Following from the last writing I shared here, the weeks since have been difficult for many people I care about, as well as for people I don’t know personally. The possibility of making restitution towards these circumstances begins with acknowledging the effects of my actions on other people. By recognizing some of those impacts here, this text is an initial step invested in taking responsibility, in building relationships of accountability and in moving towards the possibility of repair.


As someone who was raised believing I had mixed settler and Indigenous ancestry, I was recently called to investigate my identity in more detail and discovered that the family history that I was raised with does not match up with historical records. In response, I changed my self-identification to settler.

Growing up, I didn’t question who I was told I was. And yet, as an adult, I should have been more curious about my bloodlines, my ancestors—especially given that my self-identification allowed me to access resources and opportunities I would not have otherwise been offered. By neglecting to investigate this family history sooner or to consult Indigenous community and kinship networks about my family’s status, I have broken trust with peers, friends and collaborators. These repercussions extend beyond my personal relationships and outward into communities, causing feelings of hurt and anger. For this, I am deeply sorry.

My failure to understand the importance of substantiating what I believed my identity to be raises questions about my complicity with the structures of settler colonialism and white supremacy culture—urgent questions that I am committed to addressing both privately and publicly. 

In working to take responsibility, these are some initial actions I’ve begun working on and am committed to:

  • Pursuing dialogue and accountability with Indigenous people I have collaborated with;
  • Making amends for the grant monies I received that were directed to Indigenous curators by contacting the arts councils about the possibility of repayment and, failing that, making equivalent donations, over time, to Indigenous-led organizations that support Indigenous futurity;
  • Seeking the professional advice of a transformative justice facilitator in making plans for further accountability and meaningful restitution.

Through these actions, I am working to understand the implications of my changed self-identification. I am hoping to build a framework of accountability that is articulated through relationships and that is committed to transformative forms of justice, while also recognizing that not all harms can be repaired.

This is the beginning of a long-term process and I know there is more to be done than what is mentioned here. As these processes move forward, I will continue to share publicly in this space.


The Histories We Carry

This post has been substantially revised on 10 March 2021. As part of the questioning and learning that I am engaging in here, the original post can be downloaded here.

On 19 April 2021, I wrote further about my responsibilities to the information shared here. That post can be read here.

Social and political discourses are always evolving, and in Canada these discussions need to have Indigenous self-determination and the dismantling of settler colonialism at their core. Rising up from a long history of Indigenous identity being adjudicated by the settler state, recent conversations around indigeneity have called for greater accountability on how Indigenous people fit into Indigenous communities, recognizing also that Indigenous identity is impacted by historical and ongoing processes of colonization.

In my bio, I previously identified as having mixed settler and Indigenous ancestry, which reflected an understanding of myself that I grew up with. The earlier version of this post shared my thinking around choosing that language. However, when recently reviewing historical census data, I have not been able to find corroborating documentation for my family’s claims to Indigenous ancestry. This is a space of confusion for me as it pits family histories against government records, and I am unsure how to hold these different sources in relation to each other. So, although census data is not a full understanding of who a person is or who a family are, this information does challenge who I have understood myself to be. This specific research, which is ongoing, followed the publishing of the original blog post shared here, and I am now trying to parse how inherited family histories are challenged by historical records.

The personal work of trying to repair family relationships, which I have been preoccupied with, is different in kind from the work of being part of a collective social body, and I should have also been working to establish ties to specific Indigenous communities to whom my family might have been connected before claiming a mixed settler and Indigenous identity. (And yet, I recognize that rebuilding these relations is not possible for every person who has been disconnected from their families of origin and their communities, and I want to hold a space for these people and the legitimacy of their experiences.) I apologize for relying solely on what has been presented as family knowledge in building my identity; this alone is not a fulsome marker of indigeneity because it neglects the kinship structures of Indigenous communities and it elides their agency in deciding membership on their own terms.

Conversations about Indigenous identity being tied to being claimed by Indigenous communities are important because they emphasize the self-determination of Indigenous nations, acting as a corrective to the many ways that settler-colonial governments have tried to adjudicate Indigenous identity out of existence. Having had only my mother to claim me does not make a community. In response to these concerns and as I work to better understand the information I have found in historical records, I am no longer identifying as having mixed Indigenous ancestry and I’ve removed the associated line in my bio.

Through my work, I have tried to understand the structural forces that have come to make the settler colonial nation state called Canada, which is my home, and how those same forces have come to shape my family too. This is ever more important for me given the new knowledges I have about what historical records suggests about my family. In the work that I have done that has been explicitly aligned with my indigeneity, such as residencies supported by the Canada Council for Aboriginal curators or with the Wood Land School, I have been committed to working with artists to challenge structures of supremacist power and to critically interrogate the systems that allow settler colonialism to continue to unfold. However, I apologize for pursuing these professional opportunities without the attendant care that they deserved; I should have had a more fulsome understanding of who I am before participating in programs that were identity related. I recognize that this is a symptom of those same systems I am wanting to dismantle and I am invested in figuring out what kinds of repair are possible from here.

I remain committed to pushing the work of dismantling supremacies within an ongoing settler colonial project further and making this work more precise. In part, this means figuring out how to work in a way that doesn’t detract from the urgent labour of Indigenous self-determination, and to figure out how I might use the privileges I am afforded in service of these decolonized futures.


My revised bio can be found here.


…And Other Such Stories

Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 1.24.23 PM

As the 2019 edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial enters its final days of programming, I am reflecting on a conversation I had with biennial co-curator Sepake Angiama and cultural worker Vincent Tao that was published in the accompanying catalogue. Entitled “Unceded Territory: Historicizing Vancouver,” we collectively considered what it means to call a place home when that naming of a place is built upon historical and continued dispossessions. This condition is true for Vancouver as it is true for Chicago. The narratives of each city divert in their specificities, but many structural elements remain common, that commonality foremost an ongoing settler colonial project that frames land and life as resources to be voraciously consumed. As the year turns, as the decade too, I consider Vince’s observation in our conversation that “histories are destroyed through the process of gentrification and development … these narratives are hidden beneath the monumental, in the spaces we call the everyday, the vernacular.” I also consider the biennial’s banner of ...And Other Such Stories. And I wonder what is possible when stories are returned to, recovered, shared anew, what kinds of listening would be needed for what has been buried to resound, and I look forward to coming days, to a kind of modest relation that I can labour with, one that might account for what has come and prepare for what is coming.


Rerouting History


This summer, I spent a very hot afternoon with some of the smartest people I know, thinking about inheritance and what obligations we must try to observe in carrying histories forward, however aligned or maladapted they may be to who we understand ourselves and others to be.

Convened by Deanna Bowen, I sat with John Hampton, Peter Morin, Lisa Myers and Archer Pechawis on a stage at the University of Toronto. On the occasion of the Hart House’s Centennial, Deanna was invited by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto to examine the foundations of racialized cultural identity in Canada, and as our point of departure we took The God of Gods (1919). Written by Carroll Aikens, this play uses the architecture of a tragic love story to describe the horrors of war, but in a way that inscribes an all-to-familiar racial violence: in all of its performances, in Canada and abroad, white actors in red face were centre stage, a formal echo of the play’s derogatory ideas about Indigenous people and cultures. Deanna has taken our conversation from that day and articulated it as a new video work that will be part of her upcoming exhibition at the Art Museum entitled God of Gods: A Canadian Play.

As described in the press release:

The play is steeped in primitivism, a manufactured construct that positioned Indigenous cultures as naïve precursors to European civilization. In the past, The God of Gods has been presented as an example of seminal Canadian theatre, and it continues to be celebrated as an important play in Canadian history. Bowen’s project visualizes the social and political networks that, in the early twentieth century, came to shape long-lasting and deeply entrenched ideas of Canadian culture.

It is too easy to single out the play as abhorrent and aberrant from our contemporary perspective. More useful, and as Deanna’s exhibition will work to reveal, is the way that these logics were and are prevalent throughout our Canadian cultural institutions and social formations. In this sense, one of our obligations to history is having the clarity and bravery to chart the ways that racism is a foundational component to the long arm of history, from then to now, so that it might be possible to root social and interpersonal relations in new kinds of logic, kinds that don’t confuse surface with substance. Critical conversations about what we understand as Canadian culture is one way to begin.

I look forward to seeing the final video work as part of the exhibition. Knowing Deanna’s practice, I am sure that the archival and contemporary materials she will draw together will provide insight into the writings of histories, and how this work is continually maintained or unsettled in the present. And as the exhibition encounters it publics, I look forward to continuing to interrogate how aesthetic forms are complicit in—or can resist—the ways that social and political power in Canada dispossess Indigenous individuals and communities.

God of Gods: A Canadian Play will be on view at Art Museum at the University of Toronto from 04 September – 30 November 2019.



What Comes Next

It was an honour to be part of this year’s BMO 1st Art! jury alongside my peers Marie-Eve Beaupré (Curator, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal), Sarah Robayo Sheridan, (Curator, Art Museum at the University of Toronto) and Adriana Kuiper (Artist and Associate Professor, Mount Allison University). This collection of prizes celebrates the work of students who have recently completed undergraduate-level art and design programs across Canada. Nominated by their professors, these are artists who push at how art is going to be understood in the future, and how we, as viewers, will understand what it can do to us.

This year’s winners were recently announced. Check them out here.

Looking through their works again, I can’t help but feel so hopeful for how they will contribute to transformations of art making and theoretical discourses, in Canada and beyond, as their practices continue to develop. Congratulations Luther Konadu, Preston Pavlis, Cheyenne Rain LeGrande, Marie-France Hollier, Clara Patterson, Emily Hayes, Séamus Gallagher, Kaleigh Rose Tagak, Christopher Dela Cruz, Hanna Matheson, Charline Dally, Jimuel Belarmino and Robyn McLeod!

You will have an opportunity to see their works as part of an exhibition at MOCA Toronto this fall, 21 November – 16 December 2019. Come and feel an indication of what comes next…



Countervailing at the Margins

I was thrilled to read Kiran Sunar’s recent article “Countervailing at the Margins: Acts of Refusal in Simranpreet Anand’s ਮੈਂ ਇੱਥੇ ਹਾਂ (i am here)” in the latest issue of Rungh (volume 6 number 2). Reflecting on a performance work by Simranpreet Anand that was presented as part of FUSE: A Conjuring at the Vancouver Art Gallery in November 2017, Sunar beautifully describes the material and conceptual conditions of Anand’s project, reading it in dialogue with the gallery’s concurrent exhibition program (specifically Portrait of the Artist: An Exhibition from the Royal Collection) and as an act of resistance to it.

Critique has become subsumed within gallery procedures, enveloped alongside the retention of more highly patronized canonical collections. Galleries hire educators to re-educate against their own spaces, re-instating centres of imperialism while re-engaging margins of otherness. These, while fraught, provide spaces for voice and an alternate call and response. Invited curatorial counter-script is becoming an increasing phenomenon as institutional galleries realize that their approach to what constitutes art and the artist (one that maintains whiteness, men, and empire at its core) has to be examined. The curatorial re-scripting is necessary and adds value.

The question becomes: is this enough?

The situation that Sunar describes, of education departments re-educating against their institutions is obviously not ideal—art institutions would do well to have this re-education be systemic rather than piecemeal—but in the meantime, work will be done. Anand’s performance is a generous and transformative kind of engagement, one that acknowledges conditions as they are and then provides an alternative to them. It is important to note that education departments and curatorial counterscript cannot unsettle the conditions of the entrenched power of the art world without artists to work in concert with.

Or, in response to Sunar’s question, the presentation of project’s like Anand’s in spaces like the Vancouver Art Gallery is not enough. But, in amplifying work like Anand’s through reviews like Sunar’s, agency roots.


Some Ways of Art’s Working

Writing for the Toronto Star, Chris Hampton has crafted an attentive survey some of the works in Nep Sidhu’s Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) exhibition. What interests me about Sidhu’s practice in general, and what is exemplified in this new body of work, is the concern he has for exploring the many processes at play in building a relationship to the past, and how this kind of inheritance is reshaped by the practices of life as it continues to unfold. Hampton picks up on this same thread:

Across media — be it metalwork, sculpture, jewelry design, rug-making or the couture sported onstage and off by artists, futurists and mystics like Shabazz Palaces and Erykah Badu — Sidhu is intensely committed to craft. The 40-year-old practitioner is a student of its histories and techniques. It is his vehicle for time travel, bridging various ancestries to the future imaginary.

I believe that Sidhu’s work encourages a specific, embodied understanding of the history he invokes, showing history as an unsettled thing, both for himself and others. In pointing to the need to continue the telling of what has shaped us, perhaps it is that these stories may shape others and, in turn, be reshaped themselves.

Hampton’s article can be found here.


Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded)


I can’t tell you how excited I am for the opening of Nep Sidhu’s Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded), a solo show featuring mostly new works that I have had the privilege of curating. This thing is a true labour of love!

Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) focuses on Sidhu’s politicized use of textiles to conjure coalition beyond the structures that currently shape civic society, taking the 1984 massacre of Sikh people in India as its foundation. Known as Operation Blue Star, this military event resulted in the death of thousands of Sikh people—a religious minority in India—as well as the deaths of many others. Orchestrated by the Indian government to counter militant activist movements that sought to address the impoverished economic, social and political conditions of life for Sikh people in India, the raid unfolded at the Harmandir Sahib, a Sikh holy site.

Sidhu’s exhibition departs from this recent history to assert the resilience of Sikh people, both as a testament to their faith and as a response to inhumane political brutalities. Commemorating the spiritual role of tending to life in common, he has created a new body of work that includes a major tapestry, Medicine for a Nightmare (2019), that continues his When My Drums Come Knocking They Watch series. By examining to the cultural role that percussion plays across cultures as a symbol of inheritance and becoming, Sidhu conjures a beat that carries ancestral connections forward in time. The exhibition also includes a new sculptural work, Formed in the Divine, Divine of Form (2019), that is charged with exemplifying the practices of community responsibility that characterize Sikh temple kitchens and cultivate cooperation through the practice of seva (selfless service). As gestures of memorialization, Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) participates in a continuum of material and memorial practices that seek to redress the 1984 massacre and the engineered attempts at erasure of the Sikh communities that followed it.

Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) also features works produced in dialogue with artists Nicholas Galanin and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, frequent collaborators of Sidhu’s.

Join us at Mercer Union on Friday, 08 February 2019 at 19:00 and consider how it is that you build relationships to the past, and how history is reformed through the habits and practices of everyday life.


Entertaining Every Second


Tonight in Saskatoon, Entertaining Every Second opens at AKA Artist-Run Centre.  The solo show features the work of Life of a Craphead, which is the collaborative practice of Amy Lam and Jon McCurely, and it has been curated by Su-Ying Lee and myself. It’s an exhibition that looks critically at how racialization circulates through cultural production. In particular, the show labours to interrupt how determinations of aesthetic value can obscure the social repercussions of a work’s circulation in the world, especially when that work might perpetuate racist stereotypes. In this sense, Life of a Craphead are taking on the works of other artists. However, what makes this show especially powerful are the ways that Life of a Craphead direct that critical impulse back at themselves, interrogating their own intimate, familial and artistic inclinations. It will make you laugh (maybe) and it will make you cry (probably).

As part of the exhibition, Life of a Craphead have instigated a relationship between AKA and the dumpling house next door, Jin Jin Cuisine. Starting tonight, and persisting until either organization ceases to exist, AKA will collaborate with Jin Jin to cater their openings. AKA is located in the historical Chinatown neighbourhood of Saskatoon, a part of town that, like many Chinatowns across Canada, is undergoing a process of gentrification. In some small way, the hope is that this relationship can be mutually sustaining. Plus, the food is crazy delicious and AKA is lucky as hell to get to serve Jin Jin’s food, from now until eternity.

Join us tonight! The opening starts at 8PM, but perhaps you wanna check out Julie Oh’s artist talk next door at PAVED Arts first, which starts at at 7PM.


Best of 2018

I am thrilled that Rosemary Heather has included I continue to shape on her NOW Magazine list of best exhibitions in Toronto for 2018. It is a strange thing to make an exhibition but then not be able to live with it. That being said, it is good to know that the propositions of this show resonated for Heather, and hopefully for many other folks who had the chance to see it. Although the exhibition is now closed, I am still working through the propositions the artists made through their works, considering how to exploit moments of cultures in collision to tell the stories of history differently, to tell them through the concerns of recovery and reconfiguration. And so begins a list of goals for 2019!

Shout out also to Vulture who included I continue to shape on a list of exhibitions to check out in lieu of the insanity of Art Basel Miami Beach—if one were up for exchanging eternal summertime for a winter wonderland.