This summer, recognizing a significant lack of diverse voices in Canadian arts media, we piloted a program to develop and uplift BIPOC voices in art criticism. If SummerWorks is to truly support BIPOC creators we must also ensure that critical voices are representative of the artistic work being critiqued. For 2020, we commissioned three emerging BIPOC critics to write a response to work in We Were, We Are, We Will Be and paired them with mentors in the field. SummerWorks has not put any parameters or limitations on the writers’ responses.
We Were, We Are, We Will Be – The Future through SummerWorks created an anthology of pieces to be consumed in a post-quarantined world. The series included three sections, The Past, The Present, and The Future, all of which took place over the span of a week. This project worked to incorporate various medias including in-person performance. Through these works We Were, We Are, We Will Be experimented with what performance and theatre could be within the new world restrictions. This project was able to gather an audience to partake in the experience of viewing, as well as in the creation of new art. Experiencing theatre in person after several months of solitude personally created another level of appreciation for the opportunity to share space with strangers.
The first piece in The Future section, Biidaabang Bimose- Walking at Dawn by Melody McKiver creates and utilizes a soundscape in order to draw its listener’s attention towards the land while they explore the trails in downtown Toronto. McKiver’s soundscape encourages reconnection between the listener and the space in which they stand. Allowing the audience member to explore the park trail at their own leisure, Biidaabang Bimose- Walking at Dawn’s intimate delivery enables a uniquely personal interpretation. No two audience members experience the exact same performance. The outcome of this piece for myself, was the reflection on the notion of development. Questioning the concept of man-made nature versus the appreciation of these highly processed and perfected parks versus the naturally occurring resources. What is actually an improvement? What is given up? And what is gained? Can this be balanced? I found this piece is unique in the sense that it is reliant on the world around the participant, meaning that it becomes less about the individual listener and more about the details of their surroundings. Biidaabang Bimose- Walking at Dawn draws focus to the ever expansion of society, especially in Toronto, and questions the need for constant expansion and construction without the acknowledgement of what stood there previously.
The second installment in the section, Can you trust me? By Esie Mensah, uses dance and her movements to expose the current gaps in humanity. Mensah uses her body to express the lack of trust within the world, stemming from the anti-racism movement along with living through the Covid-19 pandemic. Through audience participation and the opportunity for vulnerability, Mensah pushes her audience to discover that not all trust is lost. In a piece centered around questioning boundaries and trust, Can you trust me?, set up its own boundaries to be played with. Performing in a public park, Mensah creates the space for the unsuspecting audience to be drawn in. A physical divide is created between the stage area, the pre-registered ticket holders, and those who are passing by. Mensah dances on the boundaries of the audience’s comfort zone, forcing them to sit in the discomfort and calculate what they perceive the threat to be. Does the viewer’s tension come from the distrust of society caused by COVID-19? Or the fear of a confident Black woman? Mensah creates a stunning display of trust between performer and audience member through the use of a collaborative dance. Leading volunteers through an exchange of instinctual movements, Mensah reiterates that fear is based off prejudice rather than experience.
For the third and final installment of The Future trilogy, We Will Be: Rising as a Community, Eponine Lee created an interactive piece revolving around group games and self-reflection. Lee’s hope was to find ways to reconnect and build community during a pandemic which promotes isolation and distrust. Lee’s energetic enthusiasm created a welcoming environment which soothed and eased participants into the mindset of being open and honest with strangers. Respect, education, determination, people, collaboration, environment, the Arts, recreation, trust, and communication represent the core values of this piece. Through examining several objects, the participation in games such as Pictionary and Charades, and the task of conducting a self-reflection, Lee pushes her audience to acknowledge that everyone has a unique perspective on the world even while discussing or handling the same object. Lee brings the concept of understanding others, and places it onto tangible objects. Lee’s choice to perform We Will Be: Rising as a Community in an underpass park, creating new art in a reclaimed space surrounded by other people’s art, further pushes her goal of connecting with community and finding unity in the collaboration.
Now, more than ever, it is more important to discover ways to create new art. Specifically finding ways to create critical pieces that speak on social issues that have been present both pre and post the pandemic lifestyle. While We Were, We Are, We Will Be is work that is inspired and affected by the pandemic, it goes beyond being centred on it. The Future section of this anthology cycles through different elements which are integral to the human existence in the future. The aspects which stood out to me while viewing these pieces was the focus on the environment, Humanity, and core societal values. Our future relies on collaboration within the communities around us, just like these pieces all relied on those around them to function. From drawing a stranger’s attention, to the unintentional audience member, to the collaboration within an audience, We Were, We Are, We Will Be- The Future puts into practice that the future is collaborative despite the COVID-19 present which revolves around isolation.
Sid Malcolm- A Toronto and Niagara based artist, is a Dramatic Arts Major with concentrations in Performance and Production & Design with a Minor in Music.