Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires is a multi-year arts initiative which began in 2016. Its main objective is to place Indigenous arts at the centre of the Canadian arts system. Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires also asserts that creative practices by artists of colour, who have roots around the world, play a critical role in imagining the future(s) of Canadian art making.
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires works to de-centre the Western world art lens in order to better understand the complexity of Indigenous art forms and those from various communities of colour. This is explored by updating the 30 year old arts conversations regarding race, ethnicity, colonialism, cultural/racial diversity, racism in the arts - to name just a few areas - and by proposing new frames for the future.
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires recognizes that IBPoC artists, their art practices and their communities are at the heart of the conversations that are creating these new framings. This will inevitably concern recent intersecting discourses - for examples: decolonization, conciliation/reconciliation, Indigenization, creative sovereignty, unsettling settlers, post-postcoloniality, artistic self-determination.
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires generates new knowledge on the current and future state of the art practices and cultural relationships among Indigenous artists, artists from settler communities and artists of colour. This is elaborated by listening to multiple, sometimes dissonant, art histories from across this land.
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires believes that artists have the vision to imagine and articulate new futures for the territory that we now call Canada.
The main objective of Primary Colours is to place Indigenous arts at the centre of the Canadian arts system. We work to:
- Generate new knowledge on the current and future state of art practices and cultural relationships among Indigenous artists, artists from settler communities, and artists of colour.
- Decentralize the Western art perspective and art history to better understand the complexity of Indigenous art forms, as well as the artworks that come from various communities of colour.
- Update the 30-year-old conversation regarding the arts, race, ethnicity, colonialism, cultural diversity, racism in the arts, etc., by proposing new frames of reference for the future.
- Recognize that artists, their art practices, and communities are at the heart of the conversation about diversity in Canada which will inevitably concern many other, recent intersecting discourses.
- Listen to multiple, sometimes dissonant, histories from across this land. Artists have the vision(s) to imagine and articulate new, future Canadas.
What We Do
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires imagines, generates and disseminates new knowledge about the state of the arts in Canada. We do this in various ways:
We bring IBPoC artists together in unconventional formats to converse, critique and develop new understandings of their art practices in the frame of the existing art system. We also explore the possibilities of institutional change as part of renewing this system. The first major gathering took place on Lekwungen territory near Victoria BC in September 2017.
- Public Presentations
We present the work of Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires by invitation. This is done as knowledge sharing and, hopefully, as a starting point for discussions that can lead to local incubation projects. For example, we have presented in Victoria, Vancouver, Banff, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Six Nations near Brantford, Toronto, Moncton and Halifax.
- Incubation Projects
We encourage sparks from our gatherings to regenerate projects in local communities when participants return to their home territories, cities and towns. From the inception, we built in modest seed-funds to keep those sparks alive.
We designed, directed and facilitated two residencies at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity during April and May 2018. 37 artists attended and they participated in Indigenous welcoming ceremonies; round-tables; public artists’ talks and cabaret performances; conversations and more formal discussions; incubation project planning and networking.
- Analysis of Arts Landscape
We observe and comment on the context of art making. We consider these current factors:
the 94 Calls to Action from the TRC; the changing demographics, both in Indigenous communities and among immigrants of colour; the presence of Indigenous artists/scholars in mainstream arts institutions; the new funding model of the Canada Council for the Arts and its impact on provincial and municipal funders; the digital presence that surrounds contemporary artistic practice at every stage - creative research; conception; production; presentation; dissemination, documentation, archiving; and finally the emerging art system beyond 2020.
- ‘Research’ Commissions
We interpret ‘research’ in broad, comprehensive ways. We commission podcasts, articles, videos and essays. We include artists, art historians, curators and artistic directors, arts scholars and critics, story-tellers, writers and Elders.
We recently launched this website in May 2019. We generate and assemble new knowledge - both academic and popular; both contemporary and historical; both analytical and story-telling - that sheds light on the concerns of artists involved with Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires. This knowledge and various conversations about it are housed on our website. We also provide links to other sources.
How We Work
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires strives to do our work using strategies of decolonization. We recognize that these strategies are not always self-evident as they are being developed by many artists and arts academics. These strategies are not fixed in stone, rather they are in process. There is no quick fix or trusted recipe for decolonization in the arts. We take into account the following:
- Decolonizing Strategies
- artist-centred: we declare that IBPoC artists and their work are at the centre of our concerns
- poly-vocality: we honour multiple perspectives, searching for what is right, not who is right
- sharing embodied knowledge: we advocate for no ‘experts’, no panels, no keynotes
- planned improvisation: we create safe(r) contexts for the unexpected and the spontaneous
- foresight: we encourage a vision of abundance, not scarcity, for collective capacity building
- Indigenous-influenced protocols
We do not claim the pretence that we work with Indigenous protocols. However we do affirm that our protocols are Indigenous-influenced:
- land acknowledgement which includes a welcoming and, if possible, a history of the territory
- creating space for the importance of ceremony - both Indigenous and other traditions
- presence of Elders
- honouring of artists through presentations and awards
- speaking in languages other than the colonial, official languages of English and French
- witnessing, when appropriate
- The 5 R’s
We try to work with these values. They were developed in Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Research is Ceremony by Shawn Wilson as Indigenous-based methodologies for research. We find that they are applicable to arts activities: projects, collaborations, arts presentation, arts policy, community engagement, research to name a few.
- The 4 Inters
We do not work in isolation solely on decolonization in the arts. Clearly, this is our primary focus but we recognize that IBPoC cultural/racial issues are connected to historical injustices and to contemporary discourses about equity and systemic discrimination. So we are mindful of these considerations in our work:
Banner Image: photo by Amory Hall