This refers to the notion of constantly being aware of your own self, in relation to how it shapes the way you think about the ‘other’.
It is paramount that you recognize how your knowledge has been (and continues to be) shaped by personal experiences and world views, and as a result, will affect how you view others and their practices.
In order to appropriately engage in the study of ‘others’ we must full understand our own subject-position in relation to those we seek to understand. That way, it becomes a privilege to undergo said study, and we can actually give people a voice, rather than restricting them with a limited perspective.
What is it to see?
According to English philosopher Alan Watts, “the source of all light is in the eye.” The eyes evoke light out of the universe, in the same way that ear drums evoke noise out of the air. Our response to existence comes from the relative position of individuals. Using this framework, the sun is only a light in reference to our eyes.
How do I see myself?
The most common way humans se ourselves is via the ego—the perceived centre of being. I believe in order to truly know yourself, you must look within, and surprisingly, the harder you look, you won’t be able to find it (your self/ego). It is at this moment you find out that it isn’t there… it isn’t separate. In reality, your mind is everything there is. In this regard, I believe your true self is completely intangible. The physical is only a temporary home or reference for the real self.
Here, I use painting as a means of seeing myself, mirroring and reflecting my idea of self. Both figures represent physical references to my being, with respect to traits I would normally attribute to myself, such as being an artist, as well as being an artwork made by the Creator. The action of making art alludes to the mental/creative ability bestowed by the Grand Creator upon my real self—which is depicted in the actual painting within the illustration.
This painting by Caravaggio references the Greek myth of Narcissus — a young boy who falls in love with his reflection so much so that he falls in an drowns. It serves as a tale on morality, cautioning the viewers to focus on what really matters. This is a particularly enthralling analogy, as artists can be often narcissistic in the sense that we constantly think about our work and legacy.
This was 1 of 3 works commissioned by British poet and patron Edward James from Magritte. The painting is actually a portrait of James himself. Despite the incorrect reflection of the figure in the mirror, the book on the mantle (by Edgar Allen Poe) does have a proper reflection. I find this duality particularly intriguing as it suggests an alternate way of seeing oneself in a rather cryptic manner.
This online exhibition showcases the mural executed by artist Alex Janvier on the dome oft he Haida Gwaii Salon in the Canadian Museum of History.
The mural rises seven stories above the salon and covers 418 square metres. Janvier, with the help of his son Dean, completed the work in just over three months.
Morning Star illustrates the history of the land we live in from the artist’s Dene Suline perspective and expresses hope of mutual respect. Douglas Cardinal is the architect of this stunning building.
How does the exhibition reveal/depict its subject?
In a literal sense, the position of the mural (being on the ceiling of a dome, similar to a skylight) suggests an aerial theme, hence the title Morning Star. On a more conceptual level, however, the piece depicts four distinct quadrants which represent various stages of the Indigenous community’s response to the advent of European influence. From a chronological viewpoint, I believe the quadrants progress in an anti-clockwise direction—from Yellow (Before the Arrival of Europeans); to Blue (Weakening of Indigenous Cultures); then Red (Struggle and Affirmation of Indigenous Beliefs and Practices); and finally, White (Healing and Reconciliation). The title of the exhibition and mural Morning Star speaks to a guide or a means of finding direction. Janvier states that his people used the morning star as a guide light in the early mornings of the winter hours to aid their navigation, and in a similar fashion, he views his painting as a guiding light to a better present and future. The historical transitions, as well as the symbolism utilized by Janvier speaks to his thesis of the land’s history and an ultimate hope for mutual respect.
What are the limitations/opportunities provided by this online medium of display?
I feel the only limitation in viewing this piece via an online medium is the inability to experience the mural within the intended space. There exists a level of physical immersion required to fully appreciate the grandeur of such a monumental mural.
Apart from that, I believe the online medium provided more pros than cons in terms of context. The ability to zoom in and out, as well as pan around the various sections of the piece is priceless. Although the mural is cleverly located above a helical staircase, it would be impossible to have an up-close view at the details. In terms of context, the online exhibition provides ample resources regarding the intents and process of the piece. This is evident in the videos where Janvier speaks about the various quadrants and his use of symbols, colour and form in order to communicate particular notions. Even if there was an exhibition guide/personnel present to explain these, it would lack the degree of authenticity present in the documentation of the actual artist.
How would such an exhibition "look" were I to be in physical proximity to it? And how would it compare with an ethnographic examination (words and pictures/film) of the same subject?
The exhibition would look completely awe-inspiring in person. I definitely would be enthralled by the scale of the piece and the atmosphere of the surroundings.
I believe an ethnographic examination of the same subject in Morning Star, would be similar to this online exhibition which consists of words, pictures and videos. This vast array of resources produces a degree of information akin to anthropological/ethnographic records. The supporting information proves to be extremely valuable in order to have a wholesome understanding of the exhibition, as they provide necessary contexts and backstories regarding the experiences of aboriginal cultures.
Cultural appropriation is a sensitive topic for an array of reasons.
It occurs when someone, usually a member of a dominant culture, takes on aspects of another culture that has been oppressed by that dominant group.
The byproduct for the appropriator is often some form of economic or cultural reward, such as money, admiration or artistic inspiration, while the appropriated culture gets mistreated for doing the exact same thing. This often leads to the exploitation, misrepresentation and/or erasure of cultures.
A common example is the appropriation of Black hairstyles by White people, but the focus here is in visual art.
What are my views on this debate?
This piece by Picasso was painted in the summer of 1907, shortly after his visit to Musée d’Ethnographie du Tocadéro (Trocadero Museum of Ethnology) where he was enthralled by a collection of tribal masks. These African masks evidently influenced his artistic direction, beginning with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. My views on this subject of appropriation within art is somewhat conflicted for a number of reasons: I’m an African, an artist, as well as student (for the time being). The intersection of these traits cause me to view this issue via various lenses. On one hand, my [African] people have been subject to rampant cultural appropriation over the years, which has led to our disenfranchisement in a mass scale—so I am weary of the negative aspects of appropriation. On the other side of the spectrum, my artistic practice provides me with the understanding of how inspiration works, especially when leading to the redefinition of the methodology within the discipline. Furthermore, my academic background informs my awareness of proper citation when adopting someone else’s work for your own benefit, so as to provide appropriate accreditation. Using this framework, I understand both parties when it comes to appropriation in art, and the academic aspect of me acts as the middle ground, urging all artists/producers to properly credit their sources if/when taking on concepts from others, to avoid potential misrepresentation and erasure.
Should we admire his work or call him out?
A bit of both. I’m a firm believer in execution—if the work is appealing then, by all means, admire it but, like every piece of art, it is still susceptible to critique. I am objective in thought; I won’t allow external pressures negate the aesthetic value a work of art holds, and in the same vein, I am not naive to the scrutiny a piece deserves. I often wonder what people would have done differently if in his shoes—is it a work citing issue or one of inherent cultural privilege? I somewhat feel the source of the mass backlash stems from the monetary and institutional success the painting(s) eventually received. For someone of Picasso’s caliber, it is expected that his work is well received globally, so I believe it is right to call him out on his improper appropriation of the African masks. But then again, it begs the question, who should he have asked permission from before implementing the masks in his work? Perhaps it is only permissible after actively engaging with the culture?
How does this debate relate to the issue of transit traffic of images between cultures?
The suitable manner for this phenomenon is via a mutual understanding/agreement between cultures, but that is hardly ever the outcome. At the time this painting was made, European countries (such as France where Picasso resided) were expanding their imperial reach. Through the establishment of colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa, African artworks were being brought back to Paris museums to be gazed at and pondered over. This led to a romanticization of African art referred to as Primitivism—a title that is problematic in itself, as it suggests that Euro-centric lifestyles and values are the norm and everything else is ‘uncivilized’.
Paul Gauguin, a predecessor to Picasso, was a forerunner of Primitivism through his exploitation and romanticization of Tahitian culture. His work raises a number of questions as his inherent colonial status plays a role in the images he depicted, but for Picasso, he was a source of inspiration. In a more contemporary context, globalization has increased the flow of images between cultures to the point that there may exist no boundaries between source and destination. A prominent example of the effect of European appropriation is witnessed as Contemporary Ugandan artist Francis Nnaggenda, stated, “People tell me my work looks like Picasso, but they have it wrong. It is Picasso who looks like me, like Africa.”
Philosopher Martin Heidegger introduced the term 'worlding' in 1927. It refers to the act of world-making, and was appropriated by post-coloinal theorists to indicate a way to remake the world (histories/images/etc) from the perspectives of its multiple-occupants—articulating the world as if they were at the centre of it. Such a perspective is aimed decoupling deeply entrenched colonial views of the world.
In this entry, I critique Canadian photographer Stephen Bulger’s 25-image-curation, which claims to be representative of Canada's history in attempts to celebrate the nation’s 150 years of establishment. To do this, I reconfigure the narrative by incorporating 5 images that 'world' myself within the Canadian framework.
Are you really a Canadian [resident] if you don’t have a photo in the snow? This was captured by a few months after my arrival to Hamilton, ON, where I attended grade 12 of high school at Columbia International College. The school was/is home to numerous international students looking to adapt to the Canadian culture (socially and academically) before pursuing an undergraduate degree. Needless to say, I found myself in unfamiliar territory, as this stage of my life served as an assimilation process for me.
I once was told that the Canadian nation becomes your oyster upon turning 19. They were right, for the most part. I had become an adult in the eyes of the law, with the privilege to legally drink alcohol, hence the celebratory glass of champagne in hand (hi mum)! I had just begun my undergraduate degree at York University 2 months prior, so I was definitely in a different stage in my life as an occupant of Canada. I was ready to encounter the adventures life and this country had in store for me… at least I thought I was.
As irresponsible as it may sound, I see myself as an artist before a student (hi again, mum). Primarily, I was sent here to Canada to pursue better quality education than I would have received back home in Nigeria. At my core, however, I always knew my being here served a greater purpose than merely getting a fancy job as a result of the enormous amounts of money spent on my education (we’ll get to that shortly). I have always had an awareness of what I was created to do and I was blessed with the ability and vision to support that objective—one that is international in scope. In essence, being in this land of milk and honey, by way of a study permit, has provided me with a comprehensive platform on which to execute my global agenda through the practice of art and communication. This self-funded solo exhibition was a stepping stone towards achieving that goal as it marked the birth of my art career under the brand name thegunnavision.
In accordance with a course I was enrolled in (Organizing Social Movements), I attended my first ever protest. It was held at the Nathan Phillips Square, with the aim of keeping Toronto hate-free. The protest was put together by the Organizing Committee Against Islamophobia (OCAI)—an anti-oppressive group from the Greater Toronto Area that works to confront and combat Islamophobia, white supremacy and fascism. They argue that settler-colonialism is the root of all systemic oppression against Indigenous people, Muslims, Blacks, and other marginalized groups. Prior to this course, I was unaware of the dire circumstances these groups (particularly the Indigenous people) faced in this country. It opened my eyes to the underlying history and reality of Canada.
This was another demonstration held on York University campus, to exhort the politicians who are decision-makers regarding Ontario education that to dismantle the barriers to our education. It is common knowledge that students in Ontario pay the highest tuition fees in all of Canada, and in addition, tuition fees continue to rise each year. On a more unscrupulous level, International students are expected to pay triple the cost of the regular Canadian citizen’s tuition. As if the restrictions and obstacles set in our path are not numerous enough, this sort of financial and emotional strain is placed on students and families. My view of life in Canada has been greatly impacted by these impediments I face as a result of my cultural background. It is far from fair.
We exist in a ‘surveillance society’ where our everyday information is extensively collected, recorded, stored, analyzed and exploited for a variety of reasons, often financial or prohibitory in nature. These measures are implemented by the state as well as private corporations in forms of website cookies, retail loyalty programmes, national identity schemes, routine health screening and no-fly lists, amongst others. Each of these feature, in different means, the routine collection of data about individuals with the specific purpose of governing, regulating, managing or influencing what they do in the future.
In light of this agenda, the visual plays a major role in maintaining the status-quo within our surveillance society. This is evident as various social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, which are largely visual-based, have taken centre stage in this generation’s communicative practices. Through our interaction within these social media arenas, we often voluntarily provide access to our private sphere, by revealing our locations, images and daily routines.
Do I feel watched?
Definitely! I know I’m being watched, and even more concerning, I expect to be watched. It is no mystery that other users observe our social media activity. On Instagram, for example, there are statistics that show your ‘Insights’ regarding users’ interaction with your content. This analysis breaks down the top locations in which your followers are concentrated, their age distribution, as well as gender. It also measures how many people see your content, the actions people take when engaging with your posts, and the total number of times your posts have been seen. These statistics reaffirm my feeling and knowledge of being watched.
Do I watch?
Yes, I do. To a degree, that is the intention of these social media platforms, to see and be seen. This phenomenon of visibility seems to be an the core of the feeling of connectivity the platforms aim to provide. I so often find myself within the trance of social media, where I unconsciously access it as a means of entertainment, and in doing so, I perpetuate the actions that the programmers intend to be exhibited. On another note, being a visual artist, observing is innate to me—whether in the virtual or real world, I frequently find myself optically examining and admiring my environment. This intrinsic trait emanates into my use of social media.
What impact does this kind of viewing, if any, have on me as a person?
I believe it results in a form of hyper-awareness, in the sense that I feel/know I’m being watched so my actions tend to be more cautious. This could be a good thing at times, but there also exist moments when it would be ideal to be carefree. This hyper-awareness can lead to a sense of inauthenticity as one questions their motives behind acting a certain way. It can also hinder one’s true expression; that is to say we may second guess our natural impulses in attempts to maintain a particular persona as we believe someone is always watching. This relates to the notion of the Panopticon introduced by Michel Foucault.
The Panopticon operated as an “all-seeing” round-the-clock surveillance machine. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The prisoner could never know when he/she was being surveilled—such mental uncertainty would prove to be a pivotal instrument of discipline. In this regard, there existed the enforcement of “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault 201). In essence, our modern society functions in a similar manner through actual surveillance cameras, social media, and other procedures, and as a result people modify their actions in relation to their visibility.
These images are screenshots from my personal Instagram account, showing activities as well as tagged locations. In the case of the photograph at Artusiasm gallery, my caption even goes further to detail my future presence at the address. This offering of personal information has transformed the landscape of surveillance by the state, as we members of society freely provide the public with the tools to keep tabs on us. The fourth images shows how Instagram users have interacted with that particular post, highlighting the number of times the post has been liked, commented on, and saved. The ‘Impressions’ section shows the total number of times post has been seen: 3,431 times! Yes, I definitely feel watched, but in this scenario it is a good thing, seeing as it is a promotion of my artistic endeavour.
Profiling is defined as the use of these characteristics to determine whether a person may be engaged in illegal activity, as in racial profiling.
Since its inception to date, hip-hop music has been the most profiled musical genre, so much so that there is a sector of police dedicated to monitoring the activity of artists and affiliates. The genre has become so profiled, that it is often associated with only negative connotations, by outsiders who know little about the culture.
What is the root of this profiling?
I believe it is racism at its core. Having being originated in the South of Bronx, New York, hip-hop music initially consisted of mainly Black Americans who lived in the inner-city. These were members of a community that had been subjected to poverty-stricken situations. They used hip-hop as a vehicle to express the pain they felt, and in effect, the music served as a documentation of the hardships in their environment. Onlookers who were not privy to the culture from which the art form was birthed had a limited perspective as to what these musicians were doing. Middle and upper class White Americans were fed narrow narratives by the media, suggesting that these artists were all inherently violent, drug-addicted thugs. That sort of generalization of hip-hop—and even worse, the belief of it—has led the masses to thinking hip-hop artists are to be feared and subdued. This notion is deeply rooted in the racist history of the U.S. and it permeates every aspect of society.
What role does the visual play in reinforcing and/or dismantling such profiling?
In a society that places immense importance on the colour of one’s skin to determine their worth, it is no surprise that the continuous propagation of one-sided narratives of Blacks has been pivotal to reinforcing this issue of [racial] profiling. In his song “Neighbors,” rapper J. Cole speaks on this matter as he details the manner in which he and his colleagues were racially profiled solely because they were in the suburbs of his hometown North Carolina. He had bought a house in neighbourhood and repurposed it to be used as a recording studio called The Sheltuh. In the song, Cole he explains that his neighbours' unwarranted suspicions about him “selling dope” led to a raid by the SWAT team as he raps:
“I can’t sleep cause I’m paranoid / Black in a white man territory / Cops bust in with the army guns / No evidence of the harm we done / Just a couple neighbours that assume we slang / Only time they see us we be on the news, in chains, damn.”
This is the sort circumscribed perspective and subsequent belief regarding hip-hop artists and Blacks as a whole that work to augment this issue of profiling. In order to dismantle the age-long systemic barriers placed against the Black and hip-hop community, its members must actively reclaim their narratives The visual is an effective vehicle in achieving this goal as artists use their platforms to speak on the injustices towards their communities on a local and global scale. Over the years, hip-hop has gained tremendous notoriety across transnationally, and as a result, people of various cultures have adopted the art form as a means of self expression. That, in itself, has been frowned upon by a number of commentators who view it all as appropriation. Despite the fact that agents of cultural appropriation exist within hip-hop, making a general statement like that only perpetuates a similar narrow discourse in which hip-hop music was spoken of. Rather, it should be seen as a good thing, because it serves as a testament to the artistic value and cultural prowess of hip-hop to be able to break the boundaries of race and class, for the advancement of human expression, which, in turn, produces a broader community through shared interests.
Official Music Video of Neighbors by J. Cole, showing The Sheltuh being raided by a SWAT team