Arts·Point of View

'We are being tested': In response to Trump's win, Canadian artists consider where we go from here

In her column this week, Amanda Parris asks Canadian artists to share a piece of art that represents the U.S. election results.

How do we approach art in the era of Trump?

People protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Miami, Florida. (Javier Galeano/Reuters)

As I type, thousands of Americans are protesting the recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America. His win surprised the pundits and the pollsters, and left people across the globe in varying degrees of shock.

The last few days have felt strangely surreal, but as the #Day1 #Trump hashtag indicates, the harsh reality of explicit racism and violence has manifested itself across the U.S.

North of the border, Canadians are also reacting strongly. For my column this week, I decided to ask a number of Canadian artists to share a piece of art that represents this moment.

Below you will see paintings, photography, poetry and music — some items created by the artists themselves. They've also shared their thoughts on the election results and what it means for Canada.

Bryan Espiritu, "Relegate History"

Bryan Espiritu. "Relegate History." 12x12" Wite-Out and permanent black ink on canvas. (Courtesy of the artist)

Bryan Espiritu, artist/designer: 

"My immediate response is sadness. I'm not educated enough in politics to make statements on what it means for the Republicans or the Senate, but I'm human enough to understand what it means to have millions of people vote for a person like Donald Trump. As a visible minority, I am disgusted. As a father to a son in the LGBTQ community, I am terrified. But as a member of the side of humankind that believes that goodness prevails through all adversity, I am not going to allow fear and anger and hatred and bigotry and closed mindedness to dictate how I carry my life.

It feels like a backwards reeling step for the most developed country on the planet, and it should affect every citizen of the globe no matter what nationality their passport represents. This election has simmered all of the fat to the top of the pot; all of the sludge that has been stewing low within the system of oppression and racism in the United States is surfacing with the results of this presidential race. It's gelatinous gunk, and if you have never felt the effects of the system of hatred and fear that oils the cogs of this machine, you are staring it in its face and it is licking your f--king mouth right now. I have never been prouder to be Canadian."

Clairmont the Second, "Temporary"

Cola H., musician (The OBGMs):

"I'm not surprised. Any publicity is good publicity and the left spent more time saying why Trump is unfit rather than saying why Hillary is clearly the better candidate.

As a travelling musician, I know we'll have to be careful what we say on certain stages. The country is divided, and the crowds at festivals may be too. As a black man, or any POC, anyone that's even perceived to be Muslim, LGBT, disabled, whatever — this'll be open season for hate in the same way that racial violence grew after Brexit. Wait for it…"

Catherine Hernandez, "A Bunch of Dicks"

Catherine Hernandez, author: 

"If the choices were between an overt racist and rapist or a person who profited off of mass incarceration who happened to be a woman, then the outcome would be grim either way.

I am sure Trudeau's PR machine will take advantage of this opportunity to pat himself on the back for his supposed progressive thinking. Perhaps if Trudeau puts away his tissues and stops pretending to be invested in building bridges with the Indigenous community he can show Trump what positive change a real world leader can create. But I'm not that hopeful."

Kit Weyman, "America's Industrial Ghost Town. Everyone Carries a Gun."

Kit Weyman. "America's Industrial Ghost Town. Everyone Carries a Gun." (Courtesy of the artist)

Kit Weyman, filmmaker

"The rise of movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter in the U.S. is in opposition to something — and this Trump win is a part of that something. The problem was Hillary was also part of that something.

It calls on [Canada] to lead a different political story for North America. And with our young and social-media savvy Prime Minister, they could really see this as an opportunity to rebuild [the] national brand that Stephen Harper really gutted. I think we'll definitely be romanticized as the alternative to our neighbours to the south. [...] Hopefully we can ride to some actual change in our own country. It becomes that much more vital to stand up for what you believe in when it is truly threatened. It could bring a lot more Americans up here. It could literally create a brain drain on the U.S."

Jimmie Durham, "Still Life with Xitle and Spirit"

Jimmie Durham. "Still Life with Xitle and Spirit." (Courtesy of Komi Olaf)

Komi Olaf, artist

"The world is the car. Trump is the rock.

Although I am extremely devastated by the results, I trust and love the democratic process. The American people have spoken and chosen the direction they would like to go for the next four years. I am hopeful that Trump will rise to the occasion and reassess his bigotry in order to be the leader the U.S. needs in these trying times. I hope Bernie Sanders runs again in 2020.

Canada has the opportunity to show the world how big our hearts really are. Where the U.S. fails its citizens, I know Canada will be there to pick up the slack in solidarity with those who have been disenfranchised."

MoSS, "Day & Night feat. Eternia"

Eternia, rapper:

"I'm not surprised, but I'm still disappointed. I don't believe elections are always fair and democratic (see Bush Jr.'s second win) and also not surprised because 'fly over' states appear to get all their information from one source: Fox News. I don't blame the people that voted for him as much as I blame his political methods of manipulation: fear, hate and propaganda. I also fear that this ushers in an era of political wins via scandal, fear and name calling (think kindergarten), not agendas, healthy debates and relevant social issues (think university). And of course, I'm scared of how this win may embolden those who thrive on hate and fear to feel empowered to act on their prejudice across the country. Trump has effectively taken the U.S. back at least 50 years. To quote my brother Ian Johnson: don't Google, 'If Trump wins how do I move to Canada?' Rather, 'If Trump wins how do I fund research to colonize the moon?' #badfortheplanet."

Janelle Monae, "Cold War"

Nayani Thiyagarajah, filmmaker:

"On the note of Americans wanting to flee to Canada for refuge [...] the whole conversation is really problematic. So somehow American citizens can simply come here to escape political crisis and seek refuge, but it's not okay for the millions of other refugees from other places facing civil unrest and war, who get rejected and turned away continuously? Let's think more carefully about that. Let us not forget that Canada is a settler colony with its own history — and presence — of violence. We can't afford amnesia when it comes to the painful realities of many living here. I am really weary of people in Canada taking pride in how much more 'progressive' they think we are. I want to see what happens when we see a politician who is black, Indigenous, a person of colour, a womxn, a queer or trans person, a Muslim or anyone else that has been minoritized make a run for federal party leadership and/or the role of Prime Minister. I really doubt many in this this country will behave so much better than those in the U.S."

Bob The Drag Queen, "I Dreamed/I Have a Dream"

Patrick/Ms. Nookie Galore, drag artist (Krafty Queers):

"I feel sad. Though I'm a jaded Scorpio and always predicted Trump would win, I had hope because of the amazing organizers, artists, hustlers, families and all the movements of resistance. But the election result is a hard truth. We have always been at war against a system of white supremacy and patriarchy. People didn't feel that till yesterday, some may never feel it all (middle finger rising) — while others like Indigenous, black and migrant communities walk with those scars that have lasted for generations. I think some people will think that Canada is a separate entity. But if people can go out to vote for the likes of Rob Ford, how different are we really? In the U.S., people who hid their racism loved showing it through the ballots. I'm gonna keep dreaming and creating a new world where we protect, love and fight for one another [and for] a new and better system. We just might have to go at it harder this time around."

Fela Kuti, "Mr. Follow Follow"

Tau Lewis, sculptor:

"I hope every person who's argued from behind their shield of privilege that racism does not exist is taking a careful look at what just happened.

I think it's obvious that we need to be ready to open up our homes. Each of us should be ready to take people in. Canada, Toronto especially, likes to boast its diversity. It talks about racial issues and does little to change things; our arts community is heavily segregated. I hope American POC's and QPOC's are able to make it to Toronto — our art community would become so much richer. It would make Canadian and American POC's feel stronger and safer, and that is literally all that matters to me right now."

Kiran Rai, "This is What Solidarity Looks Like"

Still from "This is What Solidarity Looks Like." Left to right: Jasmine Kaur Bhinder, Harnoor Kaur, Anoop Kaur, Talveen Kaur. Bottom: Harman Kaur. (Courtesy of the artist)

Kiran Rai, filmmaker

"I never thought — being a Sikh, Punjabi, brown-skinned, womxn born and raised in Brampton, Canada — that I would ever be able to have a voice that people are willing to listen to worldwide, that young womxn and men look up to artists like myself. Even if it's at a smaller scale, it's the content that we produce — the intention, the message we send across — that can generate change in the youth to feel empowered. I believe in manifestation. I believe that without fear, people have the power to create their own reality. The last eight years weren't for nothing. Statistics have shown that young voters from 18-25 voted Democratic. For a change. This is enlightening. This is our future. This is just the beginning. We are being tested, and this is the only way to bring us all together. Love will conquer."

Javid Jah, "Rob Ford Mural"

Javid Jah. Rob Ford Mural. (Courtesy of the artist)

Javid Jah, street artist

"Somehow, my Rob Ford mural in [Toronto's] Kensington [neighbourhood] comes to mind. I am thinking of going over Mr. Ford with a Trump portrait, possibly wearing a hijab and a poncho, his arms and head locked in a brick wall like a guillotine.

[I feel] betrayed by Americans. It doesn't take much from any human being, let alone the population of one of the world's most privileged societies, to realize that that man is not worthy of such responsibility."

Hopefully [this] improves [Canada's] position both economically and in terms of cultural influence, as international organizations and businesses seek to work/invest in human capital in Canada, where communities have proven they can practice the diversity that they preach."

Red Slam, "Right Level"

Mahlikah Awe:ri ~Enml'ga't Saqama'sgw (Woman Who Walks In The Light), Indigenous spoken word artist:

"Welcome to the real Amerikkka. Indigenous folks across Turtle Island have been under this terrorist, racist, colonial regime since first contact. It wasn't just 'rednecks' who voted Trump in. It was white folks who are teachers, doctors, lawyers, landlords, bankers, business owners and landowners, who all have a white supremacist agenda. This was their epic mobilization against all other lives. They finally got their 'White Lives Matter.' For a country to elect an openly misogynist white bigot before a white woman speaks volumes. These results also remind me that while white settlers and undocumented and documented immigrants to Turtle Island are making a run for the Canadian Border, our people will be left to continue to fight for their inherited sovereign rights as protectors of these lands, with little or no [allies].

Hopefully this election will awaken all Canadians to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people so we can work together to protect and preserve this land we all call home for generations to come and make Turtle Island Indigenous-centred again."

Stevie Wonder, "Black Man"

Nigel Shawn Williams, theatre artist:

"I feel that a basic humanistic sense of hope has been devastated, and that the future for my two mixed-race daughters is in jeopardy. I fear that the permission to express one's bigotry and prejudices so openly and in such a hate-filled way that has been given to the the American people may infect the tolerance of Canadians."

Solange Knowles, "Weary"

Alicia Bunyan Sampson, writer/director:

"I knew when President Obama was elected eight years ago, that the white supremacist power structure would have its revenge, because how dare a black man get the Oval? The Obamas struck fear into the hearts of white people across America (and worldwide). The fact that [Trump] won, with 52 per cent of white women voting for him, reveals two very important things: 1) People hate women far more than they hate racists, and 2) White women are far more concerned with losing their white privilege than they are concerned with violence against their bodies. White supremacy is thriving. As a black woman, I will continue to feel sadness for my community as we fight to exist. The only thing I see that might be useful in all of this is that perhaps it will make some black people who have resisted the truth about white supremacy realize what is really going on. Perhaps now, there will be more black people, people of colour and Indigenous people fighting for the revolution.

Let's not forget we elected Harper and had that mess for 10 years. Let's not forget black men and Indigenous men are jailed and murdered regularly here. Let's not forget that thousands of Indigenous women are missing. Let's not forget black women are in a constant mental-health crisis due to daily violence and misogynoir on the street, in schools and in the workplace. Following the election results, white Canadians are shocked and so grateful to be Canadian — which only tells me that white Canadians are quite comfortable in their privilege, as they step over the bodies of black people and people of colour, blissfully ignorant to our oppression."

Alysha Brilla, "No More Violence"

Gein Wong, director:

"When I look at my social media feeds, the thing that gives me hope is people waking up, especially people who are benefitting in some way from this society. People who may be white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual. People who are increasingly realizing that this isn't the world they want to support. We have more collective power and influence than we may imagine. People can change, and this world can change. For those who are feeling shocked, who are wanting to do something, but don't know exactly what, look around your communities and see who is organizing, especially Indigenous, black, people of colour, queer, two spirit and disabled communities. Listen to them. Listen, always listen. Show up and ask how you can best contribute and help."


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