Vivek Shraya – Trans artist challenges the use of trauma narratives in an era of virtue signalling

Galleries West | April 14, 2021

Trauma Clown, by Vivek Shraya, on view as part of the Capture Photography Festival at Vancouver’s SUM Gallery until July 1, is a soft but potent critique of audiences and viewing institutions in an era of virtue signalling. 

The Trauma Clown is the effect of the very contemporary thirst for stories of suffering. In a series of 10 portrait-like photographs, Shraya’s performer steps progressively deeper into the role of the clown, to greater and greater praise and public affection. This series questions the emphasis on trauma narratives in queer artistic expression. What is the danger of trading stories of trauma and redemption as cultural currency?

Shraya plays the character of the emerging artist, steadily revealing more of herself until she becomes the caricature of her suffering. She moves from the Lovesick Clown, a hoody-wearing, guitar-strumming singer-songwriter to unveil the clown with increasing intensity. This steady transformation plays across her body and weaves a deft relationship between the audience’s desire for her to expose more of herself and the increasing commodification of her performance.

In the sixth photograph, she is finally the Trauma Clown: on her knees among piles of flowers, her clown makeup streaked by sweat and tears, arms open in full availability to the unseen crowd. From this triumphalism, she begins to fade from view. Gallery Clown sets her inside the window of an iPhone, while Media Clown is an ‘image of her image’ in a magazine. Ultimately, in Your Clown, she is a framed photo on your wall, among the artful tableau of your things. 

Prepare to be implicated. Shraya takes aim at mainstream audiences, art institutions and popular narratives. In an interview with Shraya and curator SD Holman on the show’s opening weekend, Holman pointed to the effect of the trauma narrative in the reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race – the ways in which sad backstories propel participants to victory. Shraya’s point is that the demand for stories of queer oppression have become the bread and butter of the queer artist in the mainstream media.

If, as a viewer, you come to this show as a member of the mainstream (white, straight, cis to be sure), however educated you may be, the temptation might be to connect these photographs to drag. This would be an easy misconception since the photographs are not accompanied by any text. It’s left to the audience to get things going, so one might find oneself mentally thumbing the pages of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble to make connections between what is taught about drag and the trans body we see.

I was grateful that Shraya, in her talk, cautions her audience not to conflate transness with drag. As I see it, the connection to drag in Trauma Clown, if any, is more carefully embedded in the performance imagery, where hyperbolized acts form a critique of the institutions from which they are born.

Shraya’s exhibition is an opportunity for audiences to consider their role in the capitalist viewing machine, and the ways that looking can make objects of the real bodies we see. ■  

Vivek Shraya: Trauma Clown at the SUM Gallery in Vancouver from April 1 to July 1, 2021. 

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Le clown cathartique de Vivek Shraya

 Radio-Canada | April 2, 2021

[Vivek Shraya] est une artiste canadienne très importante, son oeuvre comprend la musique, la littérature l’art visuel, le film, le théâtre, même si elle est sûrement plus connue en tant qu’écrivaine » énumère la co-fondatrice de la galerie SUM et du Queer Art Festival, Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa.

Du 2 au 30 avril 2021, l’exposition photographique Trauma Clown de l’artiste multidisciplinaire Vivek Shraya est présentée à la Galerie SUM, dans le cadre du Capture Photography Festival 2021 à Vancouver.

« Pour les gens qui suivent l’art LGBTQ+ au Canada, je dirais qu’elle est l’une des artistes les plus connues. »—  Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, co-fondatrice de la galerie SUM et du Queer Art Festival

C’est une artiste avec beaucoup de choses à dire, ses oeuvres sont très provocantes, estime la co-fondatrice du Queer Art Festival. Elle ajoute que Vivek Shraya n’a pas peur de la controverse.

Avec Trauma Clown, l’artiste cherche à connaître la cause de la popularité, du succès des artistes LGBTQ+ quand ils exposent leurs traumatismes.

Click here to listen to the original radio interview in full.

Vivek Shraya’s Trauma Clown photo series probes the commodification of personal pain

Stir Vancouver | April 1, 2021

SUM Gallery presents Trauma Clownto July 1. Opening-night receptions April 1 and 2 are sold out; an online artist talk April 3 at 3 pm is still taking registration. Advance appointments are required to view the exhibition; you can book visits here. Find COVID-19 safety guidelines here.

SATIRE AND SUFFERING come together in a new self-portrait series by visual artist, author, and musician Vivek Shraya.

Meant to be viewed in order in the new show Trauma Clown at the SUM Gallery, the photographs shot by Zachary Ayotte track Shraya’s gradual rise, as a trans woman of colour, to acclaim—and the cost of that rise. The exhibit is part of the 2021 Capture Photography Festival Selected Exhibition Program.

From the first image, Lovesick Clown, where a forlorn Shraya plays her guitar onstage, her makeup and hair become more and more chaotic and outrageous, until we see her in full sad-clown face, miming her pain, with a sea of red-pink roses, thrown by an unseen audience, at her feet. 

“If you could see all these people literally throwing flowers at me!” the affable artist says with a laugh over the phone from her home in Calgary, where she is an assistant professor of creative writing. “Surprisingly it was a lot of fun to do—because I don’t understand what the parameters are for visual art. I don’t know what Heather’s Pick is for visual art. 

“A lot of my brand is tied to how I look, and there’s pressure to present a high femme persona,” Shraya adds. “This is the opposite: something that’s not invested in being pretty. Part of me was playing a character I don’t get to play, and playing that character in a hyperbolic way.”

As fun as it may have been to shoot, the photo series had far more serious inspiration. It came to Shraya as she was touring and performing readings during the wave of success that met her 2018 nonfiction book I’m Afraid of Men—a story of how masculinity was imposed on her as a boy, drove the bullying she received for being queer and nonwhite as a teen, and continues to haunt her as a woman. 

“It wasn’t an easy book to write,” she says of the national bestseller. “It was traumatic, in a way, to go back to those experiences. I found myself tracking how much trauma I was showing in my work and how it was being received. And I saw that the more trauma I exposed publicly, the more there seemed to be support, not just on the audience level but institutional level.”

It was around that time that she casually half-joked in conversation with a friend over the phone that she was becoming a “trauma clown”. 

And so the self-portrait project began to take shape, working with collaborator Ayotte and makeup artist Alanna Chelmick. She knew just what outfit to pull out of her closet: L’Uomo Strano designer Mic. Carter’s high-fashion, neoprene number that happens to have a slightly clownlike frilled collar and playful shorts instead of a skirt. The costume slowly reveals its true splendour over the course of the series. The flowers became the colourfully potent symbol for the Trauma Clown’s rising popularity, growing from three in the first shot to the small mountain in the sixth.

Its approach might rely on exaggeration, but the series ties directly into Shraya’s own trajectory—from her beginnings in music, to the early artistic output alluded to in Coming Out Clown and Immigrant Clown, to her full celebration as a bestselling author. At the same time, the photos address the viewer directly, making us question our own appetite for work that reveals the oppression or suffering of others—especially marginalized others—and the way that’s been commodified.

It’s not Shraya’s first foray into photography and self portrait. “Trisha”, her acclaimed 2016 series of diptychs, mined equally personal ground, picturing Shraya dressed up to re-enact vintage photographs of her beloved mother.

Those artworks could be looked at singularly or out of order, she points out, but she prefers you see “Trauma Clown” in the chronology on the SUM walls. 

Meanwhile, in her own career, she continues to push for the freedom to write about subjects outside of her darker experiences as a trans woman.

“Marginalized artists should have the right to choose to write what they want,” she says, adding she met with resistance when she tried to shop a children’s book about raccoons. “To support diverse voices, it means we have to support what these diverse voices want to say.”

For Shraya, whose debut theatrical work, the semi-autobiographical How to Fail as a Popstar, was just published by Vancouver’s Arsenal Press, she won’t shy away from baring herself altogether anymore. But she questions herself more about it. “I ask myself, ‘Am I feeling pressure to do this?’” she says. “I’m trying to figure out, if I’m disclosing something traumatic, why I’m doing it.” 

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Five Projects to See at Vancouver’s Capture Photography Festival

Canadian Art | March 30, 2021


Public installation, Canada Line, April 2 to September 30

Each image from Zinnia Naqvi’s Yours to Discover series is a dense tapestry of meaning. Naqvi stages the immigrant dream—a washed-out, middle-class suburban bliss—and unravels it at once, illuminating the threads between nostalgia and colonization. A self-aware critic, Naqvi has a humour that gets punchier the more it is taken seriously: manicured nails and lawns, stacks of heavy-hitting titles on race, toy cop cars and Monopoly houses. Installed at the Broadway–City Hall Skytrain station, a literal cog in the facilitation of movement and economy, Yours to Discover is cheeky yet incisive, inviting us to think critically about our attachment to place. —Coco Zhou, editorial resident


Centre A, continues to May 29

“There are more important things than living.” So said Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick in April 2020, opining for an end to pandemic lockdown. Will Kwan détournes this phrase in Death Cult #1 (There are more important things than living) (2021), a black granite slab etched with Patrick’s visage and quote. In “Exclusion Acts” Kwan showcases this and other sharp reflections on pandemic, capitalism and white supremacy. Kwan is a thinker and maker who has been critiquing colonialism, racism and commercialism for 20 years; to witness him going to work again, subverting these phenomena in link to a grievous and heightened moment, feels vital. —Leah Sandals, content editor


Centre A, continues to May 29

“There are more important things than living.” So said Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick in April 2020, opining for an end to pandemic lockdown. Will Kwan détournes this phrase in Death Cult #1 (There are more important things than living) (2021), a black granite slab etched with Patrick’s visage and quote. In “Exclusion Acts” Kwan showcases this and other sharp reflections on pandemic, capitalism and white supremacy. Kwan is a thinker and maker who has been critiquing colonialism, racism and commercialism for 20 years; to witness him going to work again, subverting these phenomena in link to a grievous and heightened moment, feels vital. —Leah Sandals, content editor


SUM Gallery, April 1 to July 1
Artist’s talk, April 3, via Zoom

Multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya merges tragedy and humour seamlessly into her playful yet compelling photo exhibition “Trauma Clown.” The artist poses as said “trauma clown,” accentuating the contentious desire by audiences to consume her pain as her success grows. Shraya performs her trauma in order to keep up with the insatiable demand for her anguish, which presents a dynamic and powerful message in her solo exhibition. —Adrienne Huard, editor-at-large


Art Gallery at Evergreen, February 13 to April 25

The clarity of Erika DeFreitas’s gestures and objects in the photo frame, ever in acts of searching, is a slow-burn kind of magic. These sharp edges of fragments—whether of performance, writing, still-lifes or research processes—can appear like collages or mise-en-scènes of unanswered questions. Sometimes the search is for who and what is lost from canonical art histories, or about relations marked by hands and bodies. In “close magic” many of the works drawn from the past five years also feature DeFreitas’s mother and show the two together, giving spatial form to quietly monumental intimacies. —Joy Xiang, assistant editor

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Artist and author Vivek Shraya to talk with Jonny Appleseed author and launch solo art show in Vancouver

Georgia Straight | March 30, 2021

Multidisciplinary Canadian artist, author, and University of Calgary professor Vivek Shraya has quite the week lined up for Vancouver audiences.

The writer, visual artist, performer, and musician will participate in a literary discussion tonight before launching a solo visual art show (her first in Vancouver) later this week.

Shraya is the author of The Subtweet: A Novel and I’m Afraid of Men, and a six-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.

Tonight, she’ll be speaking with author Joshua Whitehead, whose novel Jonny Appleseed won the 2021 Canada Reads annual debate about what is the one book that all Canadians need to read.

Whitehead is a two-spirit Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation and a Ph.D. candidate, lecturer, and Killam scholar at the University of Calgary. Jonny Appleseed follows a two-spirit Indigiqueer man who faces his past after heading home for his stepfather’s funeral.

The novel is also the pick for SFU Library’s One Book One SFU.

At 7 p.m. tonight (March 30), Whitehead will discuss the book with Shraya at a free online SFU event. More information and registration is available at the event webpage.

After that, Shraya’s photo series Trauma Clown will open on Thursday (April 1) at SUM Gallery (425–268 Keefer Street), and continues until July 1.

With elements of suffering and satire, this solo visual art show (which is part of the 2021 Capture Photography Festival) will explore issues of entertainment, spectacle, and trauma through the life of a trans woman of colour experiencing success at the price of performing pain for audiences.

More information is available at the gallery website, which also has online booking available for visits.

Demand for the opening reception on April 1 was so great that after attendance for that event sold out, a second reception has been scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday (April 2)

Shraya will participate in an online talk about the exhibition at 3 p.m. on Saturday (April 3). To RSVP for the talk, visit the event webpage.

You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight’s LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.

Click here to view the original article in full.

Conversations with Our Relations. Chatting with 2S Indigiqueer Art Darlings – Shane Sable

Aani! Dolly Berlin ndizhinikaas.
(Hello! My name is Dolly Berlin)

I am a burlesque showgirl and event-producer-on-pandemic-hiatus based in Tkaronto (Toronto).

A proud Indigiqueer/Bi+ mixed Ojibwe woman, I am very excited and honoured to collaborate with Never Apart to bring you this column highlighting Two-Spirit and Indigequeer folks making waves in the arts.

This month I’m chatting with Shane Sable of Vancouver’s Virago Nation. The all-Indigenous burlesque troupe’s mission is to “reclaim Indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonization.” It’s been really wonderful to watch the success of this troupe and to sometimes even get to play on stages together across the country.

I have been on the email list for an art drop-in run by Shane through SUM gallery in association with the Queer Arts Festival for some time now, and finally was able to attend a recent meeting. The energy was warm and inviting, something that is sometimes hard to achieve in this new era of digital interaction. Shane has a ton of perspective on creating and community, so let’s get a little more friendly.

Hey Shane! Introduce Yourself to Us

My name is Shane Sable, I am a Two-Spirit Gitxan artist and activist. I am the convening member of Virago Nation and I currently work as the Two-Spirit programmer for the Queer Arts Festival.

Tell us more about Queer Arts Festival and what you do.

Queer Arts Festival as a whole is a organization which is dedicated to uplifting art created by those along the 2SLGBTQIA+ spectrum. One of the ways that we pursue that goal is offering an annual festival for queer arts, and another other way is through SUM gallery, a dedicated space for queer artists who are more likey to experience barriers to access.

My role is the Two-Spirit Programmer. The organization was originally launched in part by a two-spirit person by the name of Robbie Hong, and in 2017 the organization passed over curation of the festival to Adrian Stimson, a 2S artist. It was really historic to have an organization center 2S art so significantly. That was my first interaction with the organization; I went to view the festival and was also booked to do some spoken word for an exhibition called “Lay of the Land.”

I did not know you did poetry!

I find myself being asked to do it from time to time, and so I do but it is not the primary output for me. I was actually feeling insecure about participating in this poetry event and so I created a spoken word strip!

So that was the beginning of my relationship with the organization, and I began working with them to hold talking circles to support artists at SUM Gallery. I was doing it because that was something I wanted to see, but they were very gracious in providing the space and also offering to help with grant writing to fund the program.

I had just finished working for an organization called Sex Workers United Against Violence, co-ordinating a project called “We Have a Voice; Indigenous Women Speak Out.” That program used art and culture activities to provide a space for women doing street level sex work to speak about their experiences in a de-stigmatized and safer space with the overall intention being to offer healing and transformation in togetherness and creativity. We created quite a body of work over the 2.5 years the project ran and at the end SUM Gallery offered to partner with us to have a formal art show in a gallery space and give the opportunity to have their art be seen and their messages out to the public.

I now work at QAF continuing the talking circles and curating 2S performance. I do post-secondary outreach, speaking in classes about what Two-Spirit is, pronoun uses, and the ethics of presenting stories. One of the pieces I’m working on is a best practices document for arts organizations that present 2S stories. It’s become apparent to me in my time working in the arts that artistic organizations are keen to hold up Indigenous and 2S creators but they don’t necessarily take the time to understand what doing it in a good way entails, or in a way that doesn’t perpetuate trauma on the communities they are seeking to support. They may not realize that a different level of care is required because they don’t have the context to understand.

Are the talking circles similar or different than the art drop-ins you run?

The circles were called Cultivate and ran through 2019 into 2020 and then because I did not feel confident in the ability to hold the kind of space necessary in a digital context, I modified the program. It was an opportunity to provide connection and support without the expectation of a healing moment, which feeds into the best practices project.

Art drop-ins are shared online via Zoom. There is one circle specific to Indigenous folks that identify along the queer spectrum and another circle for “every queer.” The separate 2S one is available to acknowledge that there are limited spaces for 2s people to talk about their experiences and that requires a special space for them.

Shane Sable Too Spirited / Photo: SDHolman/Shooting Gallery Arts

What other projects are you working on?

I am working with Allan Lindley who is a wonderful 2S knowledge keeper who does arts-based facilitation with IndigenEYEZ and works for RainCity here (a housing non-profit). We’re going to be working on a drop-in facilitated art workshop, using and referencing traditional language research that different Indigenous kin have done around “waking up” the different language and names that cultures have had for those of us who now call ourselves Two-Spirit. Not just to acknowledge them, but also as a platform to imagine new ways in which we want to define our experiences and identities through words.

I’m so thrilled also for a digital artist residency with Dana Danger and Raven Davis and to see what people are going to create. The digital residency is something that is still in the process of building. We definitely have had barriers getting it up and running in part with things running slower with Covid and also with losing a member of our community at the beginning of the year; Taran Kootenhayoo. Taran’s presence is so deeply felt in Indian Country as a whole, and especially in the artistic community, that we need to delay a little bit because it’s too hard to ask people to do this creative work in a time of grief. So, it’s looking like it will be happening in the summer rather than spring. It’s going to be open to 2s artists from anywhere, and at the end of the residency the output created will have space in a digital show as part of the festival.

We should backtrack and talk about how you got started in performing and the formation of Virago Nation. 

I started performing in summer 2011. I had always had a soft spot for things like burlesque because I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up watching the golden oldies on tv, seeing that glamour and showmanship were something to look at and admire. One day someone brought me to a burlesque show in Vancouver; I didn’t know that was something you could do. It fit really perfectly for a variety of reasons. I had recently finished grad school and felt wiped away and needed to find ways to rebuild myself and have an appropriate outlet for a particular kind of energy. I always enjoyed being naked, and burlesque is political nudity which I am 100% for. In a previous life I was formed by the punk community, and it offers those DIY and activist layers if you pick away at it. There were also ways in which it was helpful for me to become comfortable with expressing a particular kind of femininity that I felt the world expected of me, and that frankly I always felt my whole life that I never understood. The motivations were multifaceted. It was great, I enjoyed it, and I worked like a motherfucker, but then I got so burned out and went on hiatus. I was working full time, co-producing a monthly, working in another monthly, and had a solo career. I got to a point where I was turning out numbers with such a high frequency that started to feel silly. I started to feel like a silly child running around in my underwear. (An aside, at this point I absolutely cackled because I know that feeling exactly). 

I felt if I was going to come back it had to be for more. It wasn’t enough to be a naked feminine vessel in public, for that to be the motivation. It wasn’t filling me up. That was when I decided   to reach out to some of the members of what is now Virago Nation.

Partly, I had been struggling to come to terms with my Indigenous identity that I was not open about in a lot of spaces. I didn’t know how to integrate that component into what I had built for the stage, and it was a conflict of values for me. I had grown up in the burlesque world under the precept that your burlesque persona is the best version of yourself, and how do you do that if you are not acknowledging all aspects of yourself?

I happened to know other folks in the burlesque community that were Indigenous and were not bringing that aspect of themselves onto stage or into their personas. I reached out to them and asked if we could meet for lunch to form a community for support.

Manda Stroyer, Sparkle Plenty, Ruth Ordare, Scarlet Delirium and I had brunch together, and at the brunch I asked everyone to go around and re-introduce themselves as our Indigenous selves, not as our burlesque personas. We did a few brunches and some of the stories that came forward were so unique while still sharing a common thread of being Indigenous people living in a colonized world. We all had really different levels of comfort with that aspect of our lives. It is a risk to be ourselves in a public space, and not just because we participate in a sexualized medium.

We eventually came to the conclusion that the stories we were sharing needed to be shared outward and that was how it organically came to be that we performed as a group rather than just being a group for support. And we reached out to Rainbow Glitz to bring her into the fold.

Our first full group debut was at Talking Stick Festival. We booked that, then another festival and a gig at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. It was beautiful, they had our stage set up at the foot of a bunch of totem poles. We didn’t intentionally shift, but we did lean into the framing of presenting ourselves as a legitimate artistic group rather than a group specifically for entertaining. There’s something about the culture of dedicated art spaces that lifts everyone up, and we’ve been lucky to keep booking on those tracks. We’re working on 5 years now.

Shane Sable Turn it up and Disrupt UBC / photo: Tandem Photography

Shane Sable / photo : Misty Moss of Moss Photography

Have you faced any challenges with how people in the art world view burlesque?

It’s really changed over the course of my burlesque career. When I started, I was working in the more traditional burlesque context of nightclubs and community theatres. At that time, in those contexts I really felt that if they weren’t someone who was a fan, it was something someone would look down on. However, with the founding of Virago Nation and the pivot we’ve experienced to primarily performing in festivals and theatre in the formalized arts context, I feel like we get a lot of acknowledgement and respect as artists.

It could be that we’ve been really lucky in terms of the people we have been able to work with. For example, I think Indigenous folks really get it. We expected a lot of resistance to our work as a whole because we knew how much trauma is caught up in the Indigenous relationship to bodies and how much colonization has poisoned it. And instead there has been a real coming together and wave of support. Time after time, we have had it demonstrated to us from our community that this is something they appreciate, from booking us to come out and perform or social media love.

Your troupe has adapted to covid restrictions with livestream shows like this summer’s “Too Spirited” show with Queer Arts Festival. How has adapting to this format affected you? Can you share a bit about the process of building content for a streamed show? 

QAF were really nimble with pivoting to a hybrid model this year and wanted a show with Virago Nation, so we offered a digital burlesque show. It was our first digital show, and we pre-recorded everything at The Cultch. It was really interesting to be on both sides; to be part of the production team making decisions about which platform to use, delivery method, and interactive components, as well as the performer aspect of working through Covid, capturing the spirit of an in person show in digital format, and the idea that to convey the intimacy experienced in a live show you need to change and project your energy differently.

Plus the videography and editing, for example… remembering to say to the people filming and editing that in a burlesque performance, if I do a split towards the camera…I want people to see my box, so please don’t cut to a shot of my face. Also realizing how beneficial it might be, if you can, to have 3-5 people in the room to clap or cheer. It makes a difference and you don’t wrap your head around it until you see the final product.

We are just so grateful to them for giving us that experience with a highly accessible show. Our kin who are not normally able to see us regardless of COVID were able to see it, our reach was so extensive. I think overall there were 2500 unique views on the initial screening. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would do a burlesque show that would be seen by that many people.

We learned a lot in the process of making Too Spirited, and once we went through it we felt inspired. There are many access considerations for us as a group, be it working in front line community work or healthcare, and others who have immune barriers or other physical things to manage. We really found that digital performance is a saving grace, given the contexts of the different needs of our members. We decided we do not want to pursue doing in person shows and needed to pivot the remaining body of work we had planned.

We have an agreement with Kwantlen Polytechnic University to deliver a variety of burlesque and workshops through our funding with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

We renegotiated the terms of our grant to take the remaining funds and invest in developing a digital studio. So we are working right now to create a suite of digital offerings including a show and series of short education videos and workshops. This new show has grown dramatically in scope. We’re now calling it something more akin to a docu-strip with a goal of creating a theatrical narrative of who Virago Nation is as a group as well as individuals, and what we come together to work for. We are working with a queer media team for filming, editing, and capturing a digital narrative. We’re creating something new and different from what we ever conceived before covid.

Will this be specific to the program or available to the public?

There will be an initial release to KPU, after the content will revert to us similar to the show with QAF.

As a group Virago seems to be in some areas heavily inspired by movements and politics, but you also bring humour, modern sensual pieces and traditional glamour numbers. When it comes to inspiration, what motivates you to create a more political piece versus a more classic number, either individually or as a group?

At times people aren’t sure what the connection is between burlesque and what we are trying to do with the more conceptual cultural work of changing our shared understanding of sexuality and embodiment of Indigeneity. I think that the plurality of our expression is where that lies. Being able to point to someone (any of us) on the stage and say “that is Indigenous sexualtiy” or “that is a healthy relationship with your body,” can look like all of these things.

We do not want to be a “noble savage” or “squ*w,” we want options, and so by allowing the multiplicity of representation to share space, it offers others that freedom of what it might look like for themselves. The goal is role model sexual agency and embodied agency. We are choosing to be there. We are choosing our aesthetic and our expression. There are no artistic standards in the group that define what an act has to look like. We don’t strive for uniformity in aesthetics. The purpose is to reach as many people that struggle with that relationship as possible and provide an aspect of representation that makes them feel seen.

And you have new members now, yes?!

We’ve been lucky, it’s been a busy few years and now that we’ve incorporated as a non-profit we’ve been able to grow. We’ve always wanted to bring more people in and eventually support artists from even more mediums. So in our initial expansion we have welcomed Monday Blues and Lynx Chase to the group. Both of whom have worked with us in the past and featured with us on shows. They are each such gifted artists and beautiful, sensitive, smart, critically thinking people that it was a thrill to be able to invite them to join us.

Speaking of other mediums, what artists have piqued your interest lately?

When it comes to music I’ve really loved Anachnid. Their music and mood really tweaks some energy I have been feeling around Indigenous-gothic, and horror stories and our spirit-being stories and how those things come to be. Anachnid has that vibe!

I love that! Last month Quanah Styles who I spoke with mentioned the movie Monkey Beach, I think it touches on supernatural elements in the west coast?

It’s based on a novel by Eden Robinson, who is from my neighbourhood, but not my nation. I was introduced to her at a reading once and I fangirled so hard it was embarrassing. I was born in Smithers in northern BC., and some of her writing takes place in Terrace, an hour and a half away. I miss living in the north badly. I had to come back later and thank her for her writing feeling like home to me. And when I thanked her for that she gave me a hug and took the earrings she was wearing out and gifted them to me. The best thing about Virago Nation is how it has helped me to connect with other Indigenous people and helped me find a way back to my own culture.

I didn’t mention when we were talking about inspiration, much of it is getting inspired by one another and our individual journeys of reclamation. For example, one of the first words I learned in Gitxsanimaax was “bilaa” which means abalone. I felt inspired by that to create an act about what the spirit of bilaa would be like, and called it mother of bilaa (like mother of pearl). We get inspiration from the outside and also from one another and across different mediums. There are so many exceptionally talented 2s artists here. Sierra Tasi Baker is an amazing dancer and choreographer who also does architecture design and fashion, or Paisley Nahanee who does leadership development and is also a DJ.

How are you connecting to your culture during COVID? Any tips for anyone feeling disconnected out there?

I remember so distinctly when it became clear last year that this was going to have a bigger impact on us than we initially thought, I became bereft, and very depressed because I had wanted to make land based education a priority for the year. I had just learned in the year prior how to make salves and about traditional plant harvesting and medicine use and then was stuck in the three block radius of my house. I was shocked as the year unfolded that I got more access to land based skills-learning than I ever have in my life including when I lived on the land. I learned about tanning bear hide, how to preserve bird wings, how to tan fish leather. The amount of opportunities that the Native community created overnight was amazing and everything I needed to survive. It’s been overwhelming how much opportunity has sprung out of people’s need for connection and  to continue those activities. So I encourage folks to listen broadly!

As for the spiritual components, a lot of my spiritual practice is private anyway. But I recently joined a digital circle that was started by the grannies in the DTES here who are a bunch of women who I used to work with. It really has made a huge difference. I have facilitated a lot of circles and it’s easy to forget that it’s important to be only a participant in those spaces at times. I’m also taking a community-led language class. So finding the kind of gathering you need is important. Medicine is in lots of things. Togetherness is medicine.

You can connect with Shane Sable:

Instagram: @shanesable


Virago Nation

Instagram: @viragonation


Art Scene: Different ways of seeing | Listings

Vancouver Sun | November 13, 2020

Sum Gallery

A memorial retrospective of work by Geoff McMurchy (1955-2015) features the B.C. artist’s assemblages of found materials. A quadriplegic artist, choreographer, dancer and arts administrator, McMurchy’s legacy includes mentorship of a generation of disabled artists. McMurchy was also the founding director of Kickstart, formerly the Society for Disability Arts and Culture.

425 – 268 Keefer Street, 604-200-6661

Time-Lapse: Posthumous Conversations—A Geoff McMurchy Retrospective

Until December 1

Art Scene: Different ways of seeing

The Province | Nov 13, 2020 |Shawn Connor

A memorial retrospective of work by Geoff McMurchy (1955-2015) features the B.C. artist’s assemblages of found materials. A quadriplegic artist, choreographer, dancer and arts administrator, McMurchy’s legacy includes mentorship of a generation of disabled artists. McMurchy was also the founding director of Kickstart, formerly the Society for Disability Arts and Culture.

425 – 268 Keefer Street, 604-200-6661

Time-Lapse: Posthumous Conversations—A Geoff McMurchy Retrospective

Until December 1

Posthumous retrospective of groundbreaking B.C. disability artist’s work opens at Vancouver queer art gallery

Georgia Straight | October 28, 2020

A retrospective of the work of a pioneering B.C. artist will be on display at a Vancouver art gallery for the next month.

The memorial exhibit Time-Lapse: Posthumous Conversations—A Geoff McMurchy Retrospective will provide a look at the artwork of Geoff McMurchy at Sum Gallery (425–268 Keefer Street), starting on October 29 and continuing until December 1.

McMurchy was a pioneer in disability arts communities—he was the founding director of Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture and he also worked with the B.C. Coalition of People With Disabilities in pursuit of accessibility and equality.

He was a visual artist and dancer who became quadriplegic after a swimming accident. Sadly, he died at the age of 65 in July 2015 in Victoria due to complications related to his quadriplegia.

The exhibit is curated by Yuri Arajs, SD Holman, and Persimmon Blackbridge, in partnership with Kickstart Disability Arts and All Souls at Mountainview Cementary.

An opening reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on October 29.

An online curator brunch talk will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on November 7, and curator tours will be held on November 12 (4 to 8 p.m.) and 21 (1 to 5 p.m.).

The closing reception will be held on A Day Without Art—an annual event observed by art galleries and organizations to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS—from noon to 6 p.m. on December 1.

Appointments to attend the gallery between noon to 6 p.m. from Tuesdays to Saturdays can be made through online booking.

You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight’s LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.

Egg beaters to car-grill wings: SUM gallery takes viewers through the assemblages of late artist Geoff McMurchy

STIR Arts Culture Vancouver – October 28, 2020

Curators re-create the disability-arts pioneer’s metaphorical world of sculptures and collectibles

SUM gallery presents Time-Lapse: Posthumous Conversations—A Geoff McMurchy Retrospective from October 29 to December 1. COVID-19 safety measures here

AMID ALL THE WORKS that disability-arts pioneer Geoff McMurchy made over his life, perhaps his greatest creation was his East Vancouver heritage home near the Drive.

An avid collector, McMurchy, who died in 2015 from complications due to his quadriplegia, scavenged and artfully displayed everything from wooden snakes to the glass flower frogs used for floral arrangements. String lights, his own large, reclaimed-material sculptures, shadow boxes, and candlesticks: they created a walk-through curiosity cabinet whose walls were painted lush green or emblazoned in yellow wallpaper. An elevator lifted him down to a garden that was equally visually striking, a textural artwork of spiky grasses and vibrant flowers punctuated by more sculptures—most stunningly, a spine with seven vertebrae curving up a weathered wooden fence.

SD Holman’s  Spine .
SD Holman’s Spine.

Five years later, an ambitious new exhibit at the Pride in Art Society’s SUM gallery aims to give viewers an intimate look at McMurchy’s life and art—as well as a feel for what being in that home was like. Time-Lapse: Post-Humous Conversations—A Geoff McMurchy Retrospective spans artist SD Holman’s detailed photographs of the rooms in McMurchy’s house, captured in 2016; his own artworks; and what co-curator Yuri Arajs calls “ephemera” found in storage boxes provided to the curatorial team by McMurchy’s family.

As you walk through the gallery, you’ll see the snake collection installed along a wall, or his hundreds of plastic garden tags, the kind that label plant containers, jutting like flowers out of a table and scattered up along the wall behind it. Look for dozens of paper roses found in a jar in his home, and hundreds of alphabetic letters in wood and other materials, finding meticulous and meaningful placement in the show.

And then there are the eggbeaters. “In his home there was this huge metal basket full of eggbeaters,” explains Arajs, who curates the show with Holman and longtime McMurchy friend Persimmon Blackbridge. “So I installed them all in the air as a column. I think there’s 75 eggbeaters floating in the air. With this ephemera, we didn’t want to create ‘art’ per se; we wanted to create a little different experience than art. It’s a different way of showing the way this person thought and the way he collected.”

Curators found about 75 vintage eggbeaters in Geoff McMurchy’s collection, pictured here in SD Holman’s  Beaters .
Curators found about 75 vintage eggbeaters in Geoff McMurchy’s collection, pictured here in SD Holman’s Beaters.

McMurchy was, after all, a multifaceted artist. The founding artistic director of Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture was also an accomplished dancer. He had danced before an accident changed the course of his life. The Vancouver Art School student was on his way to attend Nova Scotia’s College of Art and Design when a diving accident in Alberta broke his neck. Later, in Vancouver, he found his creative voice again and spent the next 15 years working toward accessibility and equal rights with the B.C. Coalition of People With Disabilities. Even more, he showed that there was creative and physical life beyond disability.

In one dance work performed at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, McMurchy performed in his wheelchair with sculptural metal wings that he had crafted from a metal car grill and feathers. The metaphorical wings take prominent place in the Time-Lapse show—as do other works that express the theme of flight, whether it’s through old bones or sticks and thrown-away kitchen implements.”He was able to put together rough, discarded items—some really ugly, destroyed shit—and put it together in a way that completed the vision of what flight is. There was always the optimism of what is possible.”


Arajs, who met McMurchy before he himself became artistic director at Kickstart from 2015 to 2019, comments, “Geoff had an ability to pull out objects and use them in a way that looked like gold. He was able to put together rough, discarded items—some really ugly, destroyed shit—and put it together in a way that completed the vision of what flight is. There was always the optimism of what is possible.”

McMurchy, who was also a member of the LGBTQ2SIA community, has a Pride outfit in the show—as creative as you might expect from someone so adept at putting things together. “There’s a tutu with an apron made out of that fake grass you sometimes see on doormats, with little paper roses and clear pockets,”Arajs says.”The headdress is made with an artist in Edmonton, and basically it’s made out of crows’ feathers stitched together.

“It’s all part of who made up that person,” Arajs continues, describing a show that pushes the bounds of what an exhibit can be. “That person was creative in so many different ways.” With a trio of curators, he adds, “That’s three different perspectives that have come together to give you a clear vision of who this person was.”

Look for numerous events, such as online talks and curator tours, during the run of the show. Timed-entry visits to the gallery are bookable online.

Donations and half of proceeds and from art sales at the exhibit will go to the Geoff McMurchy artist-development grant started in his name at Kickstart.   

SD Holman’s  Window , looking out on Geoff McMurchy’s beloved garden near the Drive.
SD Holman’s Window, looking out on Geoff McMurchy’s beloved garden near the Drive.