by Candace Mooers
“How precious it is to have memory,” writes bell hooks in Belonging: A Culture of Place. We know ourselves through the art and acts of remembering. Through various practices, we may revisit the past—people and places—in order to revise and renew our commitment to the present, to imagine a future where we can feel authentically rooted and connected, like we belong 1.
Artists Logan MacDonald, Kama La Mackerel, Pascha Marrow and Eshan Rafi take on this quest for authenticity in Mémoires & Portraits. Each artist presents personal histories and ways they connect to their pasts through performance, travel, photography, portraiture, and painting. The artists also consider how audiences engage with their work, and the media employed to tell their stories. This reflexivity is a gift. As viewers, we are invited to bear witness to their journeys, however we are reminded of the limits of accessing the entirety.
Logan MacDonald’s photo installation is titled Being Invisible Makes You See Me, a work about visiting indigenous territories. In 2017 he published a book, The Lay of The Land, that is also about documenting the experience of journeying to indigenous communities across so-called Canada in order to learn more about himself. In it, MacDonald writes: “This project avoids the depiction of others. You are allowed to see landscapes and landmarks, structures, and signs. You are kept at a distance on purpose.” MacDonald makes clear that his work is about documenting his experience of trying to connect with his own Mi’kmaq indigeneity.
Kama La Mackerel, in collaboration with photographer Nedine Moonsamy, similarly explores the colonial gaze. Breaking the Promise of Tropical Emptiness is an anti-tourism postcard project, in which the artist places themself within the visual landscape of their home island of Mauritius. In framing themself as the focus of the postcard—one of the more iconic symbols of tourism for the leisure class—La Mackerel seeks to redefine the “exotic” postcard by centering their own subjecthood. Breaking the Promise of Tropical Emptiness is a re-appropriation of dominant narratives.
In Utopias, Pascha Marrow uses family portraits and the sites their (estranged) family members call home as the foundation for creating drawings and paintings that test the historicity of portraiture. With colourful pastel shades and often faceless shapes, Marrow seeks to challenge the authority of the portrait as objective truth-teller. According to the artist, Utopias interests itself in “both a formal critique of portraiture installation, viewing, and practices, as well as an intimate examination of displacement, family estrangement, and self-identity.”
Eshan Rafi’s Some Part of Me Knows is a video installation and performance, featuring texts from the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro and Marguerite Duras, paired with Lana Wachowski’s coming out speech and a family member’s home video, respectively. In constructing uneasy juxtapositions, Rafi invites us to consider the “colonial and institutional relationships of writing the self and being written about.”
Whether video, photo, postcard or portrait, each artist calls into question the limits of a visual frame in the telling and viewing of personal stories. Remembering the past is a process of self-determination, of defining one’s self in relation to the world, and can often be complicated by the traumas inflicted by colonialism, exile and social marginalization. Rafi writes about their practice: “I want to disrupt the idea that in order to be seen as a legitimate subject you have to speak your trauma and tell your story.” The works make messy the practice of remembering; they also challenge the audience’s gaze.
Together, these works honour struggle, sovereignty and resistance. Mémoires & Portraits is a tribute to the past as a resource that can serve to understand out-of-placeness. and determine self, with a view towards a future where all can belong.
1 hooks, bell. Belonging: A Culture of Place. Routledge: New York, 2009
Candace Mooers lives and works in Montreal. She studied history and communication, and sometimes makes art, radio, and zines. As a mixed-race settler, she thinks often about ancestry, place, and the meaning of home.