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Immersive, art-infused conference of oral historians is country's largest ever

From Oct. 10 to 14, events offered by the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University are open to the public
September 25, 2018
Cynthia Hammond (left, with Kathleen Vaughan): “How can researchers and artists make change in the world?”
Cynthia Hammond (left, with Kathleen Vaughan): “How can researchers and artists make change in the world?”

Can storytelling help us navigate the troubled times we live in?

Between October 10 and 14, Concordia will be the site of interactive, multimedia storytelling that explores subjects like the Syrian refugee crisis, racism and Islamophobia, the opioid epidemic, and more.

The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) is hosting Oral History in Our Challenging Times, an annual conference put on by the Oral History Association. The event brings together established researchers in universities and public history institutions, community-based oral historians, media and arts organizations, Concordia graduate students, and independent professionals.

Many of the activities are free and open to the public, including the conference kickoff on Wednesday, October 10. The launch will feature live mural-making, as well as a performance by an Indigenous drum group made up of Concordia and McGill students.

The evening will also include a sound performance — done in complete darkness — exploring the life and death of Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. Iranian authorities killed Kazemi in 2003.

“The program puts politics at the forefront,” says Cynthia Hammond, COHDS lead co-director and professor in the Department of Art History.

“Urgent questions are at its core: how can researchers and artists make change in the world? How can listening to those who have not been heard, or not heard often enough, lead to collaborative forms of representation? And how can the university learn to share its authority and be transformed by the knowledge that lives all around us?”

Steven High: “Ordinary people live extraordinary lives and they have much to teach us.” Steven High: “Ordinary people live extraordinary lives and they have much to teach us.”

Ordinary people live extraordinary lives

Steven High

Oral history as a research field was born out of improved accessibility to tape recorders in the 1960s and 70s. The area’s first practitioners were feminist researchers, queer activists, immigrants and other marginalized groups.

Today, oral historians are not only found across university settings but in the communities they serve as teachers, artists, archivists, social activists and community members. Their goal is to record hidden stories that would otherwise be lost to history.

“Ordinary people live extraordinary lives and they have much to teach us,” says Steven High, COHDS founding member and professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Science. “This conference is a unique opportunity to engage with their stories in exciting ways and see the way toward real social change.”

A rich selection of immersive research-creation projects presented in conjunction with the conference is also open to the public. They are happening around the Sir George Williams Campus as well as throughout the city.

Here are some not-to-be-missed projects recommended by High:

1. Walk in the Water/Marcher sur les eaux

(Kathleen Vaughan, Concordia University Research Chair in Socially Engaged Art and Public Pedagogies and COHDS co-director)

Measuring at nine feet high and 12.5 inches wide, this “talking textile” invites visitors to learn about the history of the St. Lawrence River’s Pointe-Saint-Charles shoreline with a touch-sensitive textile sound map. Hear the story of this underloved waterway through resident and expert interviews and archival material.

J.W. McConnell (LB) Building, Webster Library 2nd Floor, 1400 De Maisonneuve W.

2. Decolonial Street Art

(Ioana Radu, part-time professor in Concordia’s First People’s program; Aude Maltais-Landry, PhD student at Université de Sherbrooke; Laurence Desmarais, Montreal-based art historian; and Unceded Voices)

Check out live mural-making by Unceded Voices member Cedar Eve Peters (BFA 12) in this project that aims to promote the work of Indigenous street artists. The event also includes a video installation and a guided tour of seven murals in Montreal’s St-Henri neighbourhood.

LB Atrium, 1400 De Maisonneuve W.
Thursday, October 11, from 7:30 to 10 a.m.

3. Walking With

(Pohanna Pyne Feinberg, PhD student in Art Education)

Hear from women artists through audiovisual montages on the theme of walking as a form of artistic inquiry and expression.

LB, Webster Library entrance stairwell, 1400 De Maisonneuve W.

4. Digital Representations of Resistance: Participatory Video Expressions of Young Arsi Oromo Women’s Challenges and Expressive Strategies for Change in Ethiopia

(Leila Qashu, Banting postdoctoral fellow at COHDS)

Learn more about the challenges young Arsi Oromo women face in Ethiopia in this multimedia sound, photo, video and website exhibition. Discover how these women are using expressive arts for discussing, questioning, resisting and changing cultural practices and affirming their rights.

John Molson (MB) Building, 9th Floor (by the elevators), 1450 Guy.

5. Storytellers-Illustrer les mémoires de l’éducation autochtone: une case à la fois

(Emanuelle Dufour, PhD student in Art Education)

Find out more about the research–creation process in the making of graphic memories through this installation on Indigenous education, historical awareness and cultural safety.

LB, Webster Library, 2nd Floor (to the left of entrance lobby), 1400 De Maisonneuve W.

6. Not Being able to Speak is Torture

(Luis C. Sotelo Castro, Canada Research Chair in Oral History Performance)

In small groups of nine to 12 people, listener-participants will be still and silent as they make their way down a long narrow room with partitions that visually block the exit. A family of Colombian refugees and sound artist Barry Prophet collaborated on this sound installation and research-creation project.

Register in the LB Atrium, 1400 De Maisonneuve W.
Taking place throughout the conference. 


Learn more about the free and public events offered as part of the Oral History in Our Challenging Times conference taking place October 10 to 14 at the Sir George Williams Campus.


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