Anna Shah Hoque and Cara Tierney are the curators of To Be Continued: Troubling the Queer Archive, an exhibition that looks at Ottawa’s local histories and genealogies of queerness. The way they put it, current archival records tend to cover white cisnormative gays. They hope to provide a more complete history by highlighting emerging and established artists from local queer, trans, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities.
The exhibition reexamines historic events and theorizes possible histories of the future. The artists’ creations are intended to diversify the existing archive’s collections and provide a fun outing for us all heading into the winter. Well, that was the original intention. However, the exhibition has had to close, due to a local rise in COVID-19 cases.
Luckily for us, Anna and Cara, along with Fin-Xuan Tran and Keegan Prempeh, produced a four-part podcast titled To Be Continued: A Stonecroft Symposium Podcast, which can be enjoyed alongside the online version of the exhibit or listened to on its own. Anna and Cara were kind enough to have a chat with me.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Apt613: Tell us a little about yourselves.
Cara: I am a white settler, non-binary, trans queer local artist. I use “they/them” pronouns and I teach at the University of Ottawa in the Visual Arts department. As a trans person growing up, there was very little conversation about queerness and transness and it took me a long time to figure out who I was. The things that did act as signposts for who I really was along the way for me were artworks. I would see an artwork that would completely rock my world and completely shift my understanding of who I really was.
What is one of your earliest recollections of a piece of art that changed your world?
Cara: Encountering the works of the Guerrilla Girls shifted the way I understand the discourse of history and what was available to me: who was on the walls, who was being collected, who was being exhibited. My mother gave me one of their books when I was 12, and (the Guerrilla Girls) were fuelled by a certain response to the lack of opportunities made for women, Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in the art world. They are very funny, cheeky, and unapologetic and I really liked that in-your-face approach.
Can you give us a glimpse into your life, Ana?
Ana: So I’m a queer bi-femme. My family comes from South Asia and Iran, and we came to Canada as political refugees. For me, art and the practice of storytelling has been integral to how my relationships with what I’ve come across drive my thought process and my identity. I’m also a PhD student at the University of Ottawa, at the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies. My research is around the questions of what it means to be a person of colour: as a racialized person, what does it mean for (us) to be in these spaces… how is art a way to mobilize those conversations?
What were your thoughts, feelings, and experiences as a new immigrant to Canada?
Ana: It was much different for me, then, as it is for me now. In my teens, it was so much about survival. Coming into Canada, trying to figure out what sort of ways I could gain some form of cultural currency, so I wouldn’t be seen as different… Not seen as someone who’s intruding.
So that search for someplace to belong was grafted so deeply in how I navigated things. It wasn’t until later that art and literature became the spheres where this desire to belong made me want to question: Where does it come from and what does it mean to want to belong to a space so desperately?
I remember digging through the words of, for example, Shani Mootoo… what does it mean to see yourself and how you build worlds with folks against colonial violence? A colonial violence that I also experienced in South Asia.
Tell us about the exhibit and how you handled the recent closure of it due to the second wave of COVID-19 in Ottawa?
Ana: Cara and I have had to spend a lot of time strategizing. We weren’t even sure a physical install would happen… but we were able to work with Carleton University Art Gallery, specifically with their Stonecroft Symposium. Usually it’s a full day of workshops and talks. But what we pitched was a resource that could outlive the exhibit, part of which was a podcast.
Once it was clear that an in-person exhibit could take place, we moved ahead, but then we weren’t really sure the gallery was still going to open, and that prompted the strategizing. There are a multitude of ways to engage with some of the artists and community organizers involved with the show. We’ve tried to be as multi-strategic as possible. CUAG is releasing things on their website and on Instagram. Our hope is that folks are able to access the show in some way or form.
Cara: Ten of the 11 artists have created new works for the show and for many, it was the first major experience they have had in an art gallery. So we wanted to foster their experience as much as possible. We are also mindful of the fact that, as an artist, when something gets cancelled on you, it’s a threat to (your) integrity and we wanted to contribute to their process of helping them actively make their work.
One thing that COVID has done is make us expand our access points, which is something we should have been doing anyway, well before the pandemic. This will allow people that cannot come to still be able to experience the gallery.
Any closing thoughts?
Cara: It’s important to highlight that artists continue to create and usually do so with little or nothing and we want to highlight some of those works.
Ana: It was the best feeling when the gallery opened up and a lot of the artists brought their friends and family to see (the exhibit) and I really hope we are able to open up again when all the safety protocols are in place so people can see the show.