Meredith Diane Mantooth
Reconstructing ‘Disrupted Lives’: The Canadian Exhibition of Children’s Art from Refugee Camps
Edmonton Heritage Council
This dissertation examines everyday social relations in the settler colonial city of Vancouver. Its contemporary ethnographic focus updates and reworks historical and political analyses that currently comprise the growing body of scholarship on settler colonialism as a distinct socio-political phenomenon. I investigate how non-Aboriginal residents construct and relate to Aboriginal alterity. The study is situated in three ethnographic sites, united by their emphasis on “including” the Aboriginal Other: (1) the 2010 Winter Olympics, which featured high-profile forms of Aboriginal participation (and protest); (2) the Mount Pleasant public library branch, which displays a prominent Aboriginal collection and whose staff works closely with the urban Aboriginal community; and (3) BladeRunners, an inner-city construction program that trains and places Aboriginal street youth in the local construction industry. Participants in this research include non-Aboriginal “inclusion workers” as well as non-Aboriginal patrons at the library, construction workers on a BladeRunners construction placement site, and audiences at Aboriginal Olympic events. I explore how my participants’ affective knowledges shape and are shaped by spatial and racializing processes in the emergent settler colonial present. My analysis reveals how everyday encounters with Aboriginal alterity are produced and experienced through spectacular representations and spectral (or haunting) Aboriginal presence, absence, and possibility in the city. In relation to inclusion initiatives, I argue that discourses of Aboriginal inclusion work to manage and circumscribe Aboriginal difference even as they enable interaction across difference. Ultimately, I suggest that social projects aimed at addressing Aboriginal marginality and recognition must actively engage with and critique non-Aboriginal ideologies, discourses, and practices around racialization, meaning-making, and settler privilege, while working within and against a spectacular and spectralized milieu. This research demonstrates how critical ethnography can be leveraged productively to analyse settler participation in the reproduction and transformation of the colonial project.
In the Pacific Northwest, Aboriginal designs adorn private spaces and public places, as well as clothing worn and objects owned by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples alike. In addition to Northwest Coast art being increasingly treated as a form of fine art, Northwest Coast designs are now also being mechanically reproduced on many decorative and utilitarian objects, such as mugs, tote bags, T-shirts, and fridge magnets. Since the early 20th century, scholars, educators, artists, entrepreneurs, and government officials have been putting forward the idea that this market could, and indeed should, be developed to the benefit of Aboriginal individuals and communities, in addition to being used to strengthen Canada’s national identity and industry. Over the decades, the art and artware market’s expansions have also continuously raised questions about the effects and ethics of cultural commodification, in particular with respect to the often unequal distribution of risks and benefits among the market’s stakeholders. This dissertation examines how Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal individuals who are currently participating in the Native Northwest Coast artware industry of Vancouver (BC) view this market’s present configuration and envision its future. It argues that the artware industry is being progressively shaped into a form of Culturally Modified Capitalism in relation to enduring concerns about levels of Aboriginal involvement, different conceptions of authenticity and collaboration, as well as tensions between democratization and exclusion, deterritorialization and localization, individual and collective interests, and development and sustainability. As in any capitalism system, the resulting commodityscapes rely on the extraction of wealth from natural and cultural resources; however, Culturally Modified Capitalism is also an economic model built upon the premise that capitalist systems of production, distribution, and consumption may be harnessed to sustain Aboriginal ways of life, on the crucially important condition that Aboriginal stakeholders are able to bring their worldviews, values, and interests to bear on the market’s configuration. In the Native Northwest Coast artware industry, this translates into the expectation that companies not only sell goods, but also “do good” while “making their name good” by engaging in practices of redistribution reflecting the system of generalized reciprocity that characterizes the potlatch economy.
This analysis of the performance and installation project Vancouver, Crawling, Weeping, Betting (2014) is a case study of improvisation and creativity in environmentally engaged relational art. I argue for the politically transformative possibility inherent in the unfolding of material-semiotic and affective relations of improvised performance events. VCWB uses stories and bodies to engage historical colonial power and the structures that give form to our experiences of urban cultural geographies. Focusing on the centrality of the body to creativity (and drawing on Manning 2009), I connect participatory performance in the city to the Deleuzian notion of a body-becoming; a sensing, moving, and thinking body that is always in a process of re-identification and re-articulation in reciprocal relation with the environment. Central to VCWB’s form of improvisatory relational art are concepts of generosity and co-responsibility, which are used to create caring reciprocal relations between performer-participants and the environment. I argue VCWB prompts and sustains a relation of antagonism (following Bishop 2004) in its experimental performances. A multiplicity of historical affective associations and encounters with landscape, presented in narrative and other works, challenge participants to confront difference, dislocation, and uncertainty, producing movement and ‘dialogue.’ I use the term spaces of possibility to describe relations in which frictions become creative taking-off points for movement and thought. VCWB street performances highlight the antagonism and possibility that is inevitable to unpredictable encounter in a lively world. VCWB’s particular form of art making is processual, generative, and its affects proliferative. In using the example of VCWB’s non-representational mapmaking I expand the scope of improvised performance in the city to consider how gatherings in moments recompose places in novel material-semiotic and affective relations.
Scholars often frame cultural tourism in terms of a host/guest relationship between communities and the tourists who visit them. In this thesis, I explore the relevance of the host/guest framework when discussing tourism at Xat’sull Heritage Village (XHV), a small community-based cultural tourism site located in the interior Cariboo region of British Columbia and managed by the Xat’sull First Nation. Throughout, I work to complicate the host/guest dynamic, arguing that a nuanced understanding of tourism at XHV requires acknowledging the role of the land, and in particular the site of XHV itself, as agentive. Ultimately, this thesis examines the notion of Xat’sull Heritage Village as a site where connections between people are made, but also as a site that is in itself inherently powerful and connected to the people who inhabit it. I argue that acknowledging human connections to the land in a tourism setting can be a powerful act, facilitating cross-cultural understandings and helping to correct the damage done by the centuries of colonial violence and oppression First Nations communities have endured.