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Provocations

Keep On Calling

To truly move towards liberation, BIPOC artists shouldn’t have to justify how their creative practice relates to their cultural background By Aria Evans
  • Photo by Kevin Jones

“I don’t believe in indifference. 

Racial violence and discrimination are unacceptable. 

Neutrality can’t exist when it comes to race.

If you aren’t engaging in anti-racist work, you are complicit.”

- Excerpt from “A Calling In” by Aria Evans, published on June 5, 2020

***

Just over a year ago, I wrote a column for The Dance Current called “A Calling In.” I wrote about the work that the dance industry has to do inside of systemic racism and solidarity after the news of George Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet surfaced (alongside so many others). As I reflect on the past trip around the sun, I am asking myself and, in turn, the dance community, “What has changed?”

The year 2020 is being labelled “a year of racial reckoning.” Taking these words into consideration, how is our community deepening our allyship and continuing to take steps towards equity and diversity?

The global reality is that Black and Brown folks are still being targeted by police, white supremacy is still dominating our news headlines, the pandemic is still disproportionately affecting people of colour, and reconciliation feels weighted. As we start to reopen our arts spaces, I am asking myself if I feel any safer and more supported walking into and onto the stages of the institutions and organizations that BIPOC communities have been calling on to reflect inward, ask hard questions and carve change.

On July 1, 2020, I held a gathering called By Us, For Us. I recently received the transcript and a collection of common themes that came forward in our loosely facilitated discussion where people of colour were invited to gather and begin creating a Calls For Change document related to what we need from predominantly white-led companies, organizations and institutions in our city (Tkaronto).

Revisiting this conversation a year later, the biggest thing that shows itself to me is how placing people of colour into monolithic experiences and coming with cultural expectations instead of curiosity and openness is causing BIPOC communities substantial harm. For example, expecting an artist with Indigenous ancestry to have powwow dance in their performance when that is not their practice or interest is a colonial idea that contributes to tokenism.

Placing people of colour into monolithic experiences and coming with cultural expectations instead of curiosity and openness is causing BIPOC communities substantial harm.

 

I don’t believe that our community intends to be tokenistic; I see our desire to celebrate our differences. But to truly do this, our creative processes, cultural dance forms, dance fusions, ancestral work, somatics, land-based practices, etc., must sit outside of an expectation to racialize (Indigenize/culturalize) what we share with audiences. I believe that it’s a part of presenters’ growing responsibility to minimize othering and demonstrate to their audiences that diversity can be recognizable in other ways than dance forms tied solely to cultural heritage. 

Representation must exist on a spectrum, and the expectations that our work will relate to our cultural background is erasing the potential interests, stories, experiments and experiences we bring as artists outside of this identity. Either we shouldn’t have to justify our work in this way or all artists of all cultural backgrounds should also have to explain how their heritage intertwines into what they are making. If representation can exist without BIPOC dancers having to justify how their creative practice relates to their cultural background, like how our white peers are afforded, we will be able to move towards true liberation.

I have been witnessing and developing relationships with presenters, companies, organizations and institutions that feel nurturing, reciprocal and full of optimism and allyship. Being part of the change, I see that inside of this labour exists a lot more unravelling to continue to focus our collective energy on. 

Reflection, acknowledgement, apology, change and repair all take resources. I understand that it’s part of decolonizing our relationship to time, but as we roll through 2021 and into 2022, how little urgency to see intentions put into action, to see accountability take form, can we tolerate as people of colour?

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