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Concordia artist collaborates with Black youth at Dazibao gallery

Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance member Veronica Mockler is working with 7 young women on a participatory art series
June 14, 2023

Group of females standing in a circle in a art gallery Veronica Mockler: “Participants in collaborative art practices are invited to contribute, but their presence is rarely included in the front-facing representation.”

Veronica Mockler, BFA 15, MA 22, is an artist, Concordia fine arts alumna and a member of the university’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP). In collaboration with seven young women active in Montreal’s Little Burgundy community, she is leading a two-year takeover of the Dazibao contemporary art centre’s exhibition outreach.

Mockler works as a research affiliate with Concordia’s Vivek Venkatesh, who is the UNESCO-PREV co-chair and director of the CSLP. Much of Mockler’s creative work with Project Someone under the Innovative Social Pedagogy (ISP) project aims to foster the practice of speaking with others rather than speaking for them.

For her, this work often takes the form of women-led, politically collaborative, dialogue-based community projects that primarily contemplate how to create more openings within the institutions of art, citizenship and knowledge for working-class individuals.

“As an independent artist-researcher on the ISP project, I am able to explore the challenges of participation and collaboration within the world of contemporary art, as well as within the academic research setting,” Mockler explains.

“It is a complex endeavour of enabling individuals who are not considered artists by the art world or academics by the university to fully structurally exist in these institutions to contribute to the meaning they help create. More specifically, how can these individuals then be included in the following step, where meaning is spoken of, presented to audiences and featured publicly.”

The two-year long series is in line with the ISP’s aim to promote agency, authority and power to community stakeholders.

“Participants in collaborative art practices and research initiatives are often invited to contribute their knowledge and experience, but they rarely are invited to be present and speak for themselves in the front-facing representation of the results,” Mockler adds.

“My work and research are very much informed by radical performance art, working-class education and oral history, which are practices that have shown me the potential and impact of face-to-face intergenerational sharing and how to recognize people’s experiential expertise.”

‘Highly unconventional within the contemporary art world’

One of the projects conceived by Mockler is a participatory art series titled À l’image – Takeover. The series is composed of eight “takeovers” or artistic responses to each curated exhibition at the gallery over the course of two years, where a group of young Black women aged 13 through 21 critically engage and produce situated media in response to them.

“Our work does not only respond to the ideas and societal issues addressed in each exhibition, but also becomes structurally integrated into Dazibao’s programming,” Mockler says. “The series is currently ongoing, and we are preparing to launch our fourth takeover.”

When Dazibao originally invited her to produce an artwork with a social outreach element, Mockler responded with a proposal that featured several system-bending, socially engaged requirements: that she could collaborate with youth who had never stepped foot in the gallery space before, that the collaborators would be compensated financially for the number of hours they would spend in the gallery, and that the gallery establish a shared authority between herself, the collaborators and the art space’s administration.

“These specific conditions are highly unconventional within contemporary art world practices when it comes to art spaces engaging in social outreach programming. Throughout my seven years as a professional artist, it has been rare for me to encounter invitations for community participation that recognize and financially compensate the experiential expertise of participants,” Mockler notes.

“Moreover, it is uncommon for participation to extend beyond one-off engagements, which often result in token activities rather than meaningful opportunities for different people and experiences to actively shape discourse and programming over the long term.”

‘I see things differently than before’

Mockler’s collaborators on the project are Montrealers Destiny Gbaniyi, Isha Sheriff, Mei Gannon, Sanaa Bishop-Méus, Sasha Ferst, Shayah Corbin and Talayah Rattray.

“I’m in the art program in my high school, and since I’ve started Takeover it’s benefited me in that I can use more arts vocabulary, I see things differently than before and I explore more things and more opinions in the world,” says 10th grader Sherrif. “We commune together, we are able to put our ideas together and we all understood each other.”

Under Mockler’s guidance, the group is invited to share dialogues on several topics including labour, the environmental crisis and anti-colonialism. This is to provide them with professional agency in the arts and to encourage their confidence in the realization, representation and communication of their ideas.

“It’s offered me a lot of different topics to think about, whether it be scientific, social or political,” says Rattray, a university student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology and computer science.

“I feel like every single time we step into the gallery there’s a new theme at play. It gets us to think and comment about things that are not necessarily unique to the artist who’s presenting it, but also how it affects us and how we relate to the art.”

To catch up on the first three takeovers of the series and keep your eyes peeled for the rest, visit the project’s page on the Dazibao Contemporary Art Centre’s website.

To learn more about Veronica Mockler and her work — including a documentary she’s producing with other young women from Little Burgundy, Stepping Into Halka — visit this recent CTV interview, her blog and her Instagram profile.

Find out more about Concordia’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance.

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