Last night, before going to bed, I cried again. My tears bore the pain of a dagger stuck far too deep into a wound, a gash that some would try to downplay, superficially and patronizingly telling me that “it’ll be fine.”
Like many of us, I was appalled by the horrifying images of the murder of George Floyd, an African American man, in Minneapolis this summer. I felt this unbearable event on a visceral level, in every cavity and cell of my body. The weight of Derek Chauvin’s knee on my own neck snuffing out my life, suffocating me and relegating me to silence for months on end. I had insomnia, finding myself unable to handle the dread and angst those images stirred in me, and from there, I was plunged mercilessly into the abyss. As I fell into the void, I was surprised when I turned up on the streets of Montréal, for the first time able to feel my very soul breathing.
Taking deep breaths, contracting my diaphragm deliberately, I intentionally hold my breath for a brief moment on the intake so that I can feel alive. I hold that intake for a second that feels like forever, but I hesitate to exhale: was I allowed to let the air in my lungs escape? I realized at this exact moment that breathing is, for me, a political act.
Many of us were affected by the murder of Breonna Taylor, an African American woman in Louisville, but very few of us reacted at all to the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto (1). It is too easy to use “the situation in the United States as a decoy,” (2) i.e. as a way to avoid facing our own local realities. In our own country, Bony Jean-Pierre (3), Pierre Coriolan (4), and Nicholas Gibbs (5) were all killed before our very eyes, “demonstrating how we experience a world in which subaltern humanity are not worthy of the same reactions, whether indignation or activism, when their physical or moral integrity are under threat,” as Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr writes. Ours is a world in which the subaltern (6) cannot “enjoy the fullness of their human potentialities.” (7)
What, then, can be done? Must we constantly remind people that our lives matter?
Inspired by Canadian journalist and activist Desmond Cole – “Never have I been more grateful for flowers […] for water, for the sun to dry my feet on the other side […] for loving friendship, for life” (8) – I decided to take a deep breath, step away from the chaos, and reconvene with nature so that I could feel a sense of belonging to a whole – to fully live in the world, at last.
—Diane Gistal, Curator
Diane Gistal is a researcher, independent curator and founder of Nigra luventa. A graduate in History from Université Paris VIII, she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Literature at Université du Québec à Montréal. Her research interests focus on the “lieu de mémoire” in Haitian literature, and her curatorial approach is characterized by the creation of dialogue between visual arts, literature and humanities. Subalternes (CDEx, 2019) and je sais pourquoi l’oiseau chante en cage (Fonderie Darling, Centre culturel Georges-Vanier and CDEx, 2020) are among her most recent curatorial projects.
Marie-Danielle Duval is a visual artist based in Montréal. Her praxis melds her industrial design background (Université de Montréal) with visual and media arts (UQAM). She has also studied new business development (HEC). Her practice employs photography and graphic design while including elements of drawing and painting. Duval’s work has been shown in various artist-run centres throughout Québec.
Born in Cameroon in 1986, Siaka S. Traoré is an artist hailing from Burkina Faso. With a degree in civil engineering, Traoré started as a self-taught photographer in 2012. He draws inspiration from dance, capoeira, and the urban environment in his artistic practice. Traoré’s work critiques notions of identity, the human, our surroundings, and the body in movement, testing our capacities as people and as viewers. His first exhibition, the acclaimed Sunustreet series, was included in the 2014 Dakar Biennale (Dak’Art) and his career took off from there. He was awarded the 2016 “Prix Orange de l’artiste numérique AKAA” (a prize for digital creators at Parisian art fair Also Known as Africa) for his work entitled Dans… e.
Moridja Kitenge Banza (b. 1980, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo) is a Canadian artist of Congolese heritage. He holds degrees from the École des Beaux-arts de Kinshasa (1999) and the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Nantes Métropole (France, 2008). His multidisciplinary practice includes painting, photography, video, drawing, and installation. He won first prize at the Dakar Bienniale (Dak’Art) in 2010 for his video Hymne à nous and for his installation De 1848 à nos jours. His work has been exhibited at the Musée Duaphinois (France), the Museum of Contemporary Art Roskilde (Denmark), the Arndt Gallery and the New Society for Visual Arts (Germany), the Galerie de la Fondation Attijariwafa Bank (Morocco), the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (South Africa) and at the Galerie Joyce Yahouda in Montréal.
Marie-Laure S. Louis is a Mauritian visual artist. Born and raised in the Republic of Mauritius, she began her post-secondary studies in France. She is currently working on her PhD in fine arts research and studio practice at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Her research and oeuvre overlap in examining individual freedom in order to unpack notions of identity, authenticity, borders, and futurity. She has participated in major residencies and conferences in North America and France. Her work has been exhibited in Québec and France.