I’ve had the luck of seeing Krista Belle Stewart’s video installation Seraphine, Seraphine twice: first at the Esker Foundation in 2013 as part of the Fiction/Non-Fiction exhibition, and then again in 2015 at Mercer Union in a solo presentation of the piece. In the five years since I first experienced Stewart’s work, which is kind of biography of her mother, I have continually come back to it as a profound articulation of strength and resistance, and as an example of what effects art might produce through encounter.
This week, ArtsEverywhere has published “From Where do You Speak?: Locating the Possibility of Decolonization in Krista Belle Stewart’s Seraphine, Seraphine,” an essay I have spent many years writing that attempts a deep reading of the video work, both on its own terms and through the world we live in today, which is a post-TRC, post-Canada 150 country in the midst of a widespread social and political paradigm shift away from settler colonial plunder, or so I hope. As provoked by Stewart’s work, I wonder:
What if a decolonial, Indigenized Canada is made from the twinned imperatives of decolonization on the behalf of settlers and self-determination on behalf of Aboriginal peoples? While these processes are inextricably bound yet distinct from each other, their conjunction recognizes the fact that a decolonized future must start with the self-determination of Indigenous people: despite the fact that decolonization is the task of the colonizing settler, it is not settler-articulated. Decolonization demands a robust relationality between settler and Indigenous populations, and most important for the task at hand is the capacity of settlers to listen, to receive, to be deeply uncomfortable, to recognize themselves as estranged from the skewed history presented in textbooks, to feel alienated from a sense of righteous belonging and to cede powers and privileges that have been ill-gotten.
There is so much profound work to be done in regards to making some sort of decolonial future possible—cross-culturally, legally, spatially, aesthetically, and in regards to repatriating land and resources to Indigenous communities—and it is my sincere belief that cultural forms, such as this work by Stewart, are part of what will make these endeavours legible to the many people that now call this place home, settler and Indigenous alike.