The Mainstreaming of Dissent: Women Artists of Colour and Canadian Arts Institutions. (Research Articles/Rapports De Recherche)

By Sethi, Meera | Resources for Feminist Research, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Mainstreaming of Dissent: Women Artists of Colour and Canadian Arts Institutions. (Research Articles/Rapports De Recherche)


Sethi, Meera, Resources for Feminist Research


In this paper, I develop a theoretical framework that addresses key debates relevant to women artists of colour in Canada. I explore the relationship between established Canadian art institutions and women artists of colour and the corresponding ideological formations that give meaning to their art. In doing this, I note positioning of women artists of colour in Canada in relation to institutional exclusion, naming practices, multiculturalism and representational politics, government funding and survey exhibitions. I consider the relationship of women artists of colour to discourses of "Canadian" art and nation as constructed through the lens of multiculturalism.

Dans cet article, je developpe une structure theorique qui s'adresse aux debats principaux touchant aux femmes de couleur au Canada. Je sonde le rapport entre les institutions artistiques canadiennes et les artistes femmes de couleur en tenant compte des constitutions ideologiques porteuses de signification vis-a-vis de leur creation. Ainsi faisant, je note la situation des femmes artistes de couleur au Canada par rapport 'exclusion institutionnelle, les pratiques nominatives, le multiculturalisme et les politiques representationnelles, les subventions gouvernementales et expographies. Selon moi, le rapport entre temmes artistes de couleur et les discours touchant a l'art et a la nation [much less than] canadienne [much greater than], est construite en fonction de I'ideologie du multiculturalisme.

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[C]hanging the broader social aspects of an oppressive culture and its dehumanizing effect requires a deliberate collective effort that must essentially be politically creative and creatively political. (Joseph, 1997, p. 48)

Cliff Joseph, in the quote above, explicitly links creative expression to political action, employing it in the vision of a better future. To be "politically creative and creatively political" is a phrase that effectively captures the underlying imperative in the work of many cultural producers of colour who, through engaging with their individual and collective histories, are contributing to a collective effort to imagine a better future. Women artists of colour, (1) too, are playing their part. Through their artistic practices, they articulate the necessity to envision collective social change through a creative politic. The visual art of diasporic women of colour resonates with the urgent desire felt by many diasporic (2) people of colour to explore pasts, challenge presents, and imagine improved futures. Many issues, such as those of gender, race, nation, class, identity, community, activism, globalization, ethnicity, partition, migration, memory, diaspora and sexuality extend from the production and prac tice of women artists of colour. The contributions they make through their art and other related activities are valuable assets to the many communities, artistic and otherwise, that are the receptors of their work. These artists are contributing to the growth of a transnational community of women artists of colour and their activist, academic, and cultural allies. This transnational community has been described by Ella Shohat as "multicultural feminist" (Shohat, 1998).

However, despite a long history of practising women artists of colour in Canada, their artistic production, while socially, politically, culturally and historically important, is still vastly undertheorized and underrepresented. Speaking of a British context, Pratibha Parmar says: "The creative upsurge in black women and women of colour's cultural production has not been given the spotlight it deserves. Women of colour have been organizing and creating communities which have inspired a new sense of collective identity, and it is only through our own efforts that we have ensured against our erasure as artists and cultural producers" (Parmar, 1993, p. 3). Parmar's point is just as valid in Canada. Similarly, karen/miranda augustine, editor of the now defunct At the Crossroads, a Black women's art magazine published in Toronto, has said that, "The documentation of Black Canadian women's artwork is virtually nonexistent. …

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