Duo, Etching (Artist’s Proof) © Sharon Bourke

 

A group of oil-on-canvas camel herders in Rajasthan, a number of plants sent from different parts of the Middle East and Africa to Montréal by mail, a black-and-white photograph of the longed-for “velvet hush of a foggy evening,” hand embroidery on cotton toile, sublime images from a toy camera, and an abstract gold-and-red acrylic homage to dancer Carmen de Lavallade combine with the voices of filmmakers and wordsmiths in this unprecedented issue: “Just Art.”

When asked to provide an example of a great work of art, people will more often than not give an answer that unwittingly reflects the major biases asserted by the widely-accepted canon of art history. That is to say, the selection of works deemed “great” reveals the ideologically motivated construction of the canon. The omission of queer, racialized and gendered voices – as well as the dismissal of entire artistic mediums – has resulted in a distorted and incomplete representation of “universal” creativity and aesthetic effort.

Until quite recently, this canon had gone largely unchallenged. Over the past few decades, however, the artistic communities that make up the global art milieu have become increasingly critical of institutions that have naturalized the Western male perspective as the only perspective, and their voices are slowly making their way into the mainstream consciousness.

For over 35 years, Montréal Serai has been committed to bringing the margins to the centre. In the case of the current “Just Art” issue, our open call naturally attracted artists from a diverse array of backgrounds, with distinctive, original, often political voices, working in “unconventional” mediums, and spanning at least three generations.

The landing page features the work of Marie-Josée Tremblay, an Anishinaabe artist based in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. In her own words, Tremblay “paints what lives in [the] unconscious without being aware of the process.”

Author Veena Gokhale reviews Dede Crane’s One Madder Woman, which outlines the life of Berthe Morisot and her journey towards establishing herself as a professional artist in the 19th century – a time when women were largely excluded from artistic recognition.

Anahita Norouzi’s piece, “A Glimpse into the Displaced Garden,” addresses themes of colonial displacement and diasporic movement. The work was created in collaboration with eight refugee families from the Middle East and Africa, who provided Norouzi with dried plants native to their land – plants categorized as ‘foreign and invasive’ in Canada. “Displaced Garden” draws parallels between the botanical specimens – slightly damaged and deteriorating due to their cross-continental journey – and the refugee families that have participated in the realization of this project.

Florence Yee’s “PROOF,” an ongoing series of embroidered watermarks on textile prints, explores the problems that are inherent in archival documentation. Yee’s textile prints of seemingly mundane yet intimate spaces, obscured by the repetitive embroidered word “PROOF,” reveal that certain bodies cannot – and should not – fit into the neat classifications and fundamentally limiting boundaries of archival documentation. Yee writes, “How do we hold space for the unrecorded, the unrecordable, and the yet to be recorded?” “PROOF” attests to the nuanced and complicated reality of identity and warns of the dangers that follow the desire for documentation.

Rajath Suri’s review of Bahman Tavoosi’s 2019 film The Names of the Flowers (Los nombres de las flores) focuses on myth and legend. The film follows the development of a curious story in the mountains of Bolivia, involving Che Guevara, a local school teacher and a bowl of soup.

Divya Singh’s collection of text and film photos, “Tell Mother, I’m Home,” reflects on the passage of time. Her introspective exploration with the camera captures the liminal and intangible passing between one moment and the next. The blurred long-exposure images verge on offering respite from the inescapable force of time by fracturing it into multiple temporal and spatial registers, allowing them to coexist within one image.

Marie Thérèse Blanc’s photographic series, “Things We Lost in the Curfew,” captures the comforting cover of nightfall, the “sensual obscurity” Montrealers were deprived of under the curfew.

Our issue editor, Jody Freeman, interviews Kahnawà:ke-born filmmaker Roxann Whitebean in “She Cleans the Sky.” In the conversation they had in mid-May, before the unmarked graves of children were discovered on various sites of former Indian residential schools, Whitebean shares memories of her formative childhood, including the Oka resistance in 1990, and how these experiences inform her work. In a telling revelation, Roxann states that she doesn’t consider herself an activist: “I think that when you’re an Indigenous person who lives your culture, standing up for your people and the right to be recognized as a sovereign nation is just a way of life.”

Sharon Bourke’s impressive series of digital and acrylic paintings are accompanied by her meditations on her life as an artist, poet and writer committed to racial justice, social justice and women’s rights, in her home state of New York. Her collection of semi-abstract works portrays the celebratory aspects of life and nature in this piece entitled “A Communion with the Atmosphere.” It closes with her poem, In Lieu of a Salute. Sharon Bourke’s etching, Duo, is featured in this editorial.

Author and Serai editor Rana Bose reviews H. Nigel Thomas’ novel, Easily Fooled, in his piece entitled “The Skin Below the Mask.” The story follows a young gay Methodist preacher who flees from St. Vincent to settle in Montréal. Bose examines Thomas’ careful narrative in which the main figure, Millington, struggles with reconciling his faith and his sexuality.

Zachary Couture’s essay, “Palestinian Voices in Theatre: Where Are They?” calls attention to the reductive treatment of Palestinian perspectives in North American plays centred on the Israeli/Palestinian “conflict.” Couture argues that many of these productions discuss Palestinians in the abstract, only portrayed or acknowledged through the eyes of Jewish or white characters.

“The Painted Earthling,” a story by author Gloria Macher, is a sci-fi parody that playfully comments on the greed and consumption of human beings through a discussion of the makings and alchemy of colour.

Lastly, Ajit Ghai’s collection of oil paintings, “Heart of the Desert,” depicts scenes of daily life in Rajasthan, India. Ghai’s artistic process involved studying Bargue and Gérôme’s Cours de dessin – the famous late 19th-century drawing course consisting of almost 200 lithographs of subjects to be copied by students. Ghai has applied these skills to his own practice by capturing naturalistic scenes of everyday life in Rajasthan, effectively bringing 19th-century technique into the contemporary.

As with any anthology or exhibition, the artworks gathered here are sown by an aleatory thread. In this case, the particular backdrop of our post-quarantine climate, combined with Montréal Serai’s history and the mysterious paths that our call to artists may have followed has resulted in a “quilt” of diverse techniques and ideas – all unique, all driven by a desire to represent the intangible lived experience.

 

 

Source: Wikipedia

 

 

Keywords and key phrases often capture the heart of a poem.

Blossom Thom, Montréal poet and writer, reflects in “Auntie Ida’s Thanksgiving Blessing:”

Our truth grounds us. Our roots
dig deep, searching for magma to

fuel our warmth or to burn those
who expect us to accept their

outdated stance of ignorance.

Her poems offer a lesson in unravelling history, as well, for those who want to look up the names referenced. Please do, as it was an educational experience for us.

In “Ghosts of Mercy,” Cora Siré, poet, novelist, and now revealed to be a screenwriter as well, states:

My beacon beams as I pan the waters
to let them know I’m here, careful to disguise
distress, my shivering. The sliver of moon
floats detached. I too hide my fears.

In this significant departure from the beaten path by our editorial board, we chose to dispense with the “theme statement,” which we have been using consistently for some time now. Instead, we chose “Just Poetry” as our invitation to submit works. We were flooded with submissions and, given the numbers, some significant works had to be set aside.  We do have some of Montréal’s best-known poets here in this issue – and that is not meant to exclude other well-known poets that Montréal has brought forth. In fact, this city has spawned some of the best poetry shindigs on a regular and weekly basis, be it the Lectures Logos Readings, Speakup, Lapalabrava, the Argo reading Series, the Visual Arts Centre Poetry Readings, and several live venues that were forced to go virtual, due to the pandemic.

We have a riot of colours and signals, including the “slivers of moon and magma” flowing all over in words, music and ballads – including one performed by Montréal’s Ian Ferrier, the founder of many poetry and performance initiatives in this city. Ian performed live at Serai’s 32nd anniversary celebration and has provided us here with the words for his performance of “Emma’s Country” – a moving and eerie portrayal of the plight of Gaspé fishermen. It is the video of his performance that we have selected for this issue.

We have outstanding poets like Louise Carson, Catherine Watson and veteran Montréal curator and prolific poet Ilona Martonfi in the house. And then there is Endre Farkas – going back to the Véhicule Press era of #vehiculepoets – who asks in “Good Friday” why the rich must casually complain about the stench of poverty everywhere. In “Landscape of Abandonment,” Dinh Le Doan, a poet and engineer from Beaconsfield (Québec), traces the trees’ abandonment of “their hard-working leaves to the cruel November winds.”

Widely-published poet and writer Savita Singh, a former McGill University alumna now living and teaching in New Delhi, dedicates her poems “Palestine” and “Autocracy” to the memory of the late Prof. Sam Noumoff, a supporter of Serai who had contributed articles for us in the past. Savita’s poems have been translated from Hindi by Medha Singh, who is herself a well-known and extraordinary poet.

Always ready to take poetic license, we couldn’t resist including a short story by novelist Mayank Bhatt in the mix. “Activist” plunges us into the hidden life of a young woman fighting for the rights of Bombay’s destitute, and a rookie reporter who doesn’t know when to stop.

Former Montréaler Michael Mirolla – prize-winning writer, poet, film scenarist, novelist, and the cornerstone of the premier Toronto-based publisher, Guernica Editions – has provided us with his surrealistic, magical essence in a clutch of poems that are many-layered, technology-inquisitioning, and cheerful as well.

And we are not at all done! We have an extraordinary review of Jocelyne Dubois’ new poetry compilation by Montréal poet Hugh Hazelton. And the indefatigable Maya Khankhoje provides us with an extensive review of When the Light of the World was Subdued, our Songs came Through, a Norton Anthology of Native Nations poetry.

And finally, an absorbing review of Louise Carson’s Dog Poems and Carolyn Marie Souaid’s The Eleventh Hour, by Montréal musician and much-loved troubadour, Brian Campbell.

And was there some discussion as to whether we have a Montréal bias?

 

 

 

Justice for Joyce Echaquan (Tiohtià:ke / Montréal, October 3, 2020)  © Photo Jody Freeman

 

There is a vital energy pulsing through this winter issue of Montréal Serai. It radiates off the landing page, with the vibrant art of Leah Kanerahtaroroks Diome, who is from the unceded Kanien’kéha:ka Territory of Kahnawake. In her paintings, Leah shares a piece of her heart and invites us into her culture and language. The restorative power of art is integral to her story.

Activist Michèle Audette is forthright in her interview, sharing truths about systemic racism and sexism, being born into segregation and denied her right to grow up in her Innu culture and traditional territory. From a very young age, she was cradled by women from diverse Indigenous nations who infused her with visions of justice and healing and courage to fight. Resilience has deep sources.

Sáasil Uj Chi Xool, a 10-year-old Maya schoolgirl, storyteller and artist, shares her story of “The Little Deer and the Tiny Star.” Her parents, María Reneyda Xool Yam and Hilario Chi Canul, are right behind her in this creative project and are committed to the revitalization of the Mayan language.

Multimedia artist, poet, musician and filmmaker Craig Commanda from Kitigan Zibi offers a luminous array of beadwork, poetry, films, music and art. Reflecting on past, present and future, his artistic practice “seeks resurgence contributing to cultural preservation and revitalization for and by Indigenous peoples.”

Nineteen-year-old Alice Cormier, an Inuk artist from Kuujjuaq who is enrolled in a Visual Arts program in the south, talks to Montréal poet and novelist Carolyn Marie Souaid about where she comes from and how her Inuit culture shapes her art. (The “south,” in this case, refers to Montréal.)

In “Sheets to Die For,” seasoned poet David Groulx leaves us pondering before plunging us into dark night-waves in “Relinquere.”

Maya Khankhoje’s story, “The Emperor and the Crab,” sidles up with a sly pinch of truth about the power of resilience. Maya is one of the founding editors of Montréal Serai.

Choreographer, dancer and teacher Amrita Choudhury shares her experiences of travelling to teach and perform in western Canada and being stranded there without stable accommodations when the first wave of the pandemic struck. While no stranger to racist insults, Amrita was deeply affected by the violence she witnessed. In “Reflections from the Heart: Journeying Through COVID Isolation,” Amrita attempts to reconcile these experiences with her gentle approach to life and dance.

Anishinaabe filmmaker, singer-songwriter-musician and photographer Marie-Josée Tremblay presents her latest short film NIB8ÏWI, with its haunting soundtrack. NIB8ÏWI – the Abenaki translation of her original title, Durant la nuit – is accompanied here with a stream-of-consciousness text (in French) on the terrors of the night.

In a sweeping piece called “India’s Indigenous Peoples and the Rise of Brahminism: Bhima-Koregaon, Then and Now,” Shankar Tadwal, a Bhil tribal activist in Central India, Subhadra Khaperde, a Dalit feminist fighting for social justice, gender equity and sustainable agriculture, and Rahul Banerjee, an activist working for equitable and sustainable development, offer their insights into the historical and current significance of the town of Bhima Koregaon—particularly in relation to the Adivasis’ resistance and the Dalit movement against the caste system. The accompanying photos tell their own truths of survival and resourcefulness.

Intrepid film critic Mirella Bontempo digs deep in her review of Trickster and Inconvenient Indian, highlighting their multilayered reflections on Indigenous realities and their searing exposure of colonialism. Citing Thomas King, Kent Monkman and Skawennati’s Time Travellers, Mirella focuses on the ongoing importance of Trickster and Inconvenient Indian and the Indigenous voices informing them. She comments in her bio that she “learned about First Nations’ tricksters while writing this piece, and about raceshifting after it was written.”

We hear many voices resonating in these stories, recalling those who came before us, those no longer with us, and those—as the legends tell us—who are still tiny stars in the sky, waiting to come.

Our deep thanks to our contributors and to our readers. We invite you to share in this dialogue.

 

 

© Juan Raggo, Confinement and Insomnia series, 2020

 

The shrillness of “normalcy”

Can this phase of capitalism known as globalization kill itself and then reinvent itself? Or can it come up looking good, with another brand name? What would that post-COVID-19 society look like, socially, culturally and politically?

That is the essence of our theme statement for this issue. But in order to proceed, we need to define what constitutes globalization and when it actually started.

Globalization, as per popular mainstream wisdom, was initiated in 1492 – when Christopher Columbus fumbled, stumbled and made landfall on what the local Lucayan people called Guanahani… later called the Bahamas! Some others say it all began in 1498, when Vasco da Gama made it to Calicut, on the Malabar coast in India.

There is evidence to suggest that Christopher was not only a commissioned explorer, but also a rogue adventurer and bounty hunter, with poor math skills. (He got the earth’s circumference wrong and thought he could reach India faster by sailing westwards.) Eventually, after four trips he was brought back in chains to Spain. By that time, he had cut off the hands of a number of his sailors as well as of Indigenous people, for mutinying, and had effectively decimated several Indigenous pre-Columbian civilizations.

There are others who would like to suggest that Genghis Khan, with his conquering and unifying skills along the Silk Route, or Marco Polo as he headed for China to discover and embrace noodles and silk, were pivotal characters for globalization.

But hold on! These are the Investopedia, World Economic Forum (WEF) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) versions of “exploration, discovery and the opening up of trade routes,” packaged and sanitized to look and feel like a tribute to “man’s” insatiable quest for “discovery and adventure.” The mission, as we came to know later, was to carry away quantities of black pepper, coriander, red pepper, bay leaves, mustard, tea and turmeric, in bulk, while concurrently decimating the rights of the Indigenous population, and making “settlerism” a universal doctrine of colonization, occupation and genocide.

So, with some salt, some pepper, some chocolate and vanilla, and plenty of multi-coloured sprinkles – like religion, moral education, building ports and railway lines – the opening up of the raw material requirements for the first industrial revolution were initiated. Now, all this was about colonization – about extraction, about carrying away various ores by ship and rail, about settling and displacing, about forced eviction! About the advent of industrial capitalism. About cotton, indigo, sugar, coffee, potatoes and plunder. About forcing cash crops on peasants worldwide and wiping out self-sustaining food production.

Far from being globalization, it was plunder and occupation. Now, cotton, sugar and the harvesting of various plantation products needed handpicking. And therefore, this became the basis for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slaves did not get wages. Not a cent. Treated as human chattel, they were bought and sold to erect the massive foundation of this settler economy that emerged as a world imperial power. Slaves did everything. They covered a whole gamut of skills, from working as bakers, barbers and basket makers to blacksmiths, brewers, cooks, dairy workers, coachmen, dancers, fiddle makers and fiddlers, as well as firemen, shipbuilders, sailors, weavers and wheelwrights. We do not often realize how ingenious this brutal system was in building the foundation of what is now the US.

Chemistry and Hollywood!  

In 1979, however, a chemistry major turned barrister, Margaret Thatcher, and a grade C actor turned President, Ronald Reagan, jointly scrapped government entitlements and regulatory controls, fist-pumped for a more “robust free-market economy,” and upheld British and US exceptionalism in world domination. Through force (continuous military interventions abroad) and the mantra of “free trade,” their followers in Canada, like Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Jacques Parizeau, Paul Martin and now Chrystia Freeland and Trudeau Jr, have continued to pray at the altar of globalization.

Neatly folded in to these “exciting” new policies was a series of paralyzing attacks on unions, erosion of human rights, a privatization spree of existing public infrastructural arrangements, and further undermining of public health, pensions, education and housing.

This was promptly followed by a rather deft “common sense” approach to lifting cross-border tariffs, with favoured nation status given to some but not all, and “free trade” sold as a panacea for the economic crisis the West was facing. In fact, the UK at that time, which was then in such a dilapidated state, was the only developed country ever that got a 3.2-billion-dollar rescue package from the IMF.

One of the key components of the grand Free Trade mission was to encourage the companies to move their manufacturing (and the related skills) to “LCC:” low-cost countries. The sales pitch clearly suggested to large, mid-sized and small enterprises to look for raw materials and finished goods abroad, if they wanted to profit. Move machinery – even head offices and the means of production – abroad!

Now that is the true starting block of the globalization race. Not Columbus, not Da Gama, not Genghis Khan or Marco Polo. It was Reagan and Thatcher.

Nestled in these arrangements was total impunity for multinational corporations to profiteer scandalously, while stepping all over environmental requirements. It gave birth to a new economy, based on a dynamic “supply chain” – an economy of bulk-buying at enormous discounts, bringing in and storing materials in massive, digitized, automated and robotized warehouses, and creating the concept of third-party logistics. Independent organizations that owned or leased 53-footers to haul and deliver just-in-time goods and materials, albeit in small quantities, became contractual deliverers, based on local demands.

Now these warehouses still needed humans to run them! And so came the advent of entire warehouses populated by underpaid people of colour, recent immigrants, refuge seekers – on a contract basis, with no job permanence or adequate health and safety provisions – who could of course be hired and fired, to guarantee “low-cost wages!” All the conditions were then in place to ensure the highest possible margins in the supply chain from factories abroad to households in North America and Europe.

 

© Juan Raggo, Confinement and Insomnia series, 2020

 

Today, this very warehouse-based economy has been defined as “essential” in the context of the success of the globalized economy. In his incisive essay, Mostafa Henaway, an organizer with the Immigrant Workers Centre and a Concordia University lecturer and doctoral student, surgically unmasks this development of the warehouse- based economy and deftly exposes its “chokepoints.” In the context of COVID-19, this economy was defined by governments as “essential.” This is an element of globalization that must have caught the big unions by surprise.

Sam Boskey, former Montréal City Councillor, civil rights activist and perennial learner and teacher of world history (right down to each borough in Montréal), expands on the issues raised by the theme, Can this phase of capitalism kill itself and then reinvent itself? Or can it come up looking good, with another brand name? What would that post-COVID-19 society look like? His answers are blunt and vigorous. He says, “…the pandemic lockdown has demonstrated that in the immediate aftershock of such social upheaval, it is possible for both government and civil society to identify some of society’s most vulnerable members and fashion some short-term palliative measures. In this, we are able to harness the initial spirit of ‘we’re all in this together.’ But entrepreneurial interests will soon regain ascendancy, and our caring about ‘each and every one’ will wane, with the private sector once again overriding the public good.”

Amrit Wilson, a well-known UK feminist and South Asian anti-racism activist for decades, and the author of several books, was interviewed on-line recently by Montréal Serai. In response to the question of whether the essentials of globalization (de-regulation, free trade, etc.) would be phased out, she says “… it is important to remember that we are not simply talking about neoliberalism, but about the shaping of hyper-neoliberalism into fascism. This is certainly the case in India, Brazil, and Hungary where we now see full-fledged fascism, but also in the US and increasingly in the UK.”

Frequent contributor to Serai and well-known journalist and activist from India, Nilanjan Dutta, hauls up the state by the collar, arguing that it is using the pandemic as an excuse and is exploiting lock-down measures and terror to erode people’s will to resist the larger enemy of systemic, widespread profiteering – also known as neoliberal capitalism and globalization. Nilanjan refers to “the mask” not only as a protective device, but also as a metaphor for gagging and prodding the population so that “we are becoming amicable to the idea of a strong and omniscient state.”

 

© Juan Raggo, Confinement and Insomnia series, 2020

 

You will notice that sprinkled throughout this editorial essay, we have included some paintings by Juan Raggo. Juan is an artist of Chilean origin, now living in Montréal. After studying architecture and art in Chile, Juan arrived in Québec in 1974 for reasons we all can guess. Once in Canada, he worked at the Bureau de prisonniers politiques du Chili and contributed to publications such as El rebelde (The Rebel). The intimate paintings featured in this issue are part of the series “Confinement and Insomnia,” a reflection of the current times, particularly as experienced by the elderly.

Our co-editor Nilambri Ghai reviews the latest book by Egyptian-American writer and aphorist, Yahia Lababidi, Revolutions of the Heart. “In our divided world today, [Lababidi’s book] seeks our transformation as people first, then as citizens of one planet earth, envisioned beyond the divisions of political boundaries… with elements that, like pandemics, do not differentiate one from another.”

 

© Juan Raggo, Confinement and Insomnia series, 2020

 

Montrealer Sharon Lax’s new book, Shattered Fossils, is reviewed in depth by Jane Affleck. An extraordinary book of short essays on multitudinous issues, “Lax’s stories leave us with a final question: What stories can we begin to tell, in order to remake norms and create an equitable and just post-pandemic world?”

Frequent Serai contributor and Montréal-based author Veena Gokhale injects her own experiences and familiarization process into the review of Raquel Fletcher’s Who Belongs in Quebec? If the title sounds trite after so many decades, it is because the matter remains to be resolved!

Our landing page features the work of Gavin Morais, a Montréal sculptor and video artist whose visceral, alien-like works are reviewed by James Oscar, a past contributor to Serai.

And Montréal’s masked poet Brian Campbell unveils his COVID poem, “Stranger.”

 

A conclusion

Globalization, as a phase of capitalist mutation, received a punch in the face from COVID-19. The predatory nature of globalization came to a point where the environment, life forms, the food chain and health controls for both animals and humans were prodded until slumbering viruses residing in animals got released into the atmosphere.

Suddenly, we were told to get personal protective equipment (PPE) overnight. We were garrisoned and politely told to stay at home! In Canada, that is. In other countries, like China, India, Italy and elsewhere, it was a punishing lockdown. With curfews, no less. No flying, no travelling, no hanging out, no going to work, and even talking to your neighbour across the balcony was scoffed at.

Factories closed down, except those categorized as “essential.” “Gig” workers were told to stay at home or apply for relief. Landlords were told to hold back rent collection, and banks promptly offered loans with deferred payback (and compounded interest). The pandemic was declared. Governments around the world started pulling out their real money and mixing it in with the money they printed, betting on speculative futures, and began to spend billions on COVID relief. The deal was to return to “normal.” Governments started to look magnanimous, except the few that thought “herd” immunity could save the world and “balancing the budget” was more important than people’s health.

In retrospect, it looks like the essential elements of globalization may be revived again… after a while. But some things will have to change. Liberal and democratic Canada will have understood that the exhortation of public measures like the ones Tommy Douglas fought for would not be enough in this day and age. The government would have to budget for far stricter controls over senior citizens’ care homes (be they public or private), extensive reserve capacity at intensive-care facilities, a far greater emphasis on and protection of frontline healthcare workers, self-sufficiency in the domestic manufacturing of PPE and intensive-care equipment, and a dignified approach to re-educating a large segment of the population that our collective welfare is more important than the fickle notion of “personal freedoms.”

Only the likes of Genghis Khan, Robert Clive, Winston Churchill and their ilk would dispute that kind of change.

 

 

Ephemeral graffiti in solidarity with George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, outside the US Embassy in Mexico City just seconds before being erased. Photo © Rodrigo Fernández de Gortari

 

I really wanted to finish this editorial letter today, but that was also the case yesterday, and three days before, and four (six? eight?) before that, when my oldest brother tested positive for COVID-19. He’s ok, as is the youngest of my brothers, the asymptomatic one.

Only today, though, I rocked along with millions of people living in Mexico to the rhythm of a 7.1 earthquake. My partner didn’t have time to grab his shoes but he handed me my favourite facemask, which I managed to put on as we ran down the stairs.

Excuse me for hogging the limelight. If I choose to write in the first person, it’s because that’s the best tool I could find to express not my own anxiety but the fact that by now, the feeling the editorial board shared when planning this issue has morphed into a different state. The overpowering reminders that control is but a fragile, senseless illusion are sinking in.

Moreover, whatever devices do exist to keep us “safe” in the midst of the current pandemic are distributed as unequally as everything else in this ever more soul-less configuration of the globe.

“You know how they keep saying, ‘We’re all in this together?’” writes Montréal-based nurse Scott Weinstein in his sensitive letter from the frontline in Washington. “We’re not. In this city that is now majority white thanks to relentless gentrification, our expanding COVID ICU beds are filled with blacks and Latinos, many of them in medically-induced comas on ventilators.” As he pauses to imagine what the situation must feel like to his coworkers, to patients and their loved ones, one can only hope that enough people read his declarations before it’s too late. “This is a very cruel disease exacerbated by our efficiency-driven health care,” he comments about the fact that families are not allowed to visit except if their loved one is about to die. “We don’t have much to offer in the way of cures, yet we certainly are inflicting pain on families through our medical isolation protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.”

There is the disease, and it’s scary enough, but even scarier are the underlying policies, and those that are improvised as we go.

On that note, inevitably Mr. Trump managed to make it into the issue. Social psychologist Mark Silverman describes the president of the United States’ behaviour as a “schizophrenogenic strategy to derange the mental health of a large sector of the population in order to nurture a trove of true believers…”—a population that we can only hope will keep shrinking and keep failing to fill arenas, as was the case in Tulsa last June 20, despicably close to Juneteenth.

The issue includes a short story by Ami Sands Brodoff, written before the pandemic, which centres on the mourning process of a teenaged character, and a lucid, bold and angry piece by Queens-based writer Andrés Castro, addressing the narrator’s online therapist.

Naghmeh Sharifi, the artist featured in this issue, shares a series of works that she “unpainted” (out of a solid base coat of blue) as part of the Phi Centre’s Parallel Lines virtual residency. A house plant, a moment of self-grooming, a selfie of her shadow in her bedroom become monochromatic, conceptual self portraits.

A number of narratives in the first person, written under the effect of the pandemic, include Catherine Watson’s “Diary of the Great Confinement,” Marie Thérèse Blanc’s “Carpe Noctem (Woman v. Virus, 2020),” and Louise Carson’s “Plague Days: Poetics in the Time of COVID-19,” which starts off as a poetry review and morphs into a much more personal piece. Readers will be able to discern the exposed emotions in the form of hesitations, confessions and witty descriptions. Or intriguing, intimate humour, as is the case with Mark Foss’s “Call and Response.” Or probing insights, like those of Michael Bristol, who, after mulling over different life-altering experiences and masterfully reflecting on human nature, sadness and beauty through the characters in Shakespeare’s Richard II, writes that “Grief compels us to understand what really matters, over against the irresistible power of contingency in our lives.”

For the hundreds of thousands of people who have decided to protest on the streets since the execution of George Floyd, what really matters is to dismantle the system of police brutality and racism, rather than try to stay “safe.”

When we began planning this issue, we wondered what sorts of societies the aftermath of the pandemic would expose. While atrocities like the callous murder of George Floyd are part of an all too predictable pattern of racial violence, I don’t think any of us could have foreseen such widespread, global expressions of outrage and signs of promising changes: the vandalized statue of slave trader Edward Colston sinking into the river in Bristol; Senegalese citizens kneeling on the beach in solidarity; Angela Davis, as brilliant as ever, reminding us that “After many moments of dramatic awareness and possibilities of change, the kinds of reforms instituted in the aftermath have prevented the radical potential from being realized.”

So far, for sure.

 

© Ajit Ghai

 

 

© Oleg Dergachov (http://www.cartoongallery.eu/englishversion/gallery/canada/oleg-dergachov/)

 

In the past couple of years, we have all discussed and dissected, with intensity, the man-made climatological changes that have hit our earth. It has become frustratingly clear that it is not enough to debate the science, the predictions and the impact on our future lives on earth, as our only channel of activism. Climate change is not simply a result of bad habits and poor science, but a systemic overpowering of peoples’ choices through the erosion of the strength of the commons and the right to assemble freely and converge together for a more cooperative and sharing society.

The commons generally refers to:

“… the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people (communities, user groups) manage for individual and collective benefit. […] Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.” (Wikipedia)

Vast segments of the country are part of the commons, places where public jurisdiction or public access is not something that can be constrained. Parks, forests, river areas, wetlands, falaises, the migratory pathways (in the skies and on the ground) of birds and animals immediately spring to mind. But the commons also includes parts of a city – the urban landscape, the parks and plazas outside subway stations. These are areas where the poor can congregate to afford themselves some pleasure… the public version of the backyards of folks in gated communities.

The commons is where people meet and have a right to congregate. It has to do with human rights and individual freedoms, where access to essentials like water, food and shelter are controlled by local populations and not by private interests.

 

Political decision-making in the shadows

There is a nebulous political structure that decides how many school playgrounds a borough will have. In local government, who decides where social issues can be resolved? Who decides to cut trees to build a soccer field – and how many trees to cut? How is the process of implementing public welfare decisions constructed (such as decisions on social housing, growing trees, forming cooperatives, etc.), and by whom?  The whole cooperative decision-making process and cooperative living style – community living style – is not really in the cards, even though heroic movements have fought for it for decades, right here in Montréal.

All this is being discussed in various forums, but there is not enough impetus for preserving the public wetlands, forest areas, parks, mountains – everything that surrounds the city and everything in the city that could be defined as the commons.

Many of us are deeply concerned and worried about what is going to happen, not just for the next five years but for the next twenty. Where do we stand with all this? It seems to us that the climate movement has waged a fairly decisive battle in making sure that this man-made crisis is clearly identified for what it is. However, the same climate movement has very limited controls over any decisions that governments may have arrived at as a result of signing on to certain targets.

Very simply put: large, polluting, fossil-fuel-using nations routinely renege on targets or opt out of programs. Canada is one of them. We have decided to deliberately miss our 2030 targets by 15%. There are limited political watchdog surveillance systems that monitor the provincial and federal governments’ actual performance in curbing our ever-increasing capacity to exploit our natural resources.

There is something else looming large that is not being discussed enough: a shadowy image in our minds of an ever-growing political structure that is preparing subtly to oppose environmental measures through a variety of sustainability-friendly measures that are combined with coercive policies in non-sustainable areas. The forces of privatization and the fossil fuel industry are surreptitiously rebranding their claims. The climatological battle cannot be won unless we curb privatization and fight for the public commons.

The environmental movement in Canada has parked itself outside the obvious areas where jurisdictional decisions are taken. Having a Green Party or an NDP with a competitive green policy is patently inadequate unless these parties are part of a political movement that operates in the commons. And the movement for the commons has to integrally respect Indigenous land rights and cultural heritage.

 

In this issue

Our issue features a photo essay on the Wixárika people’s opposition to a Vancouver mining company’s operations in Mexico. Photographs by José Luis Aranda and commentary by Serai editor Claudia Itzkowich highlight these Indigenous activists and the sacred land of Wirikuta that they are committed to protect.

Freelance journalist Patrick Barnard makes the climate crisis personal in “First Person Climate Change.” Reflecting on science and the weather and key figures shaping his consciousness over his life time, from CBC’s Bob Carty to Moby-Dick, Patrick implores us to halt the “mad narcissism… the driving force of the world as it is organized today.”

Blossom Thom, poetry co-editor of Jonah Magazine, speaks in her poems of yearning, love, and oceans shouting to the shore, sleep collected in remnants, gold dust coating our throats. In “The Garden of Dutiful Women […] whirling, we step on the edges of blades.”

Rae Marie Taylor, author of The Land: Our Gift and Wild Hope,” ponders the distance separating humans from the natural world since the Industrial Revolution, and the need to reclaim our wildness and preserve the commons. In “The Root of It,” she writes: “We need each other and the land that speaks to us of life other than our own. We need the tides and the shores of our planet […] the forest and the hills, the plains and the rain, the elk […] We are necessary to their survival. They are as necessary to ours.”

Better known for directing plays and films, Guy Sprung reflects and muses in his poem, “Dusk on Loukes Lake:” “I float | downside-up | in a darkening world…”

In her poem entitled “Dhrupad of Destruction,” Savitri Sawhney evokes the eternal dancer of creation, conservation and destruction in Hindu mythology, Nataraja, dancing “to the sound of crushing ice, melting glaciers and rising seas.”

Vrajesh Hanspal’s dark poetic prose piece, “Forest Floor,” plumbs our more sinister imaginings of the forest and its carpet of organic detritus teeming with the crawling, ticking and cooing creatures that respected no boundaries…

Two incisive poems by Paris Elizabeth Sea tear into our theme without mincing words, in Moment, arriving.

Maya Khankhoje reviews a highly original novel by Brenda J. Wilson entitled TAKEWING a.m., which centres on the yearly migration of the monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico and back.

And this editorial features a drawing by Canadian cartoonist Oleg Dergachov, commenting on human obliviousness as we fly too close to the sun.

We hope our issue boosts your spirits and stirs your creative juices as we spin new filaments of community in this uneasy time of Corona.

 

 

 

 

Taken from José Celestino Mutis – Real Expedición Botánica al Nuevo Reino de Granada, t. 2170 (1783-1817), Public Domain

 

Perhaps scientific understanding and artistic imagining are different aspects of the same impulse.
And humanity’s great understanders and imaginers are inspired from similar sources.

Jack Klein

That science informs art is patently obvious: painters and sculptors studying anatomy to depict a body, poets and musicians using math, who manage to move us all.

The reverse equation is less obvious, however, and more intriguing: trips to the moon were projected on papyrus (or whatever Greek author Lucian of Samosata wrote on in 160 AD when he came up with the idea[1]), 1800 years before they took place in space.

And then there’s the practice where both approaches interact in parallel, in the search for… beauty? truth? Rana Bose’s essay, “First principles and aesthetics,” offers incisive reflections on the potential correspondences between these two objectives. Yet even making a distinction between formal beauty and veracity may be irrelevant.

Celestino Mutis was an 18th-century Spanish surgeon, astronomer and botanist. In the aim of investigating the plants of Colombia for his Flora del Reyno Unido de Granada,[2] he closely directed the work of more than 40 painters, many of whom joined his trans-Atlantic expedition. A school of drawing and painting was created just for this project in Mariquita, and as some of the Spanish painters fell ill, artists from Quito joined the enterprise, along with local painters from Santa Fe, Cauca and Popayán… and other waves of newcomers from Madrid. Accurate depiction was the goal, and in order to do justice to the exuberant natural palette of the region, the painters used soil, fruit juices, bark, saffron, achiote, palo de Campeche, copper oxide, the grana cochinilla insect, indigo and many more vegetal and mineral pigments whose recipes were carefully controlled by Mutis himself. Art or chemistry?

This issue of Montréal Serai was already underway — that is, da Vinci had already been evoked in the essays of Maya Khankhoje and GG Jolly, Veena Gokhale had already submitted her insightful review of the South Asian Film Festival of Montréal, and the team had unanimously welcomed Marie Thérèse Blanc’s empirical and poetic account of the death of her father — when I came across Amanda Woolrich’s animated engravings inspired by the work of naturalists like the Count of Buffon (1725-1723) and Alfredo Dugès (1826-1910), projected on the thick walls of the Centro Cultural San Pablo in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Meanwhile, poets were inundating the Serai submissions inbox. Their verses evoking spleens and aortas (Cyril Dabydeen), radioactive boars (Ilona Martonfi), gravity (Louise Carson), Cartesian space (Paris Sea) and cells (Maya Khankhoje), and reflecting on the dreamworld of winter (Dinh Le Doan), yearning (Gina Roitman), wildness (Mary Dean Lee) and dementia (Brenda Linn), remind us that the intersections of art and science form the borderlines of pretty much all we can know… or feel.

Oleg Dergachov’s cartoon of three (narcissistic?) snails looking at an abstract representation of the spiral they carry over their soft bodies may summarize “in a snailshell” much of what the authors in this issue have to say. In a similarly teasing mood, physician Jack Klein recalls how, at the turn of the 20th century, Ignaz Semmelweis “lost his marbles after a long and fruitless quarrel with the German medical establishment regarding the need for handwashing after dissecting cadavers before delivering babies!” In that vein (pun intended), the provisional truths of art seem far less dangerous—and far more enticing.

 

[1] In his book La ciencia en la literatura, published by the Universitat de Barcelona, Xavier Duran lists 400 literary works that illustrate the close relationship between science and literature.

[2] Antonio González Bueno, “La Naturaleza en imágenes. Los pintores de la Flora del Nuevo Reyno de Granada (1783-1816),” en José Celestino Mutis en el bicentenario de su fallecimiento (1808-2008) (B. Ribas Ozonas edit.), Monografías de la Real Academia de Farmacia, 26, Madrid. Available at: https://www.analesranf.com/index.php/mono/article/download/961/958

 

 

 

This issue of Serai, “Beyond the Pale” (Vol.31, Issue 3), is one that resonates with me deeply. Hence, I am very happy and honoured to write this editorial. The issue looks to the many changes in cinema across both production and distribution and from big studio films to independents. It also has a special focus on work by and about artists from minority or marginalized communities.

Almost everyone can remember the first film they ever viewed or a film that had a huge impact on their life. My personal journey with cinema began with watching Hindi or regional films on a huge football field in a small town in India. Most of these films were from Bombay (now Mumbai) and were ‘popular mainstream’ films. It was not until I was exposed to documentaries and foreign language cinema in my teens that I began to recognize the power of this form and other national cinemas as well. It was directors like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Anand Patwardhan and Suhasini Mulay, and stars like Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri, who first ended up leaving a mark on my psyche and made me want to study and work in the cinematic field.

During my formative years in India, I rarely watched foreign films in regular theatres. Instead I watched them at special screenings at Alliance Française or the Max Mueller Bhavan/German Centre during my visits to New Delhi. These were almost always in French, German or English. It was later, while studying at Concordia University in Montréal, that I developed a better appreciation of this art form and studied the work of Kurosawa, Pasolini, De Sica, Bergman, Kiarostami, Makmalbaf and others. I became familiar with genres, styles, and auteurs. I came to appreciate the technical genius of filmmakers who were able to create remarkable pieces with the lowest of budgets bringing human conditions and human-interest stories on screen. But I was also aware of the lack of Indigenous and women directors in this cluster of films being taught, the only exception being Alanis Obomsawin.

Despite all the developments of arts in this part of the world, we must be aware that there has been a serious gap of knowledge when it comes to Indigenous issues and stories in Canada. Foreign films are not screened or distributed as they could be. Our theatres in this city continue to screen a majority of Hollywood films. We rarely hear from Indigenous communities or watch global cinema. Here in Montréal, Cinema du Parc, Cinema Politica and other alternative spaces for screenings continue to struggle.

Just in the last decade, there have been many shifts and developments in the form and spectatorship of cinema. People are watching films, television shows, YouTube videos and other media on small handheld devices. They can use the same devices for shooting their own films. Despite these changes, there are very few studies on what most people are watching or enjoying.  Although our engagement and approach to this medium has changed remarkably, challenges in funding, production and distribution continue to affect many in this field. This is particularly true for those from minority or marginalized groups. More recently, the scandals around Weinstein, Ghomeshi,[1] Spacey and others have brought prominence to the inherent institutional misogyny and gender biases within the media industry. Concurrent reckonings with both gender and racial disparities are just the beginning of a long path that we all will be traveling on in the next few years.

Having taught for over seventeen years at both Dawson College and Concordia University, I realize how fortunate I am to not only be exposed to this world but also to work in it. I do, however, recognize that the number of students who come to the discipline of cinema from diverse ethnic or diaspora communities is still very low. In all these years, I have had exactly five students from South Asian backgrounds in our production classes at Dawson, and only one whose parents were extremely supportive of their choice. This leads me to understand a larger overarching issue of how arts are perceived by many. Particularly in the case of parents who migrate to Canada for better lives, aspirations for children are almost always for professions that can provide stable livelihoods. The arts continue to be associated with struggle and have an aura of instability associated with them. Most people appreciate the arts; in fact, it is often art that sustains the soul. However, the majority of institutions devote far more funding to courses in technical and scientific fields. This leads to a struggle for artists to be supported, whether by family or academic institutions. Only a small group of artists end up managing to achieve real visibility or success.

This issue of Serai weaves together a variety of pieces that address just these questions, and push us to look at several important issues and journeys that take us “Beyond the Pale.” It continues in Serai’s tradition of choosing themes that pose challenging and provocative questions to fill in gaps and redress exclusions, exposing a number of practices and attitudes that continue to be deplorable and unacceptable in our society, through the lens of cinema.

Diana Goldberg’s feature essay on three Mexican films (La Negrada, Sueño en otro idioma and El Violin), describes forms of exclusion among marginalized Indigenous populations and Mexicans of African descent. She raises questions about loyalty to a community vs. loyalty to a nation state, and asks: Who has the right to narrate local history? What is meant by historical identity? How does a community deal with the loss of a language, the denial of racism?

Sharon Bourke reflects on Julie Dash’s groundbreaking 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust, which explores the memories of cultural practices and traditions kept alive by Gullah women who are members of the Peazant family living on an isolated sea island with little or no contact with others. “In making her film, Julie Dash has acted as one of the griots, traditional storytellers of her culture, narrating through cinematic poetry as a way to preserve history in the face of change.”  Julie Dash also wrote a book about the experience of making her film in the face of daunting obstacles. “I always knew I wanted to make a film about African American women. To tell stories that had not been told. To show images of our lives that had not been seen…”

Jody Freeman’s interview with Catherine Bainbridge and Ernest Webb (Rumble: the Indians Who Rocked the World) is teeming with reflections on respectful collaboration, and looks at their work dating back more than twenty-five years in bringing Indigenous perspectives to the fore.

Kerry McElroy’s piece situates the #metoo movement historically and in various parts of the world by reflecting on the experiences of women performance artists of all kinds, including courtesans. She makes an impassioned appeal to record the memories of surviving elders as a way of preserving women’s stories and history.

In an insightful critique of Spike Lee’s recent film BlacKkKlansman (the story of an African American policeman infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s), Rana Bose challenges any caricaturing of the civil rights movement and highlights its dignity and organizational strengths.

Karan Singh’s article exposes the slow yet continual homogenization of cultural representation in South Asian cinema, spearheaded by Bollywood. The essay contextualizes how the current political climate in India, led by the Hindu right, has created a framework that continues to support and benefit from a doctored image of India’s cultural and national identity.

Writer and filmmaker Jesse Noah Klein, and writer and editor Durga Chew-Bose reflect on John Cassavetes’ 1971 film Minnie and Moskowitz, which brought them together many years ago and which they’ve since returned to. Their reflections take us on a journey with them on love—first love—relationships, and romantic comedies. It is a poignant piece about hope and letting people in.

In a series of photographs, Anne Bruneau depicts her urban environment and reflects on the symbolic significance of the colours red, blue and white in Montréal.

My own contribution to this issue is a short review of Pallavi Somusetty’s film Escaping Agra, which was shown as part of the diaspora panel for the 2017 edition of the South Asian Film Festival of Montreal. The film will soon be circulated in schools and colleges in North America. I hope that many will view it and gain an understanding of how gender and sexuality issues manifest for youth from families who do not accept them.

Also, as this issue was taking shape, Cinema Politica celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in Montréal. Raphael Cohen and I were fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct a short interview with Svetla Turnin and Ezra Winton, co-founders of the organization, who have been so instrumental in screening truth to power over two decades. A video of our interview is included in this issue.

Finally, look out for Mirella Bontempo’s in-depth analysis of films shown at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Her piece will be added to the issue in the next few weeks.

 

 

The South Asian Film Festival will be opening in Montréal October 26-28 and November 2-4, 2018. As the current director of the festival, I, along with a wonderful team, have attempted to bring forward a strong selection of films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. This is the festival’s eighth year in this city. In addition to film screenings, we offer panel discussions with invited experts. The festival affords film enthusiasts the opportunity to have an engaged discussion after each screening with the filmmaker, film experts and the audience. We are also going to present a diaspora panel slated for November 3, in which filmmakers will be present to share their work with the audience. The festival is our attempt to expose a variety of issues and films from South Asia. It seeks to encourage younger participants to consider entering into cinematic fields – imagining and creating films that tell their stories and speak to their issues. I sincerely hope that many who are reading this issue will attend the festival and help us spread the word around the community at large. For more information, please visit the website: https://www.saffm.centrekabir.com/en/

I thank all the writers who have contributed to this issue and the editorial team – Rana Bose, Lisa Foster, Jody Freeman, Nilambri Ghai and Maya Khankhoje – for guiding me through this issue. Thank you for all your support.

Enjoy the issue!

 

 

[1] Jian Ghomeshi was a CBC radio host from 2007 to 2014. In 2014-2015, Ghomeshi was the subject of allegations of sexual harassment or assault and was later arrested. In 2016, he was acquitted of all charges.

 

Wall between Mexico and the US, ending in the Pacific Ocean
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexico%E2%80%93United_States_barrier#/media/File:Mexico-US_border_at_Tijuana.jpg)

 

At the beginning of the year, I was invited to act as guest editor for the current issue of Montréal Serai on “Populism and the Erasure of History.” I had to ask the editorial team to clarify what that complex phrase meant, and was fascinated by the ideas behind it. Statements outlining the theme pointed to the fact that populism “is immediately attractive. It operates in the ‘now.’ The present. It negates the antecedents. The past. History is negated.”

I must admit, however, that even now, after poring over dozens of pages, ideas, images and verses revolving around the issue, my mind is still struggling to arrive at a clear definition of populism. But that may be the main point in creating this issue, and the reason why I’ll start by presenting the second half of the theme’s equation.

 

The erasure of history

Having worked as editor-in-chief of a Mexican travel magazine for a number of years and, more importantly, having lived for most of my life in America (the continent,[i] just to clarify), I am very aware of how problematic it is to use certain terms stripped of their historical meaning – terms like “colonial” used as an inviting adjective evocating charming cobblestone streets or European architecture (be it Andalusian patios, baroque churches, French or Victorian, cake-like façades). While the Spanish conquest and its legacy are undeniably part of America’s heritage, I have always been puzzled by the ease with which references to colonization have been wiped clean of all the violence they contain. Its history erased, the word now evokes a coveted aesthetic style to be enjoyed, inhabited, purchased.

The use of language is a recurrent thread in this issue meant to highlight the relevance of history as a crucial antidote to the perils of populism. This makes me think about the weight words actually have, and wonder whether the distinction between words and facts, the perception that speech has no effect on human events, pertains to the realm of positivist-inspired “truths” (fantasies), like the separation of body and spirit.

Maya Khankhoje’s piece, “Speaking at Eye Level: Decoding the Language of Populism,” focuses on the different ways in which populist figures – from Indira Gandhi to Obama or Victor Orban – orchestrate their speech by carefully choosing their words in order to speak to the masses “at eye level,” the way sensitive parents and teachers speak to children, crouching rather than looking down.

Language seems to be somewhat of a protagonist as well in Nilambri Ghai’s review of Julian Samuel’s book Radius Islamicus, in which the main character, an ageing man now living in Pierrefonds, Québec, has directed multiple projects including “the flash and bang in London.” Nilambri shows the author’s satirical talent when describing a hypothetical solution to terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims: “I am sure not even a cheap copycat knapper would knapsack stops with Moslem names… The current Prime Minister is thinking of changing Russell Square to Mohammad Ali Jinnah just for this reason…”

Dina Gardashkin starts her piece on Sadaka-Reut, an educational organization based on Palestinian-Jewish partnership, with the following line: “I’m a Jewish Israeli, and the first time I learned what the word Palestinian really meant was at the age of 23.” She shares an intimate, first-person account of the experiences young Israelis go through once they are exposed to the Palestinian reality, after being trained in schools where references to the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), the uprooting and exile of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, are banned from history books.

Nilanjan Dutta’s commentary, “Sanitizing the Syllabus,” deals with this very issue. Addressing the perils of authorities rewriting, tailoring and editing history, Nilanjan directs our attention to the way that historical biases are deliberately planned and used by certain leaders and people in authority. He states that “the ones in power believe that the past can provide them with some displayable justification for their hegemony.”

Two very different artists are featured in this issue, each evoking a collective past or consciousness. Diane Denault’s sculptural works in ceramic explore heritage, transcendence and the ritual aspect of urns: the unique texture of her pieces is achieved by exploring the limits of clay and firing at low temperatures, all of which yield a totemic, smoky effect. Wartin Pantois, on the other hand, a Québec City street artist and catalysing presence, likes to surprise local residents, drivers and pedestrians with works depicting various hidden human realities – like homeless people shivering under a blanket on a cardboard. In this issue, we feature a selection of his ephemeral pieces meant to counter collective amnesia. Québec 1918, for instance, evokes the protests in Québec against conscription in World War I, which were repressed by the army. For this work, Wartin Pantois used white paint on black paper to give the characters a ghostly air, haunting those trying to forget history.

 

So what about populism? How does it come about?

Bernard Miller’s brilliant feature essay presents different ways and historical contexts in which populism arises, using the analogy of games. In the process, he highlights historical realities that have been eclipsed, including the history of Monopoly, the board game that, very ironically, was invented by Lizzie Magie, a left-wing American feminist stenographer and activist, “to teach the dangers of monopoly accumulation of land and property in societies striving for greater equality”. In analysing different definitions of the term, Miller points to one of the intrinsic contradictions of populism: the authors of populist rhetoric do not consider themselves “common” even while claiming to know what is good for the commoners. He adds that “for an idea to become ‘populist’ it has to be adopted by the populus, preferably by persuading them that they thought of it themselves.”

 

Lizzie_Magie
Source: Wikipedia

Gregory Patrick Starks offers a passionate commentary on various facets of populism, including what he calls “populism in its ideal form.” He laments the fact that leaders like Juan Domingo Perón, Salvador Allende, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and Mahatma Gandhi have “little chance of attaining power, much less holding on to it, for strong disruptive forces will quickly unravel all that.”

Rana Bose, the intricate mastermind behind this issue, shares two beat-type poems and contributes the essay “Populism: Mesmerize and Confound the Present and Sully the Past!” He writes that “the populism that haunts us today is not only about tiresome responses to formalism, but also the stirring-up of those who are reticent or instinctively opposed to equal opportunity, reserving jobs under affirmative action programs, paying the price of colonization.” This analysis ties in with many of the sentiments expressed in this issue, especially when he adds, “The thought of squaring your ancestors’ unpaid bills causes discernible unease and rancour amongst those whom I would not hesitate to call argumentative imbeciles.”

Alicia Loría’s review and essay on Guillaume Pitron’s book La guerre des métaux rares reminds us that imbecilic arguments are built not only on erasure of the past, but also by simply diverting attention from, well, the truth. The author informs us that the carbon footprint of every 1,000 Google searches is equivalent to a short plane trip, and that one hour of Netflix is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of a refrigerator. So, saving paper while frantically emailing, streaming, Googling and feeling morally (ecologically) superior speaks to the ease with which most of us can be taken in by biased, contradictory and downright manipulative information.

Loría quotes Constantino Humberto Muko, saying that “knowledge frees and enlightens people, while ignorance suppresses and encloses them in a limited world.” Impossible not to concur. But it’s been a while since we stopped believing in knowledge as a monolithic, immovable truth, so we are doomed to keep researching, questioning, learning, as, who else is the people if not all of us? And what other antidote is there to lies and manipulation moulded to soothe our common anxieties?

When I started writing this editorial, Trump and his team were not only justifying the policy that separated undocumented migrants from their children at the Mexico-U.S. border, they were bragging about it: “It’s very biblical to enforce the law,” Jeff Sessions said, defending the policy by quoting Romans 13, a popular biblical reference among slave owners, Nazi leaders and apartheid supporters.[ii] Now Trump has been forced to shift paths: “We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together.”

He’d gone too far, even for his supporters, a group bolstered by “white men meant to be at the top of the mountain,” as Montréal journalist Francine Pelletier put it in an interview conducted by Simon Van Vliet for this issue – men who, finding themselves “dispossessed,” displaced by women and threatened by globalization, are now craving revenge.

Guadelupe Mountains (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guadalupe_Mountains#/media/File:GuadalupeMtns_2006_cropped.jpg)

But when was their “right” to claim the mountaintop conferred on them? Who granted them that right, and why was it supposed to be for time immemorial? The Superstition Mountains in Arizona, a popular recreation spot for residents of Phoenix, were called Wi:ksawa in Yavapai, the language spoken by the Yuma tribes who lived there long before the Europeans arrived. In Texas, another border state, the name of the Guadalupe Mountains should stand as a reminder to “Zero Tolerance” supporters that not too long ago this territory belonged to Mexico, the neighbouring country they are striving to extirpate via a wall, billions of dollars in border enforcement, and rhetoric meant to instigate irreconcilable hatred against its citizens who are following an ancient migratory route that was also deemed “legal” under U.S. law only a few decades ago.

Despite right-wing populist efforts, history will not be erased.

In closing, we would like to thank the volunteer revisors who helped edit our growing number of articles in French: Muriel Beaudet, Chantal Mantha and Louise Dawson. Un gros merci !

 

 

[i] The Oxford English Dictionary first defines America as “1. A land mass of the western hemisphere consisting of the continents of North and South America joined by the Isthmus of Panama,” and in a sub-definition as: “1.1 Used as a name for the United States.” The Cambridge Dictionary’s first definition for America is “the United States of America.”

[ii] https://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/slave-owners-and-nazis-quote-the-romans-13-to-justify-immorality-too/

 

 

 

Acts of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, genocide, discrimination, erasure of cultures and languages go back to time immemorial. But the backdrop of events of the past two decades, looming catastrophic climate crisis, Trumpism and the rise of the “alt-right” across the global North seems to give the theme of this issue (coined somewhat tongue-in-cheek as ‘My Heritage is Bigger than Yours’) current pertinence. Close to home, an astute quote from Donna Patrick’s paper “Canada” aptly launches our musings:

One way to embark on an examination of language and ethnic identities in Canada is to observe particular sites of ongoing political and cultural conflict. In general, these revolve around the dominant national ideology that the French and the English in Canada are its “two founding people” or “nations” (or “races,” as the term was used historically). Significantly, this ideology interacts, on the one hand, with the claim by Aboriginal people that they should also be regarded as “founding people” and, on the other, with the growing multiculturalism and multilingualism that call into question the idea of Canada as basically bilingual and bicultural.[1]

The issue of heritage, present from the moment the first settlers arrived and laid claim to the land that was not theirs for the taking, remains substantially unresolved almost 500 years later. The concept of cultural heritage pervades many aspects of life – cultural, artistic, and economic – and I am honoured to have been invited to write this guest editorial.

As the title of the theme highlights, the concept of heritage is most often not seen as something universal, but as cultural spheres that exist in comparison and competition, vying for influence, size and power. Typically this occurs when cultural heritages clash. To cite an extreme example from home, we have a nature-loving, matriarchal and pacific culture coming into contact with a patriarchal one that honours greed over respect for all beings, including animals and plants. History is full of cultural or ethnic identities being erased or decimated, but it is also full of harmonious coexistence between diverse peoples.

Our world is one of identities. We do like to label, categorize, classify, and box things and people. But taxonomy, even in natural science, is an ill-begotten practice that more often serves to obscure similarities and highlight differences. Is it human nature, or have we been trained to do this?

More often than not, the practice of division serves the flourishing of cultural hegemony: to separate, divide, break up has benefitted the powerful in their quest to attain acquiescence for their wars of greed, as well as to undermine true class struggle against the neo-con and neo-liberal policies of looting the 99% for the benefit of the 1%. The right-wing approach favours unscrupulous overt scapegoating of ethnic and cultural minorities, refugees and immigrants. Non-rightwingers are more nuanced about it. They admit a small number of minorities into the circle of elites, provided they take on the modus operandi of the existing elite. The others are often only superficially graced as “visible minorities” and diverse identities. This approach has worked well for the privileged class, whose goal is to maintain their privilege. But for the disenfranchised of the dominant class (i.e., white working class), the liberal approach has been failing miserably, hence the rise of populism, both on the left (e.g. Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn) and on the right with the alt-right flourishing across North America and Europe.

Many involved in the various movements of ethnic and social equality and environmental justice recognize the importance of uniting to a joint class struggle, but there is a long way ahead to break free from the shackles of identity politics.

 

This issue

True to its tradition, Montréal Serai once again brings together an extremely diverse range of writers whose short stories, poetry, essays and interviews explore the rocky paths of cultural identity. Quality food for thought shapes the interview with Alexa Conradi, whose new book of essays, Les angles morts, Perspectives sur le Québec actuel, interweaves the personal and the political as she invites her fellow Quebeckers to take a good hard look at their blind spots.

Shanti Kumari’s interview with Helen Cote Quewezance addresses the attempts at erasure of Indigenous identity by Canada’s colonial settlers. This Clan Mother settles the spurious concept of English and French as “founding fathers” by correctly referring to them as immigrants or newcomers, and calls for a profound rethinking of policy-making by returning to the ways of the Indigenous peoples to save this country – and ultimately our planet.

In “Don’t Fence Me In,” we travel with Sujata Dey on her adventures and collisions with mirrored ethnicity. Andrés Castro’s chilling short story “Intersections” highly contemporary, goes right under the skin.

Catherine Watson’s The Marquis explores irredeemable human self-interest by those whose social position permits them to pursue it. In an intricate way she connects Marquis de Sade’s short stories in Les Crimes de l’amour, written in prison over 200 years ago, with the unresolvable dilemmas of her neighbour Diane in the face of her insensitive landlord.

Issues around religious minorities and segregation are explored by Sivan Slapak in her affectionate piece, “Dear Hasidic Girls,” where she invites us to experience interactions of Hasidic girls with each other and with their teacher, whose life is outside their Hasidic community.

We are furthermore treated to three beautifully poignant poems by Nada El-Omari and an evocative short story by Ehab Lotayef, “White-Yellow,” which will ring a bell with Montrealers. New York performance artist Kayhan Irani offers us a sketch of her new work, There is a Portal, probing the post 9/11 rise of Islamophobia and its impact on Arab, South Asian and Muslim Americans.

As a new Cold War against Russia is looming over us, Nilambri Ghai shares an interview with a young Canadian named Serena Sial, whose travels in Russia have forged lasting relationships that keep drawing her back.  And I share some personal reflections on “outsiderhood.”

Veena Gokhale’s new novel, Land for Fatimah, and Lee Maracle’s Conversations with Canadians, both reviewed in this issue, land squarely on target with our theme.

And there will be more to look forward to in the coming weeks. Enjoy!

 

[1] Patrick, Donna. 2010. “Canada.” In Joshua Fishman and Ofelia Garcia (eds.), the Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity, 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 286-301.

“As expected Harvey has intensified into a Hurricane” by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Photo taken from flickr under Creative Commons license: CC BY 2.0

There is nothing benevolent or beautiful about the forces of Nature mercilessly unleashed on Texas, indiscriminately flooding its precious oil refineries and destroying its population’s homes and livelihoods. We watch helplessly as successive hurricanes rip across Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean, ravaging the dwellings of the poor and hopeless, along with the near-perfect havens of panicked tourists.

The horror continues. A seemingly harmless retired accountant and real estate magnate rents a two-room suite on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas resort hotel to rain down 10 minutes of random fire from 33 rifles and semi-automatic weapons. The leader of the most powerful country in the world flouts science and spouts inane drivel, as the spectre of fire and fury – the beast of war – licks its chops, anxious to sink its teeth into new and never-before-developed weapons of destruction. Distinctions between good and bad begin to blur in the smoggy haze of a new normal. Heaven and hell switch places. In the chaos and confusion, blame is directed at everyone and no one. An alliance seems to be emerging: the benevolent and the malevolent; the intelligent and the cunning; the artistic and the crafty – an unholy alliance that clouds the core issues of a deep divide.

Articles in this issue peel each layer to reveal yet another. Bernard Miller’s essay entitled “What Goes Up…” delves into the current bubble in the Canadian housing market and uses that as his entryway into a scathing exposé of today’s world order, where selfishness has its virtues, an ex-Nazi is placed at the head of the United Nations, and “… the financial world’s influence wielders – successors to those who caused the 1929 crash and then benefitted from it – had a broader vision…. They aimed to make debt and debt trading so commonplace that everyone on the planet would eventually be caught up in it.”

Also featured are poetic prose pieces and equally poetic paintings by Naghmeh Sharifi, recipient of the Impressions Residency and grant at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Her Peuple dilué is a series of ink-on-paper drawings inspired by the Roma population of Sutka, Macedonia, exploring “the idea of a people versus a nation and transient identities.”

Rana Bose ponders the future of “quantum computers” – computers that can operate at “two wavelengths, with a mind of their own,” that can be taught to make their own choices and “learn the language of emotions.” He writes about Artificial Intelligence that is no longer artificial… it is our new normal. In another piece, darkly mulling over the roles embraced by Anthony Hopkins, Rana reflects on the perfection of pure evil – the Silence of the Lambs kind – played with masterful artistry and brilliance.

Pietro Ferrua muses on cinematography and the adaptation of books into films, turning his thoughts to the history of the remakes of the 1976 novel by Nan and Ivan Lyons, Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, in which nothing is as it seems.

William Davis’s book, Undoctored: How You Can Seize Control of Your Health and Become Smarter than Your Doctor, is reviewed by Maya Khankhoje, along with Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. Nilambri Ghai reviews Jaspreet Singh’s new book of poetry, November.

On the fiction front, Taryn Foster’s short story leaves us in a motionless state of shock. An intricate essay by Nilambri Ghai uncovers the coalescing of religious truths and untruths, and examines alliances that create fear and violence:

“Since the very beginning, leaders have used religion as an easy and effective tool to control masses, instill fear, hatred, revenge, communalism and violence, and build powerful alliances with the “unholy.”

But every unholy alliance has to hit a wall at some point. And in this issue, it’s a wall of UNCEDED VOICES (https://decolonizingstreetart.com/) – Indigenous women’s kickass murals in the working-class neighbourhood of St. Henri. The pièce de résistance.

Thirty years ago, in November 1986, we launched our very first issue of Montréal Serai. While commemorating this important milestone, we are proud to announce that Serai’s contribution to the promotion of literary arts has been recognized through the Quebec Writers’ Federation Judy Mappin Community Award (2016) presented recently to Rana Bose, a founding member of Serai.

 

#montroyal credit: Prasun Lala

 

In these past 30 years, we have moved from a print-based community magazine to a digital quarterly showcasing fiction, poetry, critical essays, interviews, reviews and media arts from Québec, Canada, and the international community. Starting from this issue, our website has a new look to enhance its visual appeal and showcase its contributors’ photos and artwork more effectively. We are also continuing to take a more dynamic approach to uploading new articles at staggered intervals. We look forward to your feedback and suggestions. Write to us at talkback@montrealserai.com.

In keeping with our vision of bringing the margins to the centre, we are planning to engage young, student writers through a new section that will be introduced in our next issue (March 2017). More information on this will be posted early in the New Year.

The theme of this issue is drawn from a quote from Ralph Blum’s The Book of Runes. Runes are the thousand-year-old letters forming runic alphabets – the first system of writing developed and used by Germanic peoples before the adoption of the Latin alphabet.[i] Individual runes were associated with symbolic properties or powers, which could be invoked by writing them. The word rune meant both letter and secret or mystery. According to one source, its original meaning might have been a “simple (hushed) message.” [ii]

Blum’s quote reflects on what we can learn from constraint, hardship and other causes of human sorrow, pain and limitation:

“When something within us is disowned, that which is disowned wreaks havoc. A cleansing is required here; in undertaking it you fund a will and strengthen character.” [iii]

The disownment or casting away of what was once one’s own is heart-wrenching – but equally brutal can be the task of owning it back. We have, in this issue, an extraordinary range of articles covering indigenous and migrant stories, our lost rights to human dignity, a sudden end to childhood, and the powerful means of taking back the disowned through murals, poems, storytelling and performing arts.

Claudia Itzkowich Schñadower, in her interview with Mexican filmmakers Luis Ernesto Nava and Keisdo Shimabukuro, writes about the stories on walls sketched by migrants escaping from poverty and violence. Joyce Valbuena and Giuliana Fumagalli recount the experiences of Inti Naxhiellii Barrios – a storyteller, performance artist and artistic advisor of Le bloc d’artistes of the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montréal – who travelled to the Philippines in 2016 as part of the Solidarity in Performance Art (SIPA) project. Marie Thérèse Blanc reflects on Leonard Cohen, the author and songwriter who “disowned nothing,” and who, through being “unaffectedly honest about his warts and failings,” revealed “rare, gentle grace and elegance that defeated ego or pretence.” Louise Carson offers up a blistering end-of-love poem in “Burning.” Tamara Nazywalskyj, in her story “Fourteen Days of God’s Speech,” looks for the elusive peace and happiness arising from her conversations with God. Astha Agarwal, in her poem “Durga,” tries to ‘re-own’ her childhood.

Featured book reviews probe the hidden depths, from Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education, Liam Durcan’s The Measure of Darkness, Mayank Bhatt’s Belief, and Donald F. Mulcahy’s A Second Coming, Canadian Migration Fiction, to Louise Carson’s book of poetry, A Clearing.
Films reviewed here explore other “unowned territory”: Lia Tarachansky’s On the Side of the Road, and Paolo Zaffaina’s Article 4, a short film from Italy about the never-addressed-or-upheld legal and constitutional citizen right to a decent wage.

Look for more articles in the coming weeks as we edge our way through the season of the longest nights.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runes

[ii] http://norse-mythology.org/runes/

MacLeod, Mindy, and Bernard Mees. 2006. Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. p. 4-5.

[iii] Ralph Blum, The Book of Runes, A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle (https://archive.org/details/The-Book-of-RunesSee pp. 80-81, Nauthiz: Constraint, Necessity, Pain.

 

#mtl credit: Prasun Lala

 

begs outrage no borders visual

En route to Europe and Asia, I find graffiti everywhere on streets and train stations in Copenhagen. Many words on the graffiti look for peace in an unstable world. Others look for a world without borders or simply a place to live in. One cannot miss the loud messages in Danish, English and Arabic, etched in bold colours, lighting up dark steely walls, shocking us out of our stupor, forcing us to watch, making sure that there are similar images waiting on the other side for the eye that happens to look away. It is out there: a clear expression of the outrage of those not within European borders. I can almost touch the palpable fury pouring out from hearts behind the hands of those spraying paint, desperately looking for homes for their loved ones, carving out words on Denmark’s heartline: “THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK MUST WRITE!”

http://graffiti-art-on-trains.blogspot.ca/search/label/Denmark?updated-max=2010-01-09T06:52:00-08:00&max-results=20&start=20&by-date=false

Seven thousand kilometres away, in Northern India, old wounds are opening up once again, and the smouldering embers of communal divisions are being raked to light fires that consume populations. “Not within our borders!” is the cry. Return home (Ghar Wapsi) to Hindustan’s fundamental Hindu roots (Hindutava) is the silent slogan rising from the hearts of people on the street. Religion is being used for partisan party politics to provoke people into taking sides, and leaders are trying to win the hearts of voters by evoking the memory of communal riots. In protest, writers, artists and intellectuals are returning their prestigious national awards (Award Wapsi), but hidden beneath this rage is the impoverished condition of farmers in the Punjab – a state that once relied for its strength, self-sufficiency and economy on its fertile land.  Farmers have few alternatives other than to sell their land to developers looking for prime property around newly constructed international airports that will soon be vying for flights from Montreal and Toronto. The environment is carcinogenic resulting in the vicious spread of malignant tumours that now require a special cancer train to transport patients to urban centres for treatment from the highly affected districts around Malwa – a region close to the River Sutlej.

earth no borders

 

I seem to have lost my mind along with my train of thought around the theme of this issue: The Heart has its reasons….  All that comes to mind are words from a verse by the poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz where he writes to his beloved: “Do not expect from me the kind of love I once felt for you…/when the beauty of your eyes meant everything to me…/I cannot turn myself away now from the spent bodies of those lying in the dust…/and those who can no longer rise from centuries of neglect.” (liberally translated)

This used to be my country, I said to myself. It is no longer so. New borders are being carved where there were meant to be none. Breathless, I return to Canada and look for a faqir’s crazy songs among the first soft snowflakes of the season. I look back at how, 28 years ago, we launched Montréal Serai  as a forum for unheard voices. We defined a new centre to express what was close to our hearts – an expression of the rare, unusual, and the unsaid. Today we continue to expand this centre – to redefine Canadian experience, and to bring the margins of the world a little closer to ourselves and our country.

This issue of Montréal Serai includes images, poems, stories, articles, interviews and reviews that delve deep beneath surfaces and peel layers to expose hidden feelings and sensitivities. Marc Krupa, a Montreal-based actor, writer and filmmaker, interviews Nabil Mehchi, co-creator of Interrupt This Program, a new five-part CBC documentary series. Each episode profiles three or four young artists in cities such as Beirut, Kiev, Port-au-Prince, Athens – cities that have seen recent turmoil – where history is being made even during the filming of the series.

The featured artist for this issue is Andréanne Bouchard, a member of the Atelier Graff in Montréal since 2007. As an artist, she looks consistently for a fragile balance in her installations, and thus creates a subtle universe both chaotic and frivolous.

Roberto Perezdiaz’s story “Monday Morning Madera Municipal Court” is a humorous and poignant description of the kind of treatment meted out to Mexican agricultural workers in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley of California. Jaspreet Singh, author of Chef and Helium, reveals in his poem (“The Emperor’s Clothes) the heart-wrenching silence of the ‘Saffron Man’ following the ‘Savage lynching in Dadri.’

Catherine Watson, a sociologist and member of the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning, recalls what Paris meant to Jean Rhys, author of the underworld and Wide Sargasso Sea: “Paris, you said, is life itself/it was your life/you peeled back the skin.” Louise Carson in her poems waits for spring to “take the cold wind from the storm,” while Jody Freeman traces father-daughter relationships in Ellipse: “I am the chaos of my father’s order,” she writes.

Neilesh Bose, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Victoria and author of Defying the Perpetual Exception: Culture and Power in South Asian Islam, reviews the portrayal of Muslim characters within plays such as  Dion Boucicault’s Jessie Brown and Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced.  Sam Boskey, lawyer, educator, writer, community organizer and jazz player, introduces the new English-language edition of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’ award-winning book, Tenir tête, based on the recent student movement in Québec.

On behalf of everyone here at Montréal Serai, I would like to wish our readers and supporters a very pleasant and safe holiday season. As always, we welcome your comments and feedback. Please contact us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.