Historical In(ter)ventions: Altered Texts & Border Stories
The cultural production of knowledge, mythmaking and border crossings are major themes in recent works I call historical in(ter)ventions, altered history books that challenge traditional readings of Canadian. Mechanisms of transmission, rather than containers of fixed truths, these works highlight the hand of the artist-historian in re/writing the text. The Braided Book: An (Altered) Canadian History is a commentary on the writer’s role in framing historical narratives. Three black, braided plaits frame the borders of an old Canadian history book (1935). Inside, text has been cut from the pages creating a new boundary, a frame for a photo of a young Black girl. The work plays with notions of absence and the violence of visibility. Both personal and political, the work is an imagining of my mother, the girl in the photo, in Nova Scotia in the 50s searching—for herself, for her ancestors—in the chapter on the American War of Independence 1776-1783. This chapter details the experiences of tens of thousands of British Loyalists who settled in Nova Scotia in 1783, without mentioning nearly 3000 Loyalist settlers were Black.
Book/mark speaks to the experience of the Black Loyalists. This hanging book is about preservation and memory. Placed with intention, one bookmark signals a stop and a start, an end and beginning, a past and a present, a death and a re/birth. It implies a reader—a consciousness. 2,978 fabric bookmarks, hand-cut, painted and bound with jute, mark the historical Book of Negroes, a handwritten, military ledger—the largest single document about Black people in North America up until the end of the 18th century—containing the names and details of nearly 3000 Black Loyalists who came to Nova Scotia from the US in 1783. Promised land and freedom, Black settlers, the last to receive land grants, worked as slaves and indentured servants to survive. Privileging texture over text, Book/mark offers alternative ways of reading this African-Canadian experience.
Chantal is a mixed-race, mixed media artist with a fascination for autobiography, history and the ways the traditional codex book form tends to fix or reify the information inscribed in it. Using fabrics, fibres, photographs and found objects, she creates new works that illustrate the omissions and absences in historical texts as they push the physical boundaries of the book. Her recent historical in(ter)ventions explore questions surrounding her African-Canadian heritage and 18th century AmeriCanadian border crossing narratives. Chantal is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University. She is an MFA candidate in the School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan.