Radio LUMI

301: Home

May 18, 2023 Luminato Festival Toronto Season 3 Episode 1
Radio LUMI
301: Home
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Radio LUMI will explore the theme of “Home” as part of Luminato 2023. 

In “Grounding Conversations, Part 1: Situating Ourselves,” Dev describes themselves as a storyteller, a witness and archive that exists simultaneously in the past, present and future. Addressing criticisms of land acknowledgements, Dev explores their relationship with home and place, returning to the land and tracing the landscape of colonialism and how it led to the city they know and how they came to be there. 

Then Theodore Walker Robinson meditates in “Worth Noting” on the Art of Storytelling in Public Art and how that ties into their own connections with Home and Jordan Bennett’s installation, Echoes Calling Back.

Theodore Walker Robinson:

This podcast episode of Radio LUMI is on the topic of home. And in our conversations, we'll be exploring what home means to us, our histories of home, coming home, the story of coming home. I invite you to take a moment, come to presence, come to stillness, take a deep breath, be mindful of where your feet are planted right now in this moment. Come back to the feelings and sensations in your body.

Dev Ramsawakh:

This is Grounding Conversations with Dev Ramsawakh for Radio LUMI. This six-part segment series will lay the groundwork for the conversations that'll be happening on our broadcast during Luminato 2023 and provide a background on the frameworks with which our audio experiences attempt to engage. Many performance shows and arts festivals begin their programming with your typical land acknowledgement. However, many indigenous peoples have criticized the practice for relegating their relationship with the land to the past, which does more to alleviate settler guilt and discomfort than to demonstrate real solidarity and progressive action.

In my relationship to Radio LUMI, I want to acknowledge these criticisms as a way to use my platform responsibly. I don't want to just acknowledge the trauma indigenous peoples from all over have had inflicted on them, but to address how our society collectively is hurt by the mechanics of colonialism. I want to try to offer a demonstration of ways to actively engage with decolonial concepts and a practice to move forward on an interconnected journey towards collective liberation. In Grounding Conversations, I reveal myself as a time traveler, as I embark on a journey that weaves in and out of the past, presents and futures that are rooted in the festival's programming and our city's arts culture, tying them to the themes that the host here at Radio LUMI will be addressing from their own perspectives.

This journey will be created using excerpts from my body of work to address the ongoing impacts of colonialism on our collective society and the underlying principles of disability justice that the San Francisco-based Disabled Artists Collective Sins Invalid imbued into the term when they coined it in 2005 in order to teach us how to resist our interlocking systems of oppression. It's now time to embark on the first part of our journey, Situating Ourselves.

My name is Dev. You can call me many things, transgender, disabled, gender-fluid, Indo-Caribbean, descendant of immigrants, a perpetual trauma survivor, an artist, an activist. I personally prefer storyteller and archivist myself. It's a role I find myself in whether or not I'm paid for it. In a way, this also makes me a time traveler, though perhaps wanderer might be more accurate for my mobius temporal journeys or maybe it's just that I experience time differently. To me, it's not something that can be understood in a chronological or linear manner. From works like Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and a number of precolonial cultural philosophies, I've come to understand time as something that exists all at once.

When I tell stories, I'm not just telling stories of the past. My stories don't exist in any one time or another. My stories trace the roots of our present to the past, but what defines my work is that it is always seeded with visions of the future. But all stories must begin somewhere. Where should I begin? That all depends on what this story is really about. Whether it's about me, Toronto, or the overlapping narratives from Luminato 2023 shows like Aalaapi, Treemonisha, Dragon's Tale or Little Amal, all of them can be traced back to stories of the land. We all have a relationship to this land. For some of us, it's our home where we work, where our families and communities are. For most of us, it determines how we live our daily lives, such as how its intimate relationship with the sky creates the climate and whether we continuously adapt to.

And for many people's tied to the city, it's colonization irrevocably changed their homes, their languages, their cultures and their relationships with, well, just about everything. When I'm working for my Downtown Toronto apartment, I can't forget that I don't just live in a plaster and concrete box held in the sky by disguised metal cages that exists as part of some modern urban civilization. I live on a transformed terrain connected to an even bigger organic landscape that had been cared for tens of thousands of years by many thriving indigenous communities, a landscape that was once thrumming and alive with human and nonhuman activities that couldn't and wasn't meant to be distinguished from each other.

What I know to be the ground, what is now a near geometric grid of roads and parking lots and condominiums was once forests and valleys and plains that blended together seamlessly filled with species of plants and animals that have been wiped from existence. The sounds I hear, the air I breathe, every sensation I experience daily are all modern inventions that have been carved into the earth in order to create the shapes of what I know as the city of Toronto. Nothing that's ever been grown in the city has been left untouched by colonialism. This was something that Justin Many Fingers, a two-spirit Blackfoot artist from Treaty 7 in the Western prairies discussed with me in 2019 as produced with the help of Xtra Magazine on the first episode of my 2020 podcast Cripresentation.

Justin Many Fingers:

As the newcomers came, they came with their asylums, they came with their madhouses, they came with their disabilities and what that was and how they discriminated to their own people and putting them into rooms and locking them away. And there's like very horrific stories of, that and in the culture, we never had that.

Dev Ramsawakh:

I met Justin into Toronto or Treaty 13 when he was visiting for the Cripping the Arts Festival held at Harbourfront Centre. This conversation began leading my journey with disability justice into deeper and more authentic directions.

Justin Many Fingers:

So the whole culture, specifically Blackfoot, when I was looking at the dis-art and the discommunity, it was never a disability. It was just individuals had to do something different.

Dev Ramsawakh:

He urged us to look to the knowledges that colonization tried to erase from our cultural worldviews.

Justin Many Fingers:

You don't have to reinvent what things need to be done within the disabled community, that all of these things already existed, minimum 14,000 years ago. There's a whole history of how we functioned in every single way. The more I delved into it, the more that I understood from the Prairie Sign Language, that was the first form of communication with the indigenous people and the White people and that this then evolved again, taken from the people and turned into American Sign Language. So American Sign Language has that root from the Blackfoot people and probably nobody knows that. What is helping people who are blind or visually impaired and the audio description or describers, well, that was already in the language because everything in the language is describing something in motion that everything was animate and not inanimate, that a rock is animate and you wouldn't say the rock.

You would put that rock into context, right? So you would refer to what you're talking about if that rock rolling down the hill, that's what you call that or the thing that walks on four legs and depending on what kind of animal, the thing that walks on four legs and describing what the antlers look like. If you spoke that at 14,000 years ago, you would be able to understand what is being described and that was in the language.

Dev Ramsawakh:

Now, Justin comes from Treaty 7, more specifically the Kanawa Blackfoot Reserve in what is colonially known as southern Alberta. But I was born, have lived and centered my work in Toronto or Tkaronto. This is also the land where Luminato 2023 is being hosted. For thousands of years, I've been told the land Toronto was on was a meeting place of many indigenous nations like the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunne and the Wendat peoples. There's been a movement to refer to Toronto as the name it was anglicized from, Tkaronto, which comes from the Mohawk language and means, "Where there are trees standing in the water."

While it is progress to honor the languages that colonialism attempted to extinguish, we should be aware that where was originally called Tkaronto is actually closer to what we now call Orillia and Lake Simcoe. But according to what I've been told is being discussed in indigenous communities connected to the city, the multiculturalism Toronto pride itself on can be traced back thousands of years, even beyond the patterns of precolonial migration that allow for cross-cultural exchanges beyond Turtle Island. From what I understand, there's a spiritual energy created from Toronto's geographic position connected to the waterways on other lands adjacent to it that made it a kind of, for lack of a better word, political meeting place, where nations came together to exchange knowledge and resources and collectively resolved conflicts until British and French colonizers came with their own plans for the land and its peoples.

However, these colonizers weren't just making their way to Turtle Island, but all over the globe, which begins the story of my own relationship to the city. Like many colonized communities, my ancestral history is fragmented and disconnected. I know that European powers like the British, Spanish and French weren't just on missions to colonize what we now call North America, but also the Caribbean, South America, Africa, Oceania and Asia, even other parts of Europe. "If it could be found, it needed to be conquered." This culminated in indigenous genocides across multiple continents, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and British imperialism taking root in the subcontinent of India.

Prior to colonization, I know that's where my ancestors were from, but their histories have been lost to me. I can't even tell you what language or cultural traditions we once had. That's because the idea of a cohesive India or even a single Hindu religion or culture was constructed during the 18th and 19th centuries by the British, to amalgamate dozens if not hundreds of different cultures, religions and practices into a unified identity that would go on to create the basis of the caste system in order to reproduce familiar colonial hierarchies associated with Whiteness. The creation of that hierarchy would lead to the arrival of my grandparents' ancestors to Guyana and Trinidad through British colonial indentureship.

As the British were forced to abolish the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, they didn't want to meet new expectations of formally enslaved laborers to be paid living wages and they began to ship in cheap labor from India and China by indenturing lower status citizens through criminalization and what one of my aunts once aptly described as trickery.

Ryan Persadie:

But I really want to honor the labor diaspora that we come out of.

Dev Ramsawakh:

Much of my own cultural history, I've had to learn through conversations with other Caribbean scholars like Ryan Persadie, who I spoke with in the fall of 2021 for my podcast, Jumbie: Colonized Monsters.

Ryan Persadie:

That were indentured laborers, right? I think we forget that we descend from sex workers and people who were criminalized and hyper-policed and hyper-surveilled. Like we only come to the regents for laborer.

Speaker 5:

Mm-hmm.

Ryan Persadie:

Right? And through the work of particular types of communities.

Dev Ramsawakh:

But I also learned that my family's choice in coming to Toronto isn't likely a coincidence.

Ryan Persadie:

The Canadian Presbyterian Church was the one that converted all these coolies.

Dev Ramsawakh:

Coolie is a reclaimed racial slur for Indo-Caribbeans to denote a removal from Indian society and class associations with labor.

Ryan Persadie:

Also Scotiabank is like literally all over the Caribbean commodifying space all the time, so is CIBC. So Canada has always had a foot in the door of the Caribbean.

Dev Ramsawakh:

Canadian banks and Canadian churches have all done damage to the various communities that have been displaced in the Caribbean, but as Canada, in particular Toronto, became more prosperous, and as feminism began to bring more White middle-to-upper-class mothers into the workforce, the government funneled in cheap non-White domestic labor from the Caribbean to keep their homes, children and elderly tended to. This is why there is an irrefutable Caribbean foundation to the city's culture, as Caribbean vernacular gets rebranded as Toronto slang and our cuisine, which combines West African and Indo-Chinese culinary traditions with those of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean like the Carib and Taíno peoples gets commodified by White entrepreneurs.

And as Toronto and Canada more broadly benefited from colonization of the Caribbean, they continue that legacy by culturally benefiting from the institutions they built from the resources stolen from the Caribbean.

Ryan Persadie:

So many, so artists come here in New York to record their music and then go back into all over the world. And so I don't see Toronto as separated from the Caribbean.

Dev Ramsawakh:

The more that I try to grasp my own history, the more that I keep learning how entwined it is with the histories of others, like the black and indigenous counterparts to the various communities that I'm a part of. When this land was colonized and settled by Europeans, they did more than occupy it. They planted every system and institution with seeds of the narratives that colonialism is fueled by like cultural constructions of false binary such as primitive/civilized, right/wrong, man/woman, art/science, Black/White, human/thing, true/false. This is why Sins Invalid outline the principles of intersectionality and commitment to cross movement organizing as critical pillars that uphold disability justice.

We can't pretend that systems of oppression exist in isolation of each other and it, in fact, forces us to commit to the liberation of everyone if we want to claim to support any one movement, whether it be dismantling ableism, racism, anti-Blackness or colonialism as a whole. This only begins our journey together, but the weight of the threads I've woven into this tale are heavier than they might appear. I'm exhausted from being weighed down by them. Let me find a place to rest for a moment. We'll come back to pick up these threads another day.

That was part one of the six-part segment series, Grounding Conversations, Situating Ourselves. This segment was produced by Dev Ramsawakh for Radio LUMI as part of Luminato 2023. This segment included audio excerpts from interviews with Justin Many Fingers recorded in 2019 and originally released in 2020 as part of The Cripresentation Podcast made in production with Xtra Magazine and Ryan Persadie, recorded in 2021 and rereleased in 2023 as part of the remastered podcast Jumbie: Colonized Monsters. Links to these podcasts and other resources for those interested in expanding their own research into these topics will be available in the show notes for the podcast as well as through the Access Hub, which is available on the Luminato website. That's luminatofestival.com.

The music used in this segment is by G.R. Gritt. Sound Effects were either from freesound.org or fully produced by Dev Ramsawakh. But don't turn us off yet. We've got lots more conversations between our hosts and describers coming up on Radio LUMI.

Theodore Walker Robinson:

My name is Theodore Walker Robinson. I go by they/them pronouns. You may recognize me or recognize this voice as having gone by another name in the previous season of Radio LUMI. I'm so excited to be speaking with you today and talking a little bit more about what's in store for Luminato Toronto 2023. There's such a wonderful lineup ahead, and in this podcast episode, we'll be talking about the topic of home, coming home, the meaning of home here in Toronto to Tkaronto, Turtle Island, Canada. What does that even mean for such a globally diverse, such a concentrated area, geographic location of people who are coming from intersectional histories and stories?

We'll take a look at the art of storytelling as explored by the artist Jordan Bennett, who has been commissioned by the Luminato Festival 2023 in order to create a work called Echoes Calling Back. There are a few things worth noting in our discussion later on today. We'll talk about what contemporary artists in Toronto are saying about the creation of arts, about intersectional justice and the meaning of art creation in these post-COVID times as we are becoming more eco-conscious, more community conscious, more conscious of disability and how our struggles are wrapped up in one another.

As we ground our conversation, we're looking at the cross movement organizing in the justice movement, movements of transformational justice. One struggle is the struggle of the other. Intersectional justice is a team effort rather than what some of us activists like to call an oppression Olympic effort. And I find myself here as a host on Radio LUMI and as a Black blind, hard of hearing, now identifying publicly as a transgender artist and broadcaster, I see the value of inter-dialogue because our liberation is wrapped up in one another's liberation. Creating a future that we can all call home involves us sharing our experiences and being vulnerable enough to collaborate through our experience for a creative future.

I think the public art commissioned by Luminato this year, by Jordan Bennett, calls us back to earth consciousness, calls us back to body consciousness, back to community consciousness and we'll talk a little bit more about that later. The art of storytelling, it's so apparent in the work of Jordan Bennett. The social power of art is embedded in the practice of Jordan Bennett himself as he explores the context of colonialism across Turtle Island and what that means in terms of relics of history on Turtle Island and how we interpret relics of history across Turtle Island. We also explore the social or I would say ego social power of Jordan Bennett's art. We've been living in a culture of art that has been valuing White non-disabled bodies and the subjugation and ownership and economy of land and people.

That's why this art, the work of Jordan Bennett, the work of queer artists and disabled artists especially feels so provocative, feels so new and feels so fresh even though it's really not. We've always been here. We've always been creating art and generating innovation, but only now are our voices becoming included in the conversation and being included in the construction of what the future of home will be for us. Commissioned by the Luminato Festival Toronto and curated and produced by MASSIVart, Echoes Calling Back by Jordan Bennett, it explores the concept of how public art has the power to transform communities, reflecting back to us the importance of place, the importance of history and our shared values, but also to surprise and delight passersby, reminding us to pause, we hope, as Luminato copy says, "To pause and smile, something to reflect on as we're going into this season of Luminato 2023."

This particular work of art is really calling us back into a moment of mindfulness, to become embodied, to become still, to put down the smartphones, to become aware and conscious of where we are in time and space and to fully be where we are in that moment and to fully do what we are doing. The practice of public art has such a wonderful way of calling us to that presence, that stillness, that way of grabbing our attention, the way of putting a stick in the wheel of that vicious cycle of us falling into the doomscrolling of modern life, of digitized life, of extra monetized life.

Public art and art in general has that ability to break that cycle of systematic function and forces us to stop and look and think and be curious and to interrogate, "What is actually in cycle in front of us? What is playing out in front of us? Do we want to participate in it? Is that a future we want to create for ourselves and for one another?" Public art challenges us to break that vicious cycle, to be mindful in that moment and I wanted to use that analogy, that Buddhist mindfulness, spiritualist ideology of putting that stick into the wheel. It's also an indigenous ideology of breaking that cycle of unawareness of what we're creating.

And public art has that almost sacred power of breaking the cycle, putting the stick in the wheel of the system, of our social constructions, of our societal norms, of our constructions of beauty and ability and what's normative. At first, this curated piece of work was described as buoyant and imposing. Echoes Calling Back by Jordan Bennett will transform pedestrian's experience of a familiar and well-trodden urban site. The piece may serve as a meeting place, a shelter, a source of joy or a symbol of our region's living history. Taking a look at our well-trodden urban sites, our common geography, those typical spaces that we may usually walk over on our way to work or on our way to dropping the kids off to school.

This piece of work calls us to engage with our urban geography and calls us to plant ourselves, to ground ourselves back into the places that our current culture has caused us to overlook and overstep. And that is our nature, that is the wilderness, that is the earth consciousness, awareness of the ground beneath us, our landscape around us, our natural sites within and embedded within our urban sites. Our typical digital culture has us so immersed within our devices, within our digital and virtual meetings, holding space in virtual places, and we tend to lose sight and lose touch and lose that awareness and consciousness of the earth around us, the geographies around us that serve as living and breathing natural resources around us in our cityscape and we tend to not be aware of those things because of our digital culture.

And the work of Jordan Bennett is transforming the urban landscape and it is going to be creating and prompting a space for us to communicate or to connect on the topic of community, the topic of uniting in a common shared space within an urban landscape. The site will be a meeting place, a shelter, a source of joy. It's an opportunity for people to be consciously engaged with one another rather than with self as they may be when focused on their devices and on the busy hustle of day-to-day life and capitalist culture.

This piece will really promote a sense of calling us back to community and away from self, away from that hustle for self and back to that presence within community and that shared collective communal experience. And the festival marketing team also describes this piece, this work by Jordan Bennett as bringing us back to land, right? So grounding us once again, bringing us back to earth, back to wilderness, wildness, our nature, our rhythms with earth rather than our rhythms with the fabrications of our society, exploring the ancient relics of North American megafauna and using Bennett's signature graphic style. Evocative of porcupine quill work found in Mi'kmaq visual culture.

This whimsical work imagines a playful remnant of a creature from a distant past and will remind us that what we call home was once wilderness. There it is again, that concept of grounding us back in earth, taking us away from that capitalist, overly digitized culture that we're so immersed in with our devices and our virtual meetings and holding virtual space, which has its use in so many ways. Don't get me wrong. It has opened up access opportunities in so many ways, but it has also caused us to become so detached in capitalist ways to this whole discussion of bringing us back to land, bringing us back to earth, to wilderness is so similar. And it's funny, because within contemporary Black activist culture here in Tkaronto, there's very much a lot of discussion about inter-dialogue with indigenous communities and Afro-Indigenous communities and we believe strongly that indigenous liberation is very much wrapped up in Black liberation.

And within our communities a lot of times, we talk about a concept of Sankofa, which is a symbol. It's usually represented by a symbol of a bird turning back upon itself and picking up an egg, like an earth symbol, an animal symbol, a wild symbol, reminding us to look back into our past and remind us of what exactly has made us who we are today and to remind us of who we are. I see how Jordan Bennett's work is really prompting us to turn back and look at what has created us to look and be as we are today, those relics that we have created in our societies as strongholds of true art and culture. Now we're challenging them, now we're really questioning what standards of beauty are they really upholding, what systems are being perpetuated and excluding and who is being excluded as a result of these systems that have been perpetuated.

And Jordan Bennett's work is really, again, stopping us and forcing us to think just as public art does and forces us to do is to stop and think, break the cycle and really examine where we are in the moment and then prompts us to create a future, a culture, something that we've never seen before. And in his work, in activating an urban space, he's really showing that future that is so possible. In the work of Black Lives Matter activist, Syrus Marcus Ware, he is always speaking about the futures that we want to create. Activist Ravyn Wingz is also talking about the futures, the possibilities that we want to live into.

These are the futures that we want to live into and Jordan Bennett is showing futures that we could potentially live into where there is solidarity and joy and rest and ease and equality and inclusivity and community rather than aggressive singular capitalism where one person needs to be dominant and on top and other future constructions or ways of constructing society or arranging society, organizing society, alternate ways of governance. These are just ways in which Bennett and even other artists, indigenous artists and Black artists and artists in general, those who create public art, can really contribute to common and contemporary discourse and cause us to pause and stop and think about where we are in this moment in time in history and think about what we're actually creating and what kind of future we're living into, prompting us to explore the ancient relics that we erect in front of us, in front of our universities and hospitals and museums and national galleries and other institutions that we revere so much and pause and think, "What is being upheld? What standards? Who is being excluded? How are resources being distributed? Who has access? Who doesn't? Who is being left out?"

The work of Bennett and other artists like him is really causing us to ask these questions, brings us back to the land, brings us back to the earth. And as soon as we start asking questions about the land and about the earth and about the people and about people who are being excluded or included, then we start to get to some authentic questions about the history that is behind us and the future that we want to create before us. And we can come to a realization that all of these constructions of beauty in the present moment are really just constructions. They're just fabrications. They're not real. They're just brought to us. They're foreign. They're ideas that have colonized our minds just as Eurocentric standards of beauty, for example, or Eurocentric standards of art have colonized our ways of critiquing art or even having discourse about contemporary art and what is considered art.

In the same way, concepts of ability, constructions of beauty and access are completely challenged by the concept of wilderness, of nature because disability and difference are actually completely natural. They are very, very natural. It's worth noting as we reflect on the Toronto art community and its contemporary movement to become more earth and socially conscious as previously spoken about. Social change through public art is something that I live for in my own public art practice, in my own practice as an arts administrator, as an artist. We are now as a community being forced to rethink the values represented by public art and the institutions that fund them.

And we're shifting from public art being reserved for memorializing single individuals like university presidents and popes and CEOs, dead White men, for example, in history as joked about. In Western culture, it has been generally a White cisgendered able-bodied males who have been upheld as embodying a certain standard of perfection or have been given the access to power, to defining and to access the language of defining who those resources are given too. Futurism in general asks us to look beyond where we are in the present moment, to look into where we want to be, to live into what we aspire to be, not just individually, but collectively, the future that we want to create for ourselves, the Toronto contemporary art world. And I specifically think about the work of Syrus Marcus Ware in the futures in which we want to live into and this is very much what inspires the work that he does as a scholar, "What kinds of futures are we creating and building?"

And also within the Black Lives Movement, this is what we talk about so often, "What future do we want to create for ourselves? What values do we want to uphold? Who do we want to include?" It includes all of us. We all want to be there in that future ahead of us. Let's talk about how we can all be there and we can all thrive and share resources amongst one another, so that we all are there and present in that future. This project is universal for us to thrive and this colonial project where only a certain few individuals thrive is no longer worth memorializing. It's no longer worth upholding and this is a critical moment post-COVID-19 where a virus caused the earth to stand still and now the virus of oppression, of gatekeeping, of holding individuals from their full potential.

And this moment in history, we're now being forced to see that really we're all here together in this experience of humanity and there's really enough here for all of us to survive and thrive if resources are opened and access is opened. The ability to agitate and initiate is definitely another talent of public art, another strength of public art. And we've seen it play out before us in the contemporary art scene and activist scene or shall I say artivist, if you blend the two words together, art and activism together here, especially in the past two years, activists and artists have been collaborating together and have united and made a very solid front to show that creation is activism. It is changemaking.

But over the past several years, many communities have been concerned over the destruction of many beloved colonial icons, over the destruction of certain statues of country founders, university founders and influencers. And a popular Black trans activist, Ravyn Wingz, was interviewed by a local news station about a founding father monument that was splashed in fuchsia pink paint, something of the like. A lot of stuff was going down during the pandemic and the Black Lives Movement times during the 2020 to 2023 days, so a lot's happened in terms of the activist movement.

And so Ravyn was commenting on some questions that were being thrown at her about the destruction of some beloved colonial icons during the Black Lives Movement, during the Indigenous Landback Movement, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Movement and still ongoing. And during the access and social justice movement and still ongoing and during the Black Lives Movement and still ongoing and during the Trans Lives Movement and still ongoing and all of these movements are still ongoing. And Ravyn is alluding to this fact that all of our injustices are so wrapped up in one another and we've been so burdened and so tasked with trying to get the attention of people in positions of power or people in positions to have conversations with activists and with community organizers to have an exchange, to have a dialogue.

And it's gotten to a point where people in positions of power are not listening. And it does take acts of activism, acts of public art, acts that put a stick in the wheel of the system, of the cycle to really get the attention of people in positions and certain positions, to be open and flexible, to open the gateways of access. And I want to leave you with the words of Black trans indigenous activist, Ravyn Wingz and she said, "Many times in different ways, we tried to get the attention of people in positions of leadership and it took us having to do these splash paints on a statue of a founding father to get you all to show up. We have been writing letters. We've been writing books, photography, performance art. We have been doing everything possible to let you know what we need and what we deserve. You don't even have to dream it up. We've done the work for you. It's ridiculous that we are still talking about monuments."

And here, this year in Luminato 2023 and in Jordan Bennett's work, we're talking about ancient relics, he's creating a new relic, a new memorialization of indigeneity of land, of earth, of nature. It's interesting that so many are still fighting for their dignity, for their liberation including indigenous communities, including disabled communities, including Black communities, so many more, 2SLGBTQ communities, trans communities, newcomers. So many people across Turtle Island are still on life and I'm pretty certain, for sure, that it's in the technology of disability, it's in the technology of abolition, it's in the technology of Black trans people, it's in the technology of indigenous two-spirit people, it's in the technology of radical love and intersectionality and in the technology of these people in leadership roles that leads to a future that allows us all to thrive, to survive.

And it's definitely not easy work. It's not glamor work for anyone who's an artist, anyone who's an activist, for sure, especially in public art. It's not glamor work writing the grant proposal. It's not glamor work doing the business side of things. It's not fame work. It takes a lot of being destabilized, being hypercriticized, hyper-surveilled, being followed. But as we do as artists, we create humanity, and as activists, as disability activists, we create humanity for everyone where everyone and everything is allowed to exist because everything does exist because we already do.

White supremacy, ability supremacy, whatever that is, creates an ideal, both of them, they create an ideal of a society together and they use the state to enforce it. And this is what we're fighting against. And it's funny, Ravyn Wingz, she said, "You're lucky that we just did art." Ravyn Wingz said, "You're lucky that so many indigenous activists, artists, artivists just create art. You're lucky we don't want revenge. You're lucky that we're just appealing to your humanity as artists. You're lucky that we're not asking for vengeance because that's easy. That's so easy. That's not creative. That's easy." We're artists, we're activists, we're creative, we don't choose violence. We decide instead to choose love, to choose pausing and taking a moment and coming to stillness and coming to silence and using our breath to feel into our bodies and to feel into our futures.

Our work as artists, even in public art is creative. It is a creative form of protests and education. It calls community indigenous, Black, Afro-Indigenous, people of color, White community, everyone to a future of liberation that is defined as collective freedom, where there's safety, where there's sovereignty rooted in love and care and consent. And it seems like, as artists, we together as a community paint pictures of liberation that looks different from what has been classified as high art, as true art in our contemporary culture. We bend the lens. We flip the script. We use new language. We clear things. We create societies that are barrier-free, maybe even prison-free, police-free.

And I know Ravyn Wingz said once, "Collective freedom, safety and sovereignty rooted in love and care, that's what liberation looks like." And liberation for everyone looks like societies committed to shared resources where everyone has what they need in radical reciprocity with the land. And I see Jordan Bennett doing the exact same thing, prompting us to live in reciprocity with the urban landscape around us, with the community around us. It's necessary to have a radical commitment to move through our historic conflict in a way that centers humanity, diversity and love and care.

And the answers to all of the questions wrapped up in all of those challenges in our humanity, in our needs rubbing up against one another as we live in community with one another, it goes to show that no liberation is possible without all people participating and crafting the future present. I think it takes courage and a willingness to grow and evolve and that's a courage and a willingness that artists and activists have to take. And as disabled artists, as disability activists, it's a courage that we've almost been living with all our lives, just showing up as we are different in our bodies, as we are in our true nature, as we are looking as we do with our curved spines, with our uneven eyelids and our gaits that are uneven and our skipping and our rolling and our caning around and everything that makes us so different, everything that makes us who we are and unique as disabled individuals. That's why we're here to prompt this community to live into a future where everyone has the ability to thrive, where everyone can feel at home within their own bodies.

Thank you for listening to Radio LUMI, the Luminato Festival for your ears, where my colleague hosts Ramya, Christine, JJ, Rebecca, producer team, Dev, Cathy and myself, Theo, are working hard to bring you the best of Luminato 2023 in every accessible way. Have you heard that our access concierge service is open for this year? How luck say to book the accessible experience of your dreams at Luminato Festival Toronto 2023, or for just more info on what's available at our Access Hub, call (437) 776-1569.

Emily Maxwell:
Thank you for listening to Radio LUMI. Blind/low vision patrons can book a guided tour of Echoes Calling Back on June 10 by emailing me, Emily Maxwell, at emaxwell@luminato.com or calling (437) 776-1569.