Sanctuary Inter/rupted

Feautured image by Hamda Warsame, 2018

Sanctuary Inter/rupted is supported by the University of Toronto Centre for Community Partnerships Engaged Community Initiative Fund, the Graduate Students’ Union, and the Ontario Arts Council Exhibition Grant. All design materials were made by Cinderullah.

In 2013, the Toronto City Council passed a motion making Toronto the first “sanctuary city” in Canada. “Sanctuary cities” seek to ensure that all residents access essential social services without regard to “legal” status. Yet in 2015, a press release by No One Is Illegal revealed that through carding, Toronto Police are continuously colluding with the Canadian Border Services Agency and policing the city. WAY PAST KENNEDY ROAD’s exhibition Sanctuary Inter/rupted at Xpace Cultural Centre interrogates the possibilities and contradictions of a “sanctuary city” in the context of what we know to be true: that the state always already treats non-white bodies as “illegal”, “whether they possess documents or not.” Through photography, sound, mixed media and video installations, the artists consider the complex dynamics that are tied to ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ identities, extending a conversation on understandings of belonging/(un)belonging in Toronto. Each artists’ work is accompanied by a song or soundbite uniquely chosen by them, presenting audiovisual inquiry into questions related to diaspora, migration, colonialism and the histories/futures of racial justice.

Ayesha Siddiqi speaks to the ways that, “every border implies the violence of its maintenance”. We are interested in extending this understanding in the context of borderlands, highlighting the ways in which every border also implies the violence of its formation. Through poetry and prose, Anzaldua’s La Frontera/Borderlands describes the border as a dividing line where the “prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants”. This deeply spatialized understanding of borders is the starting point from which we trace the patterned and produced nature of illegalization as “state violence inscribed in landscape” and mapped onto the body. It is this mapping/(un)mapping we are interested in addressing, as we highlight the interplay of belonging/(un)belonging and status/statusless-ness in Toronto, particularly in the context of white settler colonial imaginaries that continue to dominate the mainstream.

Kaiatanoron Dumoulin Bush and Ryan Rice’s “Tkaronto v.s Akwe:kon” t-shirt is the Mohawk translation of “Toronto v.s Everyone”, a slogan popularized by t-shirts designed and sold by Peace Collective. Through the reappropriation and Indigenization of the phrase and design, the artists bring Indigenous language and histories to the forefront, encouraging the viewer to learn the literal meaning of “Tkaronto v.s Akwe:kon” and in turn challenging nationalized myths of relationships with this land and what it means to be “Torontonian”.

Through a series of triptych digital collages, sharine taylor invites us to think about how we navigate this land. Created through the lens of an Afro-Jamaican woman, the pieces explore how existence through nostalgia, imagined nostalgia, and being (in)visible is telling in how bodies are scripted and understood by ourselves and others. Through juxtaposed contrasting images and texts, taylor traces the mapping and (un)mapping of power and illegalizations across diasporas between, beyond and within borders.

Noor Khan’s original film and accompanying digitally manipulated photographs document her relationship with land, race, gender, and health as related to building love and community. The interactive piece invites Muslim-identified audiences to take pictures against the backdrop of 9/11, known and felt deeply as the continuation of violence against generations of Muslims “with and in North America”. Khan is thinking through what it means to be #stillhere, building and caring for each other’s physical and mental well beings, despite and/or because of imperial and colonial violences.

In A Search for Hooyo, Samira Warsame’s photography series also looks at what it means to take care of each other in ways no one else would or could. Warsame states that as, “children of Somali refugees, our blackness, Muslim-ness, Somali-ness, and Western identities are blended together, misunderstood, ignored, and left out of communities and conversations that we are meant to be apart of.” Warsame’s multiscalar work is accompanied by the “smell of uunsi and the sound of qaraami music,” extending beyond photographs and taking on physical space. By interweaving experiences with displacement and (un)belongings, she recites a love letter to her Somali sisters in Toronto’s diaspora, appreciating the homes they have found in each other.

Amani Bin Shikhan thinks through the foreignness of an ability to fully conceptualize loss, death, and spaces through which refuge is found. In Track 6 of Bin Shikhan’s playlist, Naomi Diaz of Ibeyi says, “My blood, my eyes/My guide, my spine”. Guided by cultures, structures, people of the African diaspora and their/our livelihood, Bin Shikhan thinks through the intricate landscapes of lateral violence toward Black people, and “something about cherishing the moments, people, and places that build a life; something about better finales to stalled starts.” Accompanied by cassettes illustrated by Mississauga’s Very Own Hamda Warsame (aka @hamwarz), Bin Shikhan’s playlist reflects “the portable refuge” she has built for herself.

Way Past Kennedy Road is a collective of multidisciplinary emerging artists based in Scarborough and other rejected but resilient corners of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). We build spaces for ourselves both online and offline and use art as a means of resisting the borders, boundaries, and (un)belongings that define each of our lives and our works in distinct ways. Sanctuary Inter/rupted is a continuation of this work. In the timeless classic “Energy”, Aubrey “Drake” Graham reminds us that he has, “real ones livin’ past Kennedy Road”. While Drake may be referring to taking the 401 east past Kennedy Road “and exiting at Markham Road in the east end…”, we are interested in disorienting the idea of any center and re-affirming the brilliance of discredited communities across the city.

This re-affirmation is also captured in our graphic material, a postcard of a Scarborough plaza in all its full-set-of-stiletto-acrylics nail salon and halal butcher glory. Postcards capture places that are monumental. In playing on a vintage style postcard, Sahar Ullah’s imagery re-imagines the monumental, paying tribute to the places (past Kennedy Road) that are monumentally meaningful to our communities. In obscuring sanctuary city legislation as related to everyday illegalizations across the city, Sanctuary Inter/rupted pays tribute to the ways people and places re-define sanctuary.

By Jessica Kirk + Mitra Fakhrashrafi

Full essay with citations here.