Art Connects on q: new series explores how artists are bringing people together in challenging times

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, AA Bronson and Adrian Stimson are among the artists inspiring big change.

Ken Lum, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, AA Bronson and Adrian Stimson are among the artists inspiring big change

Artists (left to right) AA Bronson, Adrian Stimson, Simone Saunders, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Ken Lum, Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and Tekikki Walker. (Toronto Biennial of Art, Adrian Stimson, Simone Saunders, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Ken Lum, Jamie Griffiths, Tekikki Walker)

To say the least, 2020 has been a trying year.

The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping the globe, fires and floods are threatening countless homes and lives, political chasms are expanding, and acts of racism and hate, at times deadly, continue to make headlines.

But where there is great adversity, there is often great art — and in a new series, Art Connects on q, CBC Radio's program q explores how artists are bringing people together in difficult times.

Visual artist Ken Lum, installation artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, interdisciplinary Kalaaleq artist Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, performance artists AA Bronson and Adrian Stimson, and artistic collaborators Simone Saunders and Tekikki Walker are among the renowned artists in the series, which is running on q Sept. 21-25.

Each interview will also come with a special feature article. (The links will be added here each day.)

Here are their stories:

► Monday, Sept. 21

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian artist whose art is always changing — because it depends on the participants who experience it. One recent project called Border Tuner invited the citizens of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, to converse over the U.S-Mexico border. Lozano-Hemmer's latest project, however, is his trickiest yet: an expansive COVID-era exhibition in Montreal that challenges viewers to connect at a safe social distance.

Interactive installation artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. (Rafael Lozano-Hemmer)

► Tuesday, Sept. 22

Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, statues across North America began to fall. Celebrated Canadian artist Ken Lum was watching with especial interest, because in 2012, he founded Monument Lab — a Philadelphia-based organization dedicated to exploring monuments in cities and towns across North America and around the world. Specifically, the studio examines the history of monuments, as well as which figures society puts on a pedestal — literally — and which get left behind. A fascinating interview about the people who do, and don't, get raised up, and how that might change.

Ken Lum is a middle-aged Asian man. The image is a side profile picture of his face as he stares happily up into sunshine while standing in the streets of Vancouver.
Canadian artist Ken Lum. (White Pine Pictures)

► Wednesday, Sept. 23

Canadian artists Adrian Stimson and AA Bronson share a unique history: their ancestors were sworn enemies. Bronson's great-grandfather was an Anglican missionary who worked to colonize the Siksika First Nation in Alberta, while Stimson's great-great-great-grandfather was the chief of that nation. After Bronson approached Stimson asking if they could collaborate on a piece that would serve as a public apology for his great-grandfather's genocidal rule, they created a piece called A Public Apology to Siksika Nation. In this compelling feature interview, Bronson and Stimson speak about their shared history, the project, and about the power, and limits, of saying you're sorry.

AA Bronson, left, and Adrian Stimson. (CBC Arts)

► Thursday, Sept. 24

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory is an interdisciplinary Kalaaleq artist and performer known for her Greenlandic mask dancing, visual art, film and theatre work. She's also a passionate advocate for the local arts and culture scene in Nunavut, where she lives and works. In this career-spanning interview, the Inuk artist will speak with Tom Power about how she has worked to overcome division within Inuit communities in Canada through her art practice, and built understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Nunavut-based artist Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory. (White Pine Pictures)

► Friday, Sept. 25

Simone Saunders and Tekikki Walker are artistic collaborators — but they've never met in person. Saunders is from Calgary, roughly 3,100 kilometres away from Walker's home in Cleveland. They met through the Long Distance Art series, a project that pairs up artists who have been affected by COVID-19. They'll talk about finding common ground between their Canadian and American identities — and creating art that transcends geography.

Artists Simone Saunders and Tekikki Walker. (Simone Saunders and Tekikki Walker )

A Message of Transparency

The Art Connects on q series was initially created in partnership with We Are Not Divided (WAND), an initiative by musician and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne to highlight people who are helping to heal divisions. The site is part of Byrne's larger online magazine, Reasons To Be Cheerful.

The above articles were slated to appear on the WAND website, but after Byrne released an apology for wearing blackface in a 1984 promotional video, CBC decided against proceeding with the WAND partnership as originally planned.

Q also interviewed Byrne about about the video, and his apology:

Following that decision, CBC renamed the series Art Connects on q. The artist interviews aired on CBC and the digital features appeared on CBC.ca; the artists themselves decided whether or not they wanted their stories to go to the WAND page.

Byrne also posted an article titled "I Am One of Our Stories" on the WAND site.