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Liz Clarke.

CityMakers: Interview with social artist Liz Clarke a.k.a. HTEBASILÉ

By Taylor Howarth on August 12, 2019


Taylor Howarth is Apt613’s correspondent at Synapcity, an Ottawa non-profit for civic engagement, connecting people across diverse communities to share perspectives and create positive change. Taylor met up with Liz Clarke to discuss some of the work she’s doing in Ottawa around arts and culture, youth empowerment, and education.

Liz Clarke is a 2019 Trailblazer Award winner, was shortlisted for the 2018 Impact HUB Ottawa Social Impact awards, just opened a social enterprise called Freedx, made a mixed-media documentary about being black at Bluesfest called Air Force Blacks … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Apt613: What’s your story, Liz?

I’m Liz Clarke, also go by HTEBASIŁÉ (pronounced hitabaseelay). I’m from Toronto. I was born in Scarborough and I moved here about five years ago for school. I’m a spoken-word poet, rapper, videographer, photographer, designer… anything to do with creative arts. I just like content creation.

I’ve stepped into this new realm of my artistry and consider myself a social artist. Everything that I do has a purpose behind it and has some sort of social good that I want to be the outcome of my projects.

I just did my first workshop about two weeks ago with University of Ottawa’s Bled Future Achievers program and I was able to teach a whole workshop called Building Communities Through Social Artistry. First time I’ve ever done a solo workshop. But I’m a child and youth care practitioner, and through the program I’ve been empowering youth to be the agents of change in their own society, in their own communities and neighbourhoods. I want to use social artists to get people to use the arts as one of those mechanisms.

I’ve also been working on my own music. I launched as a rapper at the beginning of the year and my first single is really to launch who I am. It is about womanhood and my experiences and struggles of being a woman, and to highlight that women are just getting by. We’re doing it powerfully. We’re doing it with everything on our shoulders, with every barrier, with every obstacle. I think also we’re making it through. That’s what this song is about. And I decided to partner up with about 10-plus women to make it all come together.

I also started Freedx, a social enterprise, as a content-creation agency where we get a collective of women together to do projects in the community and get women paid for and compensated for their work as creatives.

“That’s such a challenge here, specifically in Ottawa, for us as women to really get paid for our creative work, because we have so many barriers that we face.”

That’s such a challenge here, specifically in Ottawa, for us as women to really get paid for our creative work, because we have so many barriers that we face, you know, under-representation and sexualization, and then we’re underpaid while we’re going through all those things. So I’m trying to build this social enterprise to give us more opportunities to be seen, for us to be known in Ottawa, and for us to get paid and live a sustainable life off of the arts. So that’s the goal.

What are the tangibles that you are offering to communities and individuals that you interact with?

That’s a very good question. The value that I want to bring people, that I hope that they take away, it goes further than just inspiration and motivation. Sometimes trying to enable transformation in their own lives and through their own lens. If they can take parts of my stories, take parts of my poems that affect their spirits and affect the way that they live their life so that they can go build relationships or reflect upon their own lives or strive to be ambitious and chase their purpose—that’s exactly what I’m going for. I really want people to find their own purpose through my work, and if I can spark some sort of conversation or something in their spirit where they’re like, “I think I need to chase my purpose now, I think I need to go start this, do this,” you know, be an agent of change in their own lives.

You said before you came here for school. How then did you come to be a full-time artist?

So five years ago I came here to go to the University of Ottawa for public administration. I was in that program for two years and I dropped out. One day I just realized that I’m not supposed to be in that field. And I broke down in my residence and I was trying to find out what I am supposed to be doing. My plan was to work at the Ministry of Education and I realized I don’t need to be that far away from where the youth are.

I said I need to be on the front line. That very night I looked up programs and I applied for Developmental Service Work and Child and Youth Care. I stayed up all night, and then called my mom at like six and said “I’m dropping out of university.” And I said, “I’m doing it. I have to do it. I can’t be here, I know what’s ahead for me.” So I had to get to that point, I had to do the tears. I had to really chase myself to really get to that point.

“I know what my purpose is. I want to create impact for people. I want to transform this generation.”

Do you still have doubts about being a professional artist?

I remember a time last year where I said, “Why am I writing poetry? What’s happening? Why am I doing what I’m doing?” And it had to come to a point of personal reflection.

It has to come to a point where you face yourself, you know, you face the music. You say, “Why do I feel like this? What in my life is making me get to this point?” So, I just reflect in. I know what my purpose is. I want to create impact for people. I want to transform this generation. I want us to be our best and to collaborate and create and have this sense of community where we’re connecting with people, we’re empathetic, and we’re investing in younger generations. That’s where my heart is. I tell people who don’t know their purpose to know yourself first. Sometimes that’s taking time to be by yourself, that’s working on healing, getting over your trauma or, you know, taking steps to make yourself better.

That’s what I did. It’s been a year of just really delving deep into myself and facing myself for who I am and really just committing to being authentic. And I think if we start being authentic, we’ll start to find out who we are and who we should connect with and where we should be and what our purpose is.

Girls+ Rock Ottawa, Capital Pride Festival and SAW Gallery are presenting a show on August 18, 2019 featuring HTEBALISÉ, Witch Prophet and Backxwash. This is an all-ages event. Cover is $15 online and at the door. The performance follows an afternoon workshop led by Witch Prophet.