Golboo Amani, 2011

221A Artist Run Centre is pleased to present I <3 CANADA & CANADA <3 ME, a project that brings together recent multi-disciplinary work by Roya Akbari, Golboo Amani, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Manolo Lugo, Pirouz Nemati, Emilio Rojas, and Ikbal Singh that draws on a range of transnational aesthetics to make interventions in the imaginary relationship between bodies and nations. The form and the content of the works is informed by East, South and Western Asian, as well as Latin and North American aesthetics and politics.

The artists involved use a variety of lyrical and conceptual strategies that range from performance to video, photography, print media and installation to investigate the political dimensions of figure/ground relations: bodies are delineated as territories, and territories are imagined in bodily ways. The use of these strategies helps refocus the debate around the politics of the body in art by moving towards an embodied, site-specific engagement that responds to particular sets of social circumstances.

The idea of embodiment is crucial to the possibility of enacting a nuanced engagement with the political dimensions of figure/ground relations. Judith Butler’s early work on feminism and phenomenology uses the term embodiment to account for the process through which an unintelligible body becomes a readable cultural sign [1]. Embodiment is, then, a repetitive time-based performance that shapes the identity of the body. The language of embodiment allows for a deeper, contextual understanding of the kinds of artistic practices found in the exhibition, practices that investigate subjects like race, migration, gender and sexuality.

In the case of I <3 CANADA & CANADA <3 ME, the question of embodiment is posed specifically relative to the image of the nation: how do nations delineate its inhabitants as figures, and how may these figures shape and reshape the idea of the nation through critical processes of embodiment. Interactions between figure and ground that form the nation also shape bodies into identities existing within, outside and across its imaginary borders. The nation embodies the native, the settler, the citizen, the migrant and the refugee. Relationships between territories also embody allies, rivals and sometimes, even lovers.

Individual and collective exchanges with the nation have a significant, ever-present visual dimension. In recent memory, these exchanges have been played out in Canada through stories like the one involving a political campaign worker for the last federal election who, according to the CBC [2], circulated an email “seeking people in ‘national folklore costumes’” for a promotional photo-op. More serious examples include the federal government’s refusal to request the repatriation of Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen captured as a minor in Afghanistan by the US military. Khadr, who was held without charges for almost three years, was eventually judged in the extra-judicial tribunals set up by the United States government in Guantamo Bay [3]. Both cases bring up the issue of belonging in aesthetic terms: the subjective perception of the body’s identity creates a set of possible interactions with the nation. As if to say “we need you to look ‘folkloric,’ but there are limits to how much you can deviate from the prescribed image of the nation.” Indeed, there are borders.

Yet, there are some things that escape the languages of identity and visibility. There is that which cannot be accounted for by the iconographic conventions of nation and identity. I <3 CANADA & CANADA <3 ME traces a set of artistic practices that reach above, run beneath, pass through and go around these conventions, proposing instead a politicized aesthetics of embodiment.

[1] Judith Butler, Performative Acts and Gender Construction: An Essay in
Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal. Vol. 40, No. 4, 1988.

[2] Amber Hildebrandt, ‘T.O. Tory staffer makes ‘ethnic costume’ rally appeal.’ CBC News. April 13, 2011. Retrieved May 30, 2011. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/story/2011/04/13/cv-election-conservative-ethnic-vote.html

[3] ‘Omar Khadr’s road to trial.’ CBC News. Last updated August 12, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2011. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2009/11/12/f-omar-khadr-timeline.html