Dayna Danger has a powerful message for gender non-conforming folks: 'This work is for you'

The Winnipeg artist's goal is to create space for people traditionally excluded from galleries and mainstream media and to represent them in new ways.

The Winnipeg artist is creating space for people traditionally excluded from the mainstream

(CBC Arts)

A stunning image of a nude woman adorns the cover of Canadian Art's current Summer 2017 issue. The woman stands powerfully, confrontational in her gaze and posture, holding the antlers of a buck over her glistening body. Erotically-charged yet challenging, there is no question that the subject in the photo is the one who holds the power. The image is the work of Montreal-based, queer, two-spirit, Métis/Saulteaux/Polish visual artist Dayna Danger. It is part of Dayna's Big'Uns series — a photographic portrait series "that explores the reclaiming of sexuality and bodies" of women, transgender and gender non-conforming peoples.

Lindsay Nixon, the Indigenous editor-at-large at Canadian Art who chose Dayna's work for the cover, titled their Editor's Letter "This Work Is Not For You." The title, like the cover, is credited to Dayna — it was the artist's response to a white male curator who commented that he couldn't see himself in Dayna's work. It's fitting then, that in Dayna's Queer (Self) Portrait video, she enthusiastically says to the gender variant, trans, queer, two-spirit, butch and femme people that she celebrates in her work: "This work is for you."

These contrasting statements — one defiant and bold, the other welcoming and warm — capture Dayna's essence for me. They also speak to one the artist's great motivators: to create space for people traditionally excluded from galleries and mainstream media and to represent them in new ways.

For me, what is interesting is the lines between objectification and empowerment.- Dayna Danger, artist

What draws me to Dayna's art is the way she borrows the aesthetics of pornography and fashion — industries that normally objectify and commodify — to portray underrepresented and stigmatized bodies with power and agency. From performance, through to photography and sculpture, Dayna's visual art practice dances the line between empowerment and objectification and subverts existing social and cultural power dynamics.

What is also interesting about Dayna as an artist is that the very same communities seen in her work — Indigenous, queer, trans, two-spirit, people of colour — are also engaged in the production of the work. Take, for instance, the beaded S&M masks worn by Dayna and fellow performer Kandace Price in the Queer (Self) Portrait video. Dayna has hired and worked with Indigenous folks to assemble and bead each mask by hand. The ones in this video in particular were created by Tricia Livingston and Nicole Redstar. Similarly, she takes a collaborative approach to her photography work as well — working with the very people who are represented in the images: "I never do things alone."

(CBC Arts)

Engaging the communities she represents in her work is a demonstration of Dayna's integrity as an artist — and I have a feeling that it's also what brings her the most joy in her work. When I suggested integrating performers into her video, Dayna's response was an eager "Yes!" followed by a list of people she could involve in Toronto and ideas for what we could do. Her untethered enthusiasm for collaboration is both disarming (she is incredibly humble) and contagious (she's also a lot of fun to work with). I look forward to seeing Dayna's career grow and encourage those who aren't yet familiar to pick up the latest issue of Canadian Art and visit her website to learn more.

A huge thank you to Kandace Price for working with us on this video. Kandace is a community activist, artist, and student midwife living and working in Tkaranto Dish One Spoon Territory. Born in Brantford Ontario Haldimand Treaty Territory Kandace's experiences are centred in her mixed blood Jamaican, Mohawk, and Polish ancestry. Kandace is passionate about art based expression and learning, with a current focus on beadwork. They thrive on the positive impacts art and collaborative artistic processes can have within our communities and beyond.

Queer (Self) Portraits was born out of director Gabrielle Zilkha's participation in this year's 10X10 Photography Project. 10X10 is an annual art exhibit and book curated by James Fowler and produced each year to mark Pride Month. Each year, ten queer and trans photographers are selected to take portraits of ten queer and trans people whom they wish to celebrate for their contributions to the arts. Watch the full series here!

About the Author

Gabrielle Zilkha

Gabrielle Zilkha is an award-winning director and producer with experience in scripted, documentary and interactive content. She comes from a family of funny neurotics in Montreal and currently resides in Toronto.

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