FYI: This is going to be a personal post. Still relevant though.
This post it entitled woke. Why woke, and why now? Because this words seems to be on everyone's mouth for different reasons, and I basically want White people to stop using it.
First of all, the term "woke", or the expression "stay woke", comes from what is coined as African-American Vernacular English. I'm saying this now so that you understand that if you are not Black, stop using it. For the Black community, "staying woke" means becoming self-aware. This self-awareness, and the widespread use of the term woke began in 2014, after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. We (as in us, the Black community) became more aware, everyday, of the hatred towards us, the systemic racism we were subject to, the different oppressive systems were shoved into.
Unfortunately, if you are a White wo/man, living your privilege in all its glory, being sad about a Black man dying or a mass Mosque shooting does not make you woke. Walking in a Women march does not make you woke either. All of the reasons why you should't appropriate this term are up to you to find out, not up to me to teach you, but you really should stop using the term.
I know Fashion week (more like Fashion month) has officially started today, and I will definitely write about it soon, but I felt important to write about why being woke informs my curatorial and my art criticism practices on the daily. I believe art appreciation, exhibition creation and writing always start from something personal. Starting my blog again is in a sense my own way of being political, although for most, writing about art and fashion is frivolous as fuck.
I started my career as an art historian in my mid-twenties, when I started to write and research on contemporary art from Haiti. My parents are from there, but I being born and raised in Montreal, I couldn't understand why in schools we didn't learn shit about Haiti or its art when there were classes on Asian, Egyptian, Italian art. I thought to myself: why, in the city with the biggest Haitian immigration, in the city with the most universities in the province, couldn't I learn about it? My research led me to understand that Haitian art (or Naive art as most people talk about it) had a huge market post WWII, but it has always being considered as part of craft rather than Fine Arts. After the 2010 earthquake, Haiti entered in the Venice Biennale, more as a pity act than a way to make its art part of the contemporary art discourse (I'm being a bit harsh here, but I don't really have the space to write my full MA thesis).
Fast forward to 2014, when I was fresh off school and from working at the PowerPlant in Toronto, and I got a real art job in the city. Little did I know I would spend 2 years in hell, victim of a systemic racism I had no idea was possible in Montreal, my Montreal!! Living this was not only a cold lesson for me to learn, but it turned me into the political person I hardly knew I was. I already know I was a Feminist (for a later post), I also knew I did not consider myself an anarchist (I admit, I like order, but I also like democracy and I don't stay silent when the government is playing the population). I became angry and desperate for other Black wo/man not to live the pain I've been through, although so many lived it before me. It became of utmost importance that I create something that would be for us, a place where we could feel safe in this racist and oppressed world.
I started to do research on intersectionality, I started to think of curatorial projects featuring racialized artists, stories, issues, I started to want to write essays on this subject too, it was like I've seen the devil. I started the #curatorialtips for that reason, because I learned that for Black people, there is no such thing as emerging. It's either you're It or you're nothing. I wanted Black emerging curators to not despair if they didn't yet have their first exhibition. The systemic racism I lived at work woke me, and in order to stay awake, I decided to open my blog again, as an outlet to write about things I come across, and things I learn.
Being woke is also the way I live my life: I am wearing natural hairstyles more often than ever (yes pre-Don't Touch My Hair), I support art practices from artists of colour, and I even ditched the minimalism aesthetics from apartment (isn't there something more heartwarming than an immigrant parents' house? With all the plants, the throws, the textiles, the food, the spices, the colours etc). It may seem like nothing for most, but for me, it really means reclaiming who I am, my Blackness, my Haitianness. It means I can yell at anybody I want without being an Angry Black Woman because you know what? That shit's on you, not me.
I am also quite pleased to be invited on panels, discussions, and other events as a Black woman. Some of these invites are instrumental, but you know what? If I can use that platform to spit the truth, I will. Being woke makes me well aware of how some people use POC or WOC for their own agenda, and it also allows me to take advantage of it.
In light of the current state of the World right now, I think it is super important for WOC and POC to stay woke, but also to do everything in our power to help our brothers and sisters who are not yet aware. Saying they are sell-outs or blind is not a way to support each other. I am doing my part, a very small one, but I hope it is still something.