By Fiona Raye Clarke

Published: 2020-11-01

I am a descendent of the people without names
remembered only in the water
that holds every soul she has ever been gifted

When I pass her, she asks me to join her
but I decline. Instead I keep marching and marching
until I am rewarded with the sight of the resurrection.

That day more bodies come from the water than from anywhere else
not the ground, not the air, not from space
They float up from the water arms out, feet pointed.
Two million star-shaped balloons.

I wait on the beach for them barefoot
called that morning by the water in my tea
anchoring into the sand letting the waves
teach me their names.

They came hovering to meet me
blackening the sky long before nightfall
their smiles stars, their eyes moons.

I stay on the shore envious of those who followed
the water’s waves to birth.

I stay so there would still be someone to greet them
four centuries later.

They float over my head and I follow them.
I let the tears, and the tears, and the tears
fall and I could have cried my whole life
and still not have enough water to tribute to them.

They land powerful on the sand
steady feet leagues bigger than my own
big enough to hold up the Maafa
that failed to swallow them.

They grow larger. Their kinky hair leaves
their bodies lean bark coming closer to me
until we breathe the same breath.

They ribbon around me.
Their skin, my skin, our skin
so beautiful, nourished in water for 400 years.

1. What does the word “artist” mean to you and is that how you identify? Did it take you time to adopt that identity?

An artist to me is someone who creates and entertains with a view to creating social change. Our current times bring to mind Toni Morrison’s quote that, “[t]his is precisely the time when artists go to work.” I do identify as an artist though I like to add ‘community-engaged’ to the title. It definitely took time for me to adopt the word artist in my bio at all. But eventually, I saw that by claiming that identity, I would be contributing to a shift in the arts ecology in taking up space as a Black artist.

2. What does the word “technology” mean to you?

To me, technology carries hope and promise but at the same time has practical and existential risks. While technology is an incredible tool and has been a necessary means of survival during these times, it also potentially poses a challenge to what it means for us to be social creatures.

3. What role does technology play in your art?

Right now, along with most artists, technology is a large part of both my creative writing and community-engaged arts practice. My creative writing workshops, both as a facilitator and a writer, have shifted to the online space as have a lot of the literary events. I’ve also been able to do a lot of professional development via technology, such as attending a Banff residency and getting to do work cross-Canada.

4. What role do you see art having on present global culture?

Art has never had more of a global reach than now. During the pandemic a lot of shifts within the arts have been possible because people were finally forced to pay attention, and come to the realization that Black and other racialized lives are disproportionately at risk at all times, even during a global pandemic. I would love to see the recent push for greater equity within the arts continue beyond this current time and see it bring about permanent change among gatekeepers.

5. In your opinion, can you separate art as distinct from artist? From the environment in which it was created? From its societal era? Why or why not?

I don’t think you can separate the art from the artist, or the era and/or environment it was created because there’s a long history of upholding specific narratives as canon while marginalizing others. Though sensitivity to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, and ableism wasn’t standard practice prior to now, no matter how canonical a piece of art is, doesn’t exonerate it from these offences, because art is a medium for reflection.


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