Whitewashing Update

It’s clear that my initial post Inside the Studio: Whitewashing didn’t fully articulate my intention with the project. The work, albeit at its very initial stages in development, has already started a thoughtful conversation and I’m thankful for that.

My goal is to explore a controversial and for many people an uncomfortable topic. The place of discomfort is powerful. It is a place where change can happen.

The topic of whitewashing is an exploration of erasure of identities.

Whether culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, economic standing or country of origin. It’s the process where a dominant society systematically tries to erase or homogenize a minority group.

By singly identifying the process of erasure of racialized people I unintentionally narrowed in on a subject that is not my personal story to tell. It’s an interconnected issue that impacts countless communities in varying ways. That said, it is abundantly clear that it disproportionately affects racialized and indigenous people today.

Although it’s not my personal story, I believe it’s an issue that we all have a responsibility to engage with. And this engagement must be done in a sensitive and appropriate way. These issues have historical roots and ongoing legacies that continue to shape societies today. These processes are deliberate and so is my work.

They manifest in everyday society through racism and homophobia, the integration and exclusive inclusion of certain minority groups and the marginalization and isolation of others. These processes never look the same. They affect and impact different communities in a multitude of varying ways.

I approach these issues as a queer white male living in a society that provides me with an abundance of privileges both visible and many yet still to be named. These topics are living histories and although I had no role in creating or structuring them, I benefit from them everyday.

These processes created and shape the society I live in. I have a responsibility to engage with and critique them. In this I also have a responsibility to acknowledge both my positioning to them and accountability to my community.

The process of whitewashing is often seen in a positive. The act of covering up what is considered unsightly. It’s the physical act of whitewashing a picket fence to cover up the dents, dirt and other so-called undesirable aspects.

This processes is not natural. It is intentionally taught. And it is learned.

It is the same process that is used to erase cultures and people that don’t fit into the standards of the dominant group. We are taught that people, their lives and their histories are undesirable. These are our beliefs, whether conscious or not.

My community, the queer community, has been whitewashed through history by centuries of Euro-Christian domination around the world. My queer ancestors were systematically exterminated and erased. And we have been scrubbed from the history books.

I reject that whitewashing is a positive. The act of whitewashing is violent. It is negative. Whitewashing is erasure. This project aims to make it visible in a tangible form.

I originally chose objects that are physical realities of our ignorant past and present, existing both as historical references and living evidence. They are symbols of false representations of societies and communities through the lens of the majority.

The objects are not representative of the communities they were meant to depict.  They were created for profit and to further marginalize groups. They are representative of the culture that created them.

But these objects cannot be cleanly separated from their visual representations. Their false imagery and uncomfortable realities are too visceral to be removed. By continuing as is, the project ran the risk of being marred down by issues around process and intent.

In this context, I’m shifting to the whitewashing of utilitarian objects. Through repeated acts of whitewashing the form, function and essence of these familiar objects will be obliterated and erased.

This project is inherently a contradiction. The act of covering is also the act of revealing. The act of whitewashing both disguises and draws attention. It is intentional and it is uncomfortable.

By engaging in this work I’m conscious of my privilege and positioning with it. I’m committed to ongoing engagement, reflection and conversation.

I’m committed to create work that doesn’t erase these living histories but acknowledges and calls attention to them. Through this process I’m acutely conscious of not recreating the very systems I look to critique.

I’m not interested in creating work that is safe, palatable or comfortable. This work intentionally exists within a tense and confined space. A space where there’s possibility that change can happen.

The question I’m left with is, who will take on the responsibility to make that change?


Our Queer Histories

JonnySopotiukQueerandTransIndigenousHistoriesEarlier this month I had the opportunity to present on and share the stories and histories of diverse sexualities that exist around the world. The context of this presentation was my Queer Theory class at Emily Carr University. Our instructor gave an excellent presentation on the history of European sexuality and its roots in Victorian and Christian so-called traditions.

I offered to present on Queer histories outside of Europe, particularly focusing on indigenous histories and traditions in Africa and North America. I’ve been fortunate to have access to this knowledge, I’ve been grateful to learn from Two Spirit and First Nations healers, elders and activists. These histories and stories have always existed and they have only recently re-emerged after centuries of genocide. These are the histories my European ancestors set out to destroy.

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Great Bear / Clear Cut

Great Bear Rainforest / Clear Cut by Jonny Sopotiuk

Great Bear Rainforest / Clear Cut is a book work completed in 2012. The work looks at the act of clear cut logging in the Great Bear Rainforest in Northern, BC. The book can be read in two directions exploring the impact of clear cutting on the internal imagery.

Historic agreements were signed in 2006 and 2009 that protected a significant portion of the old growth area and banned clear cut logging. Logging is still allowed in around 50% of the area and the Take It Taller Campaign is organizing to protect the entire area. You can sign on to support the campaign here: savethegreatbear.org/takeittaller/support.

Great Bear Rainforest / Clear Cut by Jonny Sopotiuk

Great Bear Rainforest cover image by Ian MacAllister. Clear Cut cover image by Marli Miller.

the MIMMIC project

Paul Wong, legendary multimedia artist extraordinaire, has launched the MIMMIC project through On Main Gallery. The project has some funding already, but it needs community support to make it happen. I just pledged $10 towards it. Can you spread the word and help launch this project? Check out the kickstarter page here.





Winnipeg Folk Fest

Winnipeg Folk Festival Bug

Another new Winnipeg Folk Festival friend! The live background music while this guy makes a trek across my shirt is making it a lot more dramatic than it actually is.

Ever heard of a folk festival social media team? Me neither. Well not until this year I hadn’t.

I’ve been volunteering at the Winnipeg Folk Festival for the past 5 years and my previous jobs were pretty rad, but they were nothing compared to this year. Not only does the festival hook you up with free passes, they feed you three heaping meals of nutritious goodness daily for the entire festival.

This year I joined the media crew on the social media team. I had the privilege of being able to tweet and Instagram throughout the entire festival on the Winnipegfolk accounts. My role was pretty simple, cover some of the festival stages, feature different artists and wander through the site capturing moments and meeting lots of interesting people.

Needless to say the crew and experience was pretty awesome. The one and only downside was the lack of cell and data coverage in Birds Hill Park (located about 20 minutes north of Winnipeg). The network was completely overloaded due to a 4 times increase in cellular and data traffic compared to the previous year. Not only did this kill our interaction levels (as none of the attendees could get online), I’d have to trek across the festival grounds to the media tent at the main stage to access wifi for every update. This was particularly fun when assigned to the Big Blue stage on the opposite end of the festival site.

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Coverage issues aside, it’s really awesome to see organizations like the Winnipeg Folk Festival embracing the digital age, recognizing the power of new media and social sharing. Oh, and did I mention they have a killer iPhone app too?

I’m already counting down the days until #wff2014. I’ll leave you with some of my favourite moments below in the meantime. Otherwise see you next year Winnipeg Folk Fest!

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