed’s lecture, and it seems her work has been well received by the Winnipeg community of feminists, activists, queer people and people of colour. A reading group was organized a week before the main event by 2SQTBIPOC to discuss some of Ahmed’s works prior to her talk. The small gathering was held in the Revolution Wellness Centre, which is also home of the newly founded 2SQTBIPOC library. Reading Ahmed’s work on complaints against institutions in such a decidedly non-institutional space, a space designed for people who have had trouble fitting into institutions, and people who have themselves complained and carried the labour and consequences of complaint with them was quite significant. Some things that were discussed included:

  • The idea of happiness as a political construct, as described in Ahmed’s article “Feminist killjoys”; happiness as something that is prescribed to us by the society we live in;
  • Queer people as the “other” others; marginalized even further within the already marginalized group that is “people of colour;”
  • People who complain as “killing the joy” of the dominant whiteness of institutions;
  • Shrinking of oneself as a result of constantly having a gaze on you, as a member of a minority; having to make yourself smaller to make others more comfortable, or to make them trust you. How oppressive institutions want you to be passive, to be silent, to not push back, and the politics around being angry;
  • The importance of creating feminist spaces; safe little pockets or alternative spaces, and the difference between a collective and an institution
  • The ways in which institutions “listen” when they have something to lose; how they jump onto the diversity bandwagon, co-opting it to mask institutional whiteness; how diversity has become mainstream, a buzzword
  • How you have to become the institution when you complain;
  • Community capacity involvement based on radical love and action as an alternative to reliance on institutions to solve problems;
  • The equal validity of either opting out of academia or other institutions, creating other kinds of spaces OR taking on the labour of complaint and conflict. Both complaining and not complaining are valid;
  • Tracing the transformation of language regarding social inequality: from “race relations” to “multiculturalism,” to “diversity,” then “equity;” and stated the goals of “liberation” and even “abolition” as the next tiers of progress.

At a workshop held with Ahmed on Oct 2, members of the community further discussed concerns, such as the issue of guilt and inadvertent complicity in processes or institutions that foster an atmosphere of inequality. Ahmed sympathized with community members who found themselves becoming implicated in the institutions they were trying to critique. For instance, one may feel guilt as a feminist about what kind of space you’re making within these institutions A question of complicity arises when racist judgments or stereotypes benefit you, e.g. help you in getting a job, or when people of a certain colour are coded as “hard workers.” What happens when the act of you doing your work makes you identify with the institution you’re trying to work against?

There is a hierarchy present that puts you in a bind, because you need the job. These are routes to having a livable life, that one cannot escape. After all, we are all entitled to a livable life: a stable job, a source of income to support us, but one cannot help but feel guilty when your job reinforces these institutions and helps build and sustain these walls. In these situations, it is vital to have a consciousness of how these dynamics work. Talking about them doesn’t always solve things, but it  gets them out there, in the open.

We talked about how being a feminist means being a feminist at work, political work is intertwined with intellectual or physical work, not separate from it, and how diversity work is the work you have to do to be. Some people always have to fight for existence or recognition. Ahmed herself has had to face questions like “Are you really the prof?” or “Where are you from?” when trying to do her work as a professor. For some people, to be is to be in question.

We also considered some deterrents used by institutions against complaints: warnings, bribery, removal of funding, nondisclosure agreements, the appearance of hearing. Ahmed was even told, upon her resignation, that her work exposing the university’s inaction would undermine the feminists at Goldsmith’s; she described the dismay one feels upon realizing that many of those involved in blocking complaints are themselves self-professed feminists.

In her parting words after the lecture, Ahmed described speaking out as “becoming a leak: drip drip. A leak can be a lead. A leak can be a feminist lead.” She notes that dialogue is possible by connecting stories, tales and trails. She further emphasized that in the process of complaint, even when it yields nothing fruitful or all the back doors and labyrinths of the institution’s complaint procedure lead nowhere, one still passes a complaint on. The scratches on the wall become a testimony: “We are here, we did not disappear.” These complaints and complainers can come back to haunt institutions. Your “no” can be picked up and amplified by others, eventually reverberating into a loud roar of refusal. Scratching on the wall becomes both a sound one makes and a mark one leaves.

To learn more about Ahmed, visit her website:

Welcome to the Bauhaus: A Review and Discussion of Dr. Elizabeth Otto’s Lecture

hUManities Blog, Snap Shots

A UMIH sponsored event, held at Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) on February 28, 2020.

The Bauhaus. Treated like a religion in some design schools, its history is almost worshipped. Its name is whispered reverently in the halls of architecture schools as if saying it was like tasting the sacrament. The Bauhaus. Its clean lines, revolutionary artists, architects, thinkers—sorry, I should say its men. In the cultural imagination, in its history as it is taught, the Bauhaus necessarily is synonymous with its paternalistic lineage.

When I first encountered Bauhaus, it was alongside the death of Bela Lugosi, strange bat-like silhouettes on walls, men like calligraphic lines—skinny, angular and dressed in all black. When my goth-rock sensibilities were introduced to its namesake, I’m sorry to say it was quite the let-down. Lectured by a white male professor, we were told all about Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Kandinsky, Klee. Their names melted together inside my brain, it felt like an endless train of masculine genius along a long line of other male geniuses, imposing upon history. But a quotation stuck out in the noise; taken from shocked bystanders, the Bauhäusler were described as women with short hair wearing trousers, the men wore their hair long. This line stayed with me for years.

Where were the women? Certainly not in my lecture. Blink and you’d miss it: Marianna Brandt, the one woman who we spent mere moments on, swallowed up by the Iron Curtain and similarly swept under the academic rug. Begrudgingly admitted into the rank and file of history, if only for her economic success within the Bauhaus. The rest rendered like Ariadne—an army of faceless and nameless weavers, stripped of personhood or individuality.

Enter: Dr. Elizabeth Otto

Her lecture entitled “Gender, Sexuality, & the Bauhaus” was vibrant, engaging, and most of all was a feminist recovery of a long-thought and long-taught masculinist institution. Suddenly we get faces, we hear names. Most damning of all, we see the numbers of women throughout the Bauhaus and no, they certainly were not all weavers. Forty-some odd women even went through the architecture stream.

My favourite of the night, Florence Henri.

Suspected to have taken a female lover, but no speculation is needed to see the talent of her photography. The aesthetic of longing in her art, which Dr. Otto views as a queer coding, is a beautiful yearning that pulls at its viewers. Multiple pictures show her gazing at herself in mirrors, that insoluble question for queer women—wanting her or wanting to be her.

This is the difficult reality of much of Dr. Otto’s work, looking for hints, gestures, digging up the marginalized of history, trying to find these traces of female and queer life; it’s like reaching out to try to touch a ghost. Henri more than likely learned her craft from László Moholy-Nagy’s faceless wife, Lucia Moholy: the woman behind the camera and the woman behind the man. Almost like a feral network, or a queer lineage of craft passed down on the fringes of this masculine school. Henri eventually left the Bauhaus, but still continued on with her practice in Paris.

Adrian McKerracher: How metaphor can change what you make and how you make it

hUManities Blog, Long Exposures

On Oct 10 2019, writer and artist Adrian McKerracher, visiting the University of Manitoba’s School of Art, gave a riveting lecture on the value of using metaphor in creative work. Drawing on his own experiences, McKerracher described the many benefits of metaphors as a construct, and as a way not only to improve upon literary description, but also as a framework within which one cam approach creative work and the world in general.

Metaphor, essentially, is saying that “a” equals “b.” In this sense, it is the most easily accessible way of transforming the world. McKerracher encouraged thinking about metaphor as not just a literary device, but as a cognitive mechanism that could be fundamental to the way that we think. In using metaphor, we take what we know and use it to describe or better understand something we don’t know.

In demonstrating the many ways through which the use of metaphor pervades our everyday lives, McKerracher provided many examples of metaphors to describe creativity. Creativity is illumination, it is an algorithm or formula, it is an incubation process, competition, combination, it is a garden, an organism, a dance, a game, an angel or a demon.

At a time in his life when he had began facing self-doubts and began contemplating the banality and possible failure of his own creativity, McKerracher took a trip to Buenos Aires, on a quest to meet writers and to really investigate what it meant to be a creative person. During this journey of discovery, he started collecting an archive of metaphors to try to describe the creative process. In his lecture, he argued that a writer must not only learn to hear himself, but to write himself. Argentina, associated with writers like Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar, was a huge source of inspiration for McKerracher. He reminisced on how Buenos Aires in particular revealed itself to him as a composite of fantasies, hopes and books, as he chased down every writer he could find, asking questions like “Where do ideas come from?” and “How do you know when your ideas are good?”

Metaphor, he explained, provides access to magic, wherein we can say one thing is something else. It asks, how could the world be otherwise? It is an interesting tool of meaning-making. It is something we do everyday. We employ metaphors when we wish to explore abstract or complex ideas, like love, death or time. However, he pointed out, choosing one particular metaphor closes one off from others. So the question becomes, how does one keep the search for metaphors fresh?

Metaphor can be approached as a non-iterative process, so that rather than being sequential, the metaphor always expands outward, creating endless possibilities. This conscious consideration of metaphor is what he referred to as “metaphor literacy,” which is ongoing and generative.

Metaphor has the potential to revolutionize the ways in which we approach creative work. McKerracher asked us to consider this: “What is the language you use to describe your work?” The language in which we think about our work matters. He emphasized the generative, pre-association moment as the most useful when creating metaphors. For instance, in the sentence, “Juliet is…” the huge moment of potential is encapsulated in the ellipses; there is an endless possibility of words that could be used to describe what Juliet is like. In describing what he called “the implicit, melancholic longing of metaphor,” McKerracher pointed out that metaphor always wants to be something else, it always wants more.

He also had some good advice for attendees to reflect on. In the creative process, we never know exactly what we’re going to make when we set out to make it. The things we create are the end result of “living with a question that matters.” Asking how things could be different than they are is a crucial part of the creative process. To him, creativity is “a way of being in the world.” McKerracher addressed the question all artists and creatives ask at some point in their careers: Why should I work on something when it has been done so much better by others? He answered that it was one’s responsibility to oneself, to find one’s own way of describing things, to relate one’s own experience. He used the metaphor of an apple: even though nearly everyone has eaten an apple, nobody knows what an apple tastes like to you. We owe it to ourselves, in our various forms of creating, to express our unique views on the world around us; these can never be replicated by anyone else, ever.

Adrian McKerracher covers these and other insightful perspectives on the nature, usefulness and power of metaphor in his book What it Means to Write: Creativity and Metaphor.

The Decolonizing Lens: An evening of films by Indigenous Canadian filmmakers

hUManities Blog, Long Exposures
Rosie. Source: Downtown Winnipeg Biz

The Decolonizing Lens is an initiative that celebrates the work of Indigenous filmmakers, incorporating Indigenous actors, directors, producers and narratives. This marks the fourth year of the film and discussion series, which was organized and supported by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of Manitoba and held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The screenings I attended were comprised of 6 short films presented in collaboration with ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.

The films – screened on Oct 3, 2019 and free for the public – all explored some aspect of the lives of Indigenous people in Canada, with the films’ subject matter focusing specifically on the experience of queer Indigenous people.

The first film, Rosie, was written and directed by Gail Maurice, and co-produced with her partner Mélanie Bray. It depicts the beginnings of an unconventional family. Rosie is a young Indigenous girl who has recently been orphaned. She is taken by childcare services to her mother’s sister, who is now her only living relative. Her aunt – played by Mélanie Bray – is named Frédérique (a.k.a. “Fred”) and owns a sex shop that later burns down. Fred has no interest in raising the child; she is reluctant and highly unwilling to play the maternal role. She is persuaded (or guilted) into it eventually, and brings in Rosie to live with her and her two close friends, a pair of drag queens. She is living what queer theorist Judith Halberstam would term a “queer way of life,” one that defies conventionality, eschews job security or “respectability,” as well as rejecting traditional ideas of gender roles or notions of happiness as prescribed by mainstream society.

The film discusses and opposes normative gender roles, for instance in Fred’s initial rejection of the maternal role that has been foisted upon her, and in a scene where Rosie picks up a toy gun to play with and is given a doll instead, which she then throws away. Innocence is subverted when little Rosie is given a lollipop which had been marketed in Fred’s shop as a “cocksucker.”

Co-producer Melanie Bray announced during the post-viewing discussion that Rosie is currently in the process of being made into a feature-length film. This will allow the creators to explore the characters in more depth, delve into a deeper examination of the interactions between these characters and to see how the unconventional family is generated; in sum, it will allow the filmmakers to do more justice to the story.

The next film was titled Emerge: Stone Braids, and featured a documentary-style narration of the processes that went into organizing Toronto’s Indigenous Fashion Week. The voiceover that accompanied behind-the-scenes clips and videos of the runway spoke intimately of the connection between fashion and feeling, and the importance of showcasing Indigenous art and culture. The clips also showed how this particular fashion-scape provided a safe space for queer Indigenous expression.

The third film was a beautiful story about learning to accept and take pride in one’s cultural roots. Mino Bimaadiziwin, written and directed by Shane McSauby, tells the story of a budding friendship between Jim, a transgender English-speaking Indigenous boy, and a mysterious Anishinaabe girl, who speaks in her native tongue. The film traces the interactions between the two, and how they (particularly Jim) are limited in communication due to the language barrier between them. Jim has lost his language, his culture, and his connection to the land, which is symbolized in his sitting outside the round dance – he feels like an outsider among his own people. The mysterious girl, Bangishimogikwe, helps him reclaim these vital aspects of his cultural identity. The story progresses in the form of flashbacks. When he was a child, his grandmother spoke to him in his native tongue and helped him establish a relationship with nature, and with his culture, which he has now forgotten. She advised him to follow the sunset to find Mino Bimaadiziwin, which in Anishinaabe means “the good life.” Toward the end of the film, Jim decides to give his Indigenous culture a chance; he partakes in a smudge ceremony – an Indigenous purification ritual – after which he joins the round dance. Bangishimogikwe then speaks in English to him, and reveals that her name means Sunset Woman.

The feeling of being out of place among one’s own people is one that many can relate to, including people who have been displaced or have migrated to another country and are now stuck in the weird liminality between two cultures. Feeling alienated from one’s native culture can be a very painful, disorienting experience, as though one no longer has nothing concrete to hold on to. The moment when both parties understand each other and converse on equal terms represents the opening up of gates, and opening up of minds to understand one another’s way of life. The film tells a beautiful story, journeying from loss of identity and ambiguity, to openness, reclaiming one’s identity and the joy felt at all the possibilities enabled by making oneself open.

The film can be found here:

You Will Go Home is set in downtown Winnipeg, around Higgins and the Waterfront area. Directed by Rhonda Lucy, the story is more contemplative than narrative, although there is a constant voiceover which speaks of resilience and enduring suffering. The settings shift from a claustrophobic, grungy urban setting to a serene natural environment, on the banks of the Red River. The red scarf that trails behind and goes before the woman seems to symbolize generational pain; not just of this one woman, but the pain carried by her mother before her, and the pain of her mother before her as well. The red scarf symbolizes blood and memory. The film comments on the violence faced by Indigenous women, and in this case, trans women. The words “You will go home, Butterfly Woman,” are an encouraging mantra, signifying the resilience of the transformed being in the face of adversity.

The fifth film, Make Me, was fascinating in its form. It employed a gothic/horror aesthetic as the backdrop against which was set musical poetry. The poem was musical in that apart from its lyrical, flowing, sensuous recitation, the sounds of drumbeats and waves could also be heard in the background. The use of poetry as a medium for expression already grounds the work heavily in emotion. While the poem was being read, a woman clad in black (who was in fact Janet Rogers, the poet and director) performed a sort of ritual: lighting candles, moving liquid (perhaps oil) from one bowl to another, burning herbs, etc. The burning of herbs and taking in of its vapour invokes Indigenous smudge ceremonies, thus the film seems to create an intersection between Indigenous experiences of the world and eroticism.  Her motions seemed almost interpretive, in sync with the musical poetry, and yet not directly correlated to what was being said. The poem was about bodies, about sex and intimacy, and the sensual tone of the poem, combined with the ritual created an unsettling effect, in part because one was unsure what exactly they were looking at. Perhaps without meaning to, the short film seemed to coyly defy our attempts to make sense of it, inadvertently exposing how barriers to understanding can exist and be sustained as one observes aspects of a culture they are unfamiliar with.

You can watch this film here:

The final film, entitled Positions, was directed by Justin Ducharme. It very explicitly explored themes of sex and sexuality, and followed the life of a male sex worker who is hired to sleep with a variety of men in a city. The film covered the themes of secrecy, desperation and power dynamics within homosexual encounters. At one point, the protagonist was hired by a woman to sleep with her husband in an attempt to save her marriage. The racialized queer body, in a sense, was commodified and objectified for the pleasure of others; but interestingly, this was a voluntary service being rendered. The protagonist still had agency over his own body and chose to use it as a means of economic gain, rather than being coerced or forced into it by others.

The Decolonizing Lens provides a space where important stories of, for, about and by Indigenous creators can be told and shared with a wider audience, and appreciated or contemplated for their aesthetic or stylistic qualities as well as for the deeper issues being explored through these modes of storytelling. The value of such spaces for Indigenous, queer and other marginalized communities cannot be overstated. A vital part of the process of decolonization is having opportunities to share the stories which are closest to our hearts, and platforms from which our voices can be heard.

Be sure to keep an eye out for upcoming films by the Decolonizing Lens, or join their Facebook group.

Activism, Justice and Restitution for Survivors of Armed Conflict in Uganda

hUManities Blog, Long Exposures

On Oct. 24, 2019, a panel discussion was held by the University of Manitoba’s Master of Human Rights program in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, and the SSHRC’s Conjugal Slavery in War project. The event, entitled “Advocating For Justice And Reparations In Uganda: A Conversation With Grace Acan And Evelyn Amony,” was chaired by Dr. Kjell Anderson, director of the U of M’s newly-created Master of Human Rights program.

The Conjugal Slavery in War project, funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), involves research into issues of conjugal slavery worldwide, particularly as it relates to war-torn places. The initiative is concerned especially with the intersection of transitional justice and the experiences of women and children in armed conflict, and is carried out by researchers who work with community-based organizations which advocate for the rights of survivors of armed conflict, as well as helping their re-integration into society.  One of these organizations is WAN (Women’s Advocacy Network) Uganda, which employs women survivors so they can support themselves financially, for instance creating handcrafted items like beaded jewellery. The initiative involves interviews with children born in war, regarding issues such as their sense of belonging, kinship, and displacement from their homes. Their work has revealed the complexity and diversity in the experiences of women, men and children affected by war.

Evelyn Amony gave her testimony first, translated by Grace Acan. She was one of the children abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group of rebels who have been fighting against the Ugandan government for years. Amony was kidnapped at the age of 12 – snatched from the arms of her grandmother, who tried in vain to protect her from the rebels – and taken to South Sudan. When the Ugandan government finally mounted a surprise attack against this faction of the LRA, Amony was shot 12 times, but survived. The skirt she wore during the ambush, peppered with bullet holes, is currently on display at the Canadian Human Rights Museum’s Ododo Wa exhibit.

When she was finally returned home, Amony was so traumatized that she was unable to talk about her ordeal; the abuse and injustices that she had both witnessed and had been subjected to. Amony had a daughter while she was still living at the rebels’ compound, whom she lost during the ambush. She is still searching for her, and hopes that in sharing her story, word will spread and she will be able to find her daughter. In her account, Amony renounced war and the abductions of young children, imploring that they be stopped.

After Amony, Grace Acan also gave her own testimony. She was abducted in 1996, when the LRA stormed her Catholic girls’ school, and abducted 139 of the students. Many were eventually let go, but the rebels kept 30 of them, among whom was Acan, who was held captive for 8 years. The camp was eventually liberated, and she returned to her community at the age of 16 with a baby girl.

Among the challenges that these two and many other survivors faced upon returning included rejection of the women and their children by their families, stigmatization and ostracism within their communities, as well as the financial and economic limitations caused by not having completed their studies. Speaking on behalf of survivors like themselves, Amony and Acan declared emphatically that for them, justice means addressing the immediate needs of people affected by war. These include food, education for their children, a means of subsistence and medical care – support essential to their daily living and their reintegration into society, which are more important to them than merely taking their abductors to court or spending years pursuing legal trials.

Regarding legal reparations, however, Amony, Acan and the organizations they represent have petitioned the Ugandan government to address their issues. A new transitional justice policy was released June 2019, though it has not yet been implemented. Transitional justice refers to the measures taken after gross human rights violations. The two women said they were very excited, though it was still a work in progress, and they said they would like to see the policy implemented during their lifetimes.

According to Dr. Anderson, Uganda’s amnesty bill was passed in 2000. There has been a lot of discussion regarding the reconciliation and reintegration of war combatants into society, and how they can make reparations. To go from living in “the bush” to society has proved difficult for both abductees and abductors. Meanwhile, Joseph Kony, one of the main leaders of the LRA, is still at large. You may remember him from the media frenzy around the KONY 2012 movement, just a few years ago. These all bring up the question of what post-conflict justice looks like, and what changes need to be made to effectively support people who are affected by conflict.

Isabelle Masson, a curator at the Canadian Museum of Human rights, was in charge of the Ododo Wa exhibit. In creating the exhibit, she worked closely with Amony and Acan, as well as the researchers on Conjugal Slavery in War. She described the process of creating the exhibit, as well as the careful and conscientious consideration that went into telling the stories. She mentioned that there was an ongoing conversation about the overall message, and this is manifested in how they chose to represent the items in the exhibit. The exhibit is based on the 2 memoirs of Evelyn Amony and Grace Acan, as well as interviews with other survivors and human rights advocates.

The visual design incorporates elements of drawings made by the survivors of the LRA camps. As previously mentioned, the skirt Evelyn wore when she was ambushed and injured 11 years ago is on display (loaned from her grandmother), as is Grace Acan’s blue sweater, a part of the school uniform she was wearing when she was abducted. Acan explained that the sweater was her only source of warmth, and when she gave birth to her daughter, she had to cut a small piece out of the sweater to make clothes for her child. Also on display are the romance novels older girls liked to read in school, juxtaposed with the jerry cans with which they would fetch and carry water from camp to camp, a symbol of their daily labour in captivity. Masson went through what informed their choice of these “artefacts,” explaining that the curators made a conscious decision to move away from the graphic violence and torture, such as is often depicted in the news and other media, and this is evident even in their use of animated videos to recount the women’s stories. Masson and other collaborators made the deliberate decision to focus on the women themselves, to emphasize the women’s agency, rather than solely the violence of their situations. It describes how the survivors chose bravely to become outspoken advocates for justice, reparations, and for the rights of others in similar situations.

Both Amony and Acan are activists, and helped to found advocacy groups; together they co-founded the Women’s Advocacy Network (WAN), which creates a space for dialogue, and to highlight the issues affecting women returnees, such as social stigmatization. They each decided to write a book about their experiences. The goal in writing these accounts was to explain in detail what had happened to them, to counter and correct misconceptions the community had about abductees, and to make a strong case for the destructive effects that war has on women and children, and why it must be stopped. Evelyn Amony in particular wanted to articulate the pain parents feel at losing their children, and hopes that her book will reach someone who knows the whereabouts of her own child. Whereas prior to writing she had been afraid of being judged, Amony revealed that she found so much courage in herself after writing the book. Both women’s books also aim at encouraging returnees such as themselves to move on, to get through their challenges, and to remind them that there is always life after suffering.

The stigma attached to the abductees who have returned cause them to be shunned by society. Children born in captivity were shunned by the families that should have accepted them; in a patriarchal society where the fathers were absent war criminals, the families of the men wanted nothing to do with these unknown and unclaimed children. The word “returnee” became derogatory, as did the notion of being born “in the bush.” The mothers continually encourage their children by telling them that they are not defined by their origins, and reminding them that they are still human beings, and not to be discouraged from their studies by such taunts from their classmates or others.

The stories of these two women is a reality of life shared by many women around the world. It is important that we are aware of these harsh truths even if they are occurring elsewhere in the world. As the KONY 2012 campaign and media frenzy showed, it is very easy to be captivated by these stories while they are all the rage on the media, but equally as easy to forget when they are no longer trending. What is the role of the viewer and the public upon hearing of these atrocities? How can we become better informed viewers, better global citizens?

To learn more about the stories of women and children affected by war, you can visit the Ododo Wa (“our stories”) exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, on now until winter 2020. 

For more information on conjugal slavery and these women’s stories, visit

Or you can learn more about the Women’s Advocacy Network and support their initiatives here:

Whose Story Is It Anyway?

hUManities Blog, Snap Shots

Bang Bang, a brief review

Photo by Matt Popovich

The play Bang Bang, written and directed by Kat Sandler, depicts the aftereffects of a police shooting. Lila Hines, a rookie Black cop, shoots an unarmed Black teenager, and though he lives, the incident devastates Hines and destroys her career. A white playwright, Tim Bernbaum, decides to take her experience and adapt it into a play, without obtaining her permission or consulting her. Then, the play is picked to be adapted into a film, and upon learning that the lead actor wishes to consult with Hines, Bernbaum finally decides to pay Lila and her mother a visit. What follows is an explosive debate on who has the right to this story, an unfiltered treatment of topics like assumption, appropriation, racial tensions and the ethical limits of artistic freedom and representation.

The play – which ran Oct 2nd to 19th, 2019 at Winnipeg’s Tom Hendry Warehouse – brought up and discussed questions which are incredibly relevant to our current society. When it comes to issues of violence and oppression, who is allowed to tell these stories? What is the responsibility of the storyteller to the audience, and to the persons concerned? How can one practise responsibility when using artistic mediums to depict these difficult stories?

We live in an era of sensationalism and buzzwords, where news and viral videos are available at the tap of a screen. Police brutality against Black people has become such a commonplace act of injustice, most notably in the United States. So have mass shootings. One could argue that as we become more and more desensitized through what we see in the media, we forget that there are real people involved in these incidents of violence. This play reminds us that, as we take in so much content each day, we should perhaps pause and consider who is doing the storytelling, how it is portrayed, and perhaps to what ends.

This play is also a reminder of the care that must be taken not only in reporting but in writing about or portraying the hard-hitting social and political issues in our society. Who gets to tell someone’s story? Does it matter, so long as the story sends out an important message? Should certain people be restricted from portraying events that affect a community to which they do not belong? And does that story have to be told, even if the persons involved think otherwise? Does it matter that this play itself was written and directed by a white playwright? Bang Bang makes us pause to think about the power dynamics involved in telling any story, and to reflect on the ways in which the entertainment we consume might be appropriating other people’s struggles without necessarily showing the required respect or responsibility in addressing the issues or the persons concerned.