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Opinion: 2018 Flashbacks
Monday, January 14, 2019 | Ani Speranza



2018 will always be the year of the York University Strike, now the longest university strike in Canadian history. The strike was led by CUPE 3903 which represents contract faculty, teaching assistants, and research assistants who were fighting for a job and financial security. My colleagues at the university marched in circles for 143 days until they were legislated back to work by the Ford government.

Globally, the past year saw a continuation of the #metoo movement, one that pointed out the need for nuance, patience, and empathy for those involved and people coming forward. I found myself taken aback by some of it - such as the allegations against Junot Díaz shortly after he came forward regarding his own childhood abuse. As the important work of #metoo continues, it will get messier and messier, but as we learn from these experiences, we can begin to rebuild institutions that were established on patriarchal sexist presumptions into new spaces that provide a platform for justice (not just equality or equity). In May, Ireland successfully repealed the ban on abortion - which is a monumental step forward for women's right to choose and stands in contrast with the rampant populism of conservative governments such as the US. In Argentina (where I am from) the same option for a new bill in favour of safe and legal access to abortion was met by a heartbreaking, narrow defeat of 7 votes in August. Argentina's fight for legalized abortion is not over yet - I've been proud to see my cousins and extended family in Buenos Aires take on the symbolic green handkerchief of the pro-choice movement. This is part of the larger initiative #NiUnaMenos (not one less), which has caught hold across Latin America, with people standing and marching against the machista norms of these countries, as well as for and in memory of the victims of femicide.

Starkly against these feminist movements come the results of the Brazilian election, with newly elected far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, and his supporters, creating an environment of fear for anyone on the left. Challenging freedom of expression, there were reports of academic restrictions and police activity on university campuses immediately after Bolsonaro's win. This feels like a regression to the past, as throughout Latin America (including Brazil) the late 20th century was riddled with dictatorships that challenged individual freedoms and human rights. Bolsonaro's winning campaign strikes fear in my heart for the future of the continent, but also the world at large as he aims to open up the Amazon to development - and in the first week of 2019 actually transferred Indigenous land claims to the Ministry of Agriculture. It's a harrowing thing to see Brazil continue its history of Indigenous dispossession and to consider the environmental impacts such large-scale agricultural development will bring about.

I heard of the election results shortly after visiting the Anthropocene exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, which now seems prescient. The exhibit is a collaborative project between photographer Edward Burtynsky and documentarians Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier. The Anthropocene refers to our current geological epoch - where human activity has been the predominant influence on the environment. The exhibit paradoxically features beautifully composed photographs depicting scenes such as oil bunkering, deforestation, and freeways, which reflect how humans have altered the earth seemingly beyond repair. As an anthropologist the exhibit was both of great interest and incredibly unsettling as the overaesthetization of the landscapes Burtynsky photographs glosses over the realities they contain, making the human impact seem almost 2D. I'm still at odds as to whether I enjoyed the exhibit or not. Some of the work feels fetishistic of the living conditions in the Global South, yet the overarching subject matter points to the numerous political entanglements of development. Peculiarly missing from the exhibition - perhaps purposefully - were humans, who were only seen sparingly in the work.

Although the year was marked by much negativity across the headlines, this mood was countered by thought-provoking, life-giving, paradigm-shifting work I connected to deeply. In December I saw Jeremy Dutcher perform - and while there was a lot of great music this year - his show was by far my favourite experience. Jeremy Dutcher is a classically trained operatic tenor and composer from Tobique First Nation, New Brunswick, and winner of the 2018 Polaris Music Prize for the album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. Using wax-cylinder recordings of traditional songs from his ancestors, Dutcher interpreted and arranged the pieces heard on the album. Throughout the album, he samples parts of the recordings and some of his interview with an elder from his community. Watching him perform was awe-inspiring and deeply emotional. Dutcher's music breaks open temporality.  The music reaches into your core to pull up hope, longing, remembrance. It is a spine-tingling, emotion-welling, and stunning work.

Playing around with time - making it non-linear but rather a woven intricate interconnected thing - is an interest of mine. This skill is exhibited masterfully by Joshua Whitehead in his debut novel Johnny Appleseed, which is one of my favourite books from the year. Whitehead weaves past, present, and future together to portrait the life of Johnny - both lived, felt, and dreamed. The book is about love, family, friendship, time, indigeneity, sexuality, and a whole heck of a lot more. It is blissfully perfect. Whitehead was long-listed for the Giller Prize alongside musician, artist, and writer Tanya Tagaq for her debut novel Split Tooth. In Split Tooth, Tagaq uses her own dreams and personal poetry alongside the fictional story of a girl who has a very particular encounter with the northern lights. Through an interweaving of prose, poetry, and illustration, Tagaq plays with reality to generate a world of emotion and kinship in a way that is disorienting and innovative. I see similarities in Tagaq's and Whitehead's writing as they demonstrate ways of kin-making - through storytelling, dreams, ancestry, and trauma.

Seeing Tanya Tagaq in conversation with artist Kent Monkman at the University of Toronto was another highlight. Both artists are charming and gregarious. This was shockingly my first introduction to Monkman's work. His paintings turn romantic North American landscape art of the colonial era on its head. Monkman utilizes the form to toy with themes of colonialism, sexuality, and indigeneity. I saw his short film Future Nation, as part of the Toronto Queer Film Festival's short program "Kinship and Closeness." Like the aforementioned works, Indigenous futurities can be seen in Future Nations as an act of refuting ongoing norms of settler-colonialism as a means to revive, remember, reclaim, and regenerate.


Musician Mitski on stage Photo by Jennifer Hyc. Retrieved from Exclaim 


Rajni Perera's show (m)OTHERWORLD CREATES AND DESTROYS ITSELF, presented by Project Gallery, workes through ideas of myth-making, the multidimensionality of being other, and the stifling notions of singularity. Perera's monsters are not scary, but deeply familiar and sensual. Whenever I look at her work I am comforted by its strangeness. There's a sense of recognition in the fluidity of motion her paintings hold. In (m)OTHERWORLD she does this by softening geometric shapes - the lines smooth and curvaceous, the edges sharp and agile. Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki exceeded at harnessing a similar gentle sharpness through her album Be the Cowboy. Warming up with her single Geyser and featuring standout tracks such as Nobody and Washing Machine Heart, the album comprises fourteen tracks, all except one under 2.5 minutes long. Written within traditional pop lyrical frameworks, these songs chronicle her relationship to her one true love - music. The album is immensely replayable and manages to speak to all of my neuroses while backgrounding them with masterful arrangements and incredibly catchy beats. 2018 offered a delectable, challenging, mind-bending arrangement of community organization, arts, music, and literature. I'm looking forward to what the next year will bring.

Ani Speranza is a writer based out of Toronto. Speranza is currently completing a Masters degree in Anthropology, her work discusses diaspora, anti-colonialism, and political ecologies.
Frontis image: still from documentary film ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch which is by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky. The film is an extension of  AGO's photo exhibition of the same name by the same aforementioned photographers and filmmakers.