Queer 2 Spirit Ojibwe/South Asian performer/playwright Yolanda Bonnell recently made headlines both locally and internationally when she asked the media that only BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) reviewers provide critique on the latest Toronto run of her creation, bug at Theatre Passe Muraille. Bonnell framed her request within the context of harms caused by previous reviews (one of which described the artistic ceremony’s physical expression as “interpretive dance” and reflected an audience member’s comment that the play should be held on a reserve) and how they serve to perpetuate stereotypes.
Response from established theatre reviewers in the city ranged from obscuring the issues raised by Bonnell with inflammatory headlines such as “Critics who aren’t Indigenous, Black or people of colour aren’t invited to ‘bug.’”, to more creatively thoughtful approaches to critique such as reviewer J.Kelly Nestruck’s conversation with Karyn Recollet, a Cree University of Toronto professor who studies Indigenous performance, exchanging impressions of the piece based on their differing critical perspectives. Public response ranged from expressions of encouragement for challenging the status quo, to slur-laden social media attacks and personal threats.
The dialogue generated by Bonnell’s invitation for reflection on her work through the lens of intersectional experience speaks directly to the ways in which intersectional perspectives affect how a story is told, interpreted and received.
When we consider this within the context of curating the under-represented stories and histories of our city, it becomes not only obvious but imperative that intersectional perspectives lead the way in filling in the gaps and silences that have traditionally excluded BIPOC voices from Toronto’s contemporary and historical dominant narratives. A curator, stripped of institutional context and institutionally-bestowed status, can be defined as “one who has care of a thing; a manager, guardian, trustee”. Who better to care for the layered and nuanced facets of any (hi)story, than those in the community to whom it directly speaks?
Myseum’s Intersections festival facilitates a space for community members to act as the caretakers of their own diverse stories. It looks to individuals, artist groups, community organizations, heritage societies, resident’s associations, community archives, etc., to curate and share the stories that reflect their intersectional experience and its place in our city.
Just as Bonnell identified the need for intersectional perspectives to more deeply interpret her work, our festival recognizes the need to expand the critical frames of reference that inform our understanding of who we are as a city and the history that brought us here.
By amplifying the narratives and voices that have been muted from institutional record keeping and systems of learning, we aim to contribute to a history-building and storytelling of our city to which we are all invited.
Nadine Villasin Feldman
Nadine is the Director of Programming for Myseum of Toronto, and has been engaging diverse communities through cultural programming and meaningful participation in the arts for over 20 years. The former Artistic Director of Carlos Bulosan Theatre, and co-founder of the youth-led Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture, she developed multi-arts events and cultural festivals that have nurtured a vibrant community of Filipino-Canadian artists and built a platform for Filipino culture and art in Toronto. Nadine has worked with a variety of community-centred arts organizations (VIBE Arts, Kaeja d’Dance, Drum Artz, Reel Asian Film Festival) developing programs, animating public spaces and producing mid to large scale community performance projects.