Visual Culture At The End Of The World

Quill Christie-Peters

Image courtesy the artist.
Even when we live with destruction, Anishinaabeg breathe creation.
Our visual culture is living, expansive and spilling over the compartmentalization of life from art, body from culture, ancestors from body.

Most of canada is being pulled to feel the sensation of standing at the edge of the world. Despite the settler colonial structures that keep certain people protected along white supremacist, capitalist, ableist, ageist and heteropatriarchal lines of privilege, COVID-19 feels like it has the potential to reach everyone. But so many of us have lived at the edge of the world for so long. The Anishinaabeg, the people I come from, have stood at the edge of the world for generations. The clutches of climate collapse, the relentless storm of environmental racism and the ongoing project of settler colonial genocide have rendered many of our bodies disposable and the targets of destruction from a violent settler state. And now, even within this moment of pandemic, even within this moment of great pause, the settler state continues its operations, pushing some of us to the peripheries even further while maintaining capitalist expansion as usual. Despite it all, we have always built worlds that can hold us. We have always built worlds at the edge of yours.

Right now I am standing at the edge of the world while also creating a new world inside of my own body. Despite feeling vulnerable by my new responsibility for sustaining another life, I recognize that I am so much further from the edge than many others. In my quiet home, I am reflecting on my immense privilege as someone who has a home, who has adequate food and who has a support network that allows me to self-isolate as a pregnant person with a respiratory condition. In my quiet home, I am reflecting on the ways the settler state is responding to COVID-19 in alignment with settler colonial objectives. In my quiet home, I pray for the communities that do not have adequate housing, drinking water, access to food and basic health care, for the elders, for the homeless, for the incarcerated, for the systemically underserved. I understand so deeply that canada actively pursues Indigenous genocide as a means to acquire and secure access to territory and resource, even within a pandemic. We see this so clearly with the continued occupation of unceded Wet’suwet’en territory where hundreds of Coastal Gas Link employees continue to work, potentially spreading COVID-19 into communities. We saw this so clearly when the Canadian government sent body bags to reserves amidst the swine flu outbreak. The state will not suddenly care for Indigenous life amidst a global health crisis. There is so much at stake here.

Even when we live with destruction, Anishinaabeg breathe creation. Amidst this time of anxiety and change, I am still thinking about the worlds that have been, and are being, built. It is my baby that is the greatest medicine for me in this sense, reminding me to think about all the different forms of creation that continue to persist. All Anishinaabeg participate in this continuum of creation. We all softly create worlds that sustain us throughout the violence of settler colonialism, worlds of paint and color, song and thought, word and flesh. The creation of the life inside of me is not separate from all of the other ways I create and how those in my life create around me, it is one continuum that does not comprehend hierarchy. I am looking at the paintings in this room, one form of Anishinaabeg visual culture, worlds I have been tending to my whole life. I am looking at the photograph of my father and auntie standing with my great grandfather, another form of Anishinaabeg visual culture, the ability to gaze upon my ancestors in their physical entirety. I am looking at the beadwork on my table, many tiny moments woven into one, a practice of stillness that binds us to liberatory futures. This is Anishinaabeg visual culture, all of our swirling relations, all that we are, all that we will be, creation in continuum, creation of many worlds even when we live on the edge of yours.

Articulating visual culture from my understanding as an Anishinaabeg person is hard to put into words because it requires me to attempt to articulate my entire worldview. For me, the visual focus of our culture exists because the visual realm is a method for sharing. This realm allows us to translate everything, all of our relationships, all of our ancestors, all of our moments here on earth into a medium that can be shared beyond ourselves. This is why visual culture is the foundation of our governance structures- it allows us to ensure that the worlds we build are in alignment with all of our beautiful relations and allows us to communicate with each other non-literally, non-didactically and spiritually. We create worlds that honor ourselves, our communities, our non-human relations, our ancestors and our spirit kin. Importantly, just because this sharing happens through the visual realm does not mean we can consider them solely visual entities. Our visual culture is living, expansive and spilling over the compartmentalization of life from art, body from culture, ancestors from body. To write about photography, to me, is to start from this place of expansiveness and to demand that we all consider the interconnections that feed into this practice.

And so, here I sit, creation swirling around and inside of me, within a world of attempted destruction of Anishinaabeg life and within a moment of pandemic. This piece is an introduction to how I approach visual culture and photography as someone who seeks to dismantle disciplines and definitions, spilling over categories with the entirety of all the worlds that I come from. The reason I am spilling over is because there are structures surrounding me. The compartmentalization of life is the foundation of the colonial ordering. Hierarchies along the lines of white supremacy, capitalism, ageism, ableism and heteropatriarchy are supported by institutions that violently attempt to contain us. Anishinaabeg always spill over, inherently and in resistance to these structures. In this unique moment of stillness and mass fear, it is important for everyone to look at the practice of spilling over. Who is spilling over? Why do they have to spill over? What is your responsibility to dismantle the violent structures that necessitate a spilling over? What is your responsibility to care for those whose spilling over leaves them at the very edge of the world? Mostly importantly, how do we use this moment to create new worlds that deconstruct our current one, new worlds where no one has to live at the edge.

Read Part Two

Quill Christie Peters is Gallery 44’s 2019-20 Writer-in-Residence. She is an Anishinaabe arts programmer and self-taught visual artist currently residing in Northwestern Ontario. She currently works as the Director of Education and Training for the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective where she is coordinating the Emerging Curatorial Training Program. She is the creator of the Indigenous Youth Residency Program, an artist residency for Indigenous youth that engages land-based creative practices through Anishinaabe artistic methodologies. She holds a Masters degree in Indigenous Governance on Anishinaabe art-making as a process of falling in love and sits on the board of directors for Native Women in the Arts. Her written work can be found in GUTS Magazine and Tea N’ Bannock and her visual work can be found at @raunchykwe.  

Gallery 44’s annual Writer-in-Residence program provides a platform for emergent conversations in the expanded field of photography and lens based media. Past residents include: Maryse Larivière, Yaniya Lee and Luther Konadu.