Feature Image: Anna Binta Diallo at the Lekwungen Gathering 2017, photo credit: Kirk Schwartz
I had the privilege of moderating a Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires workshop with Wendat artist-poet Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui from Québec. Our mandate was to explore issues of linguistic diversity in Canada. The somewhat provocative title of our session, “The Language of the Other,” triggered a range of emotional reactions.
We began our discussion by trying to answer the following two questions: Who is the Other and what language do they speak? A dozen artists attended the session and we had a lot to say. Francophones in minority situations within Canada feel ignored by Québecers (Québecois), but Québecois sometimes share this same feeling about France. A number of participants pointed out that they spoke one of the two colonial languages of Canada. The discussion then shifted to issues such as bilingualism in Canada, francophones struggling with assimilation in minority situations, and the importance of Indigenous languages.
Our discussion was insightful, stimulating, and rewarding, and evoked a broad range of emotions. Why? Because we had all experienced difficult moments when our own language brought us face-to-face with the reality that sometimes we were the Other. Although we had different perspectives related to our linguistic experiences, we shared common ground. Whether we’re talking about francophones outside Québec, members of First Nations who wish to preserve and revitalize their mother tongues, or Québecois, we all fear that our linguistic and cultural identities will be misunderstood or threatened by the Other.
Two other major issues discussed were Indigenous languages and funding challenges. Many Indigenous artists do not speak one of the two official languages and feel rejected by the Canadian art scene. For example, how can an artist who wants to sing in her mother tongue, such as Inuktitut, get funding in Québec if the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec only funds projects submitted by francophones? Speaking of this new “Two Solitudes,” we also discussed the problem of systemic racism—of political infrastructures that are designed to erase the language, identity, and culture of certain citizens. Many artists feel threatened, misunderstood, or isolated, and so there are cracks in the cohesion of some artistic communities. We tried to come up with some solutions to address such a complex problem, which included: promoting collaboration between artists and communities, striving for transparency between us and the Other, and listening to our fellow artists from across Canada in order to avoid feelings of loneliness and misunderstanding. Finally, many saw the Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires gathering as the beginning of a conversation that must be continued at all costs. We concluded that we need to share information and facilitate dialogue among all these artists from every corner of the country. Everyone present shared the desire to see this kind of initiative repeated in the near future, so that we can continue to talk to each other and better understand the language of the Other.
Translated by Don Sugden, reviewed by Breanna Fabbro.
Anna Binta Diallo is a visual artist who investigates memory and nostalgia to create unexpected narratives surrounding identity. Born in Senegal and raised in Manitoba, she’s currently based in Montreal. Her work has been exhibited at La Maison des Artistes Francophones, Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, Art Gallery of Alberta, MOCA Tapei, and featured in numerous publications. In 2016, Diallo exhibited "palimpseste," at MAI (Montréal), which weaved together collage, painting, prints, drawing, and audiovisual installations.