Denise B. McLeod
Denise B. McLeod is Ojibway from Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nations, Three Fires Confederacy, Robinson-Huron Treaty territory. She is cis gendered, pansexual, and uses she/her pronouns. McLeod is a textile storyteller, burlesque performer, and comedian.
Interpretations of their own teachings and opinions shared here are the responsibility of each artist.
Written transcript is below.
“I'll sit in Kensington Market or this place in Chinatown, I will go buy materials, go get my nails done at the Nail Queen on Queen Street... and then I'll go home - like that's very much a part of like the... I use the word ceremony... The custom of the tradition, or of what I do when I'm in a certain neighbourhood, is very much influenced about like - it would be like ceremony… Like a knowledge keeper or an elder might like scoff at this, but like it is very much ceremony, like I take this street car and I get off here and then I walk here and I do this and it's the habit of it all. But like habits do become ceremony. So, like it, you know, it very much is my urban way of being in ceremony, of creating.”
Interview with Denise B. McLeod
Krysta Williams: Awesome, we may continue, thanks for doing that. So our first questions just wanted to get a little bit of information about you, so some things that you can share, you don't have to share: name, age, Indigenous identity, gender identity, sexual identity and your location.
Denise B. McLeod: Wow, my name is Denise B. McLeod. I am thirty eight years old, I had to think about that for a second. I'm Anishnawbek from Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nations, well I'm Ojibway from Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nations, but part of the Three Fires Confederacy, Treaty - Robinson-Huron Treaty territory, North shore of the Lake Huron. Yeah, my gender identity, I'm cis gendered, I use she/her pronouns, and my sexual identity, I would define myself as pansexual. I'll keep it classy. I was going to say the joke, but I'm not going to say the joke. Yeah, I define myself as pansexual, I like people.
Krysta Williams: All right, and in terms of artistic expression, what are your various methods of artistic expression, and why are those important to you?
Denise B. McLeod: Artistic expression... I'm a comedian and apparently that's art now, I would also define myself kind of as a storyteller, but not in like a mystic... You know, knowledge keeper/storyteller kind of way, just in like I tell stories about life. I am a sewer, I guess there's a fancy word for that: textile artist.
Krysta Williams: Textile - ooh, I like that, yeah.
Denise B. McLeod: I work with textiles specifically in the medium of making moss bags and baby bonnets, ribbon skirts, and regalia.
Krysta Williams: Amazing. You also had kind of a recent development in your expression, I didn't know if you're gonna include that in this interview.
Denise B. McLeod: Right! Burlesque dancer. Yeah, I just started doing burlesque dancing, and I'm really excited about that. That is also art. I mean, I'm really just showing my tits to people, but like, it's still pretty fun, and I really like it.
Krysta Williams: And can you speak to why each of those methods are important to you?
Denise B. McLeod: Oh, damn. Okay, I guess the textile, like learning how to sew and like working with textiles, was important to me in the fact that like I wasn't raised in community. So like learning how to make ribbon skirts and moss bags and baby bonnets and all of those things is a part of like... A part of like tradition, but more contemporary tradition like, you know, sort of adapting old ways into new ways, which is pretty fun and also like, for me, like making pockets in ribbon skirts is an evolution of sort of traditional - very traditional, or like Indigenous knowledge. It's just an adaptation of Indigenous knowledge that I really like and being able to like teach other folks how to do those things and make moss bags for babies that I wasn't - like, I didn't make moss bags for my babies because I didn't know about it. I didn't have that knowledge. Now I get to make moss bags for other people, which is really exciting.
Comedy... Comedy is a part of healing for me, and so like being a comedian and like - I tell sort of my personal story through comedy, and it's not only healing for me but it also creates space for people to also - who maybe have like shared like a similar lived experience, are able to also talk about that in a way that feels good for them. I like being funny - trauma, like, you know, I think that like my dark humour, the darkness of my humour, is about the trauma and, you know, trauma can be funny. And if we laugh at trauma, that's a part of healing.
And then burlesque dancing is... It started out of like, "I really just want to like take off my clothes in public, that'll be fun. It'll be fun for like reclamation of my body," and all of this like very - they were very simple thoughts of like why I was going to do this thing. But in reality, I like - I'm fast and I'm loud and I'm queer and I have mobility issues now and, you know, that description of a person does not, in mainstream - actually, just in like almost anywhere, that description of a person isn't automatically sexy, like you're not allowed to own your sexuality. Also, being Indigenous we're never allowed to own our like - an Indigenous woman is never allowed to own her sexuality, but is so hyper-sexualized. And so I sort of fell down this rabbit hole of like: I want to do this, I want to do this thing that is scary for everyone, like dancing and taking off your clothes in like a sexy, playful way is pretty scary for everyone I soon found out. Even if you are, you know, thin and young and beautiful and all of those things. It's scary for everyone, but also like we need to have more people who look like us take up space in this way that allows us to own our sexuality in the way that we want to. And being able to like...
Burlesque is probably one of the scariest things I've ever done actually, now that I think about it, and it was also the most like super fun, super liberating, super all the things, like all of those, like, really positive feedback, like all of this like positive love feedback that you got from the crowd, and not that I, you know, [need people to validate me], but it was still very validating. I don't need it, but it was very lovely to get it, and being able to create space for other people to be able to have those moments where they get to feel sexy when largely Indigenous bodies aren't sexy, queer bodies aren't sexy - well, in a certain light. Fat bodies aren't sexy, disabled bodies aren't sexy, like all of the things that I have that people tell me I'm not sexy for, I used as a way to be sexy, so. Yeah, burlesque, it's also very healing, I think.
Krysta Williams: That was all really beautiful, thank you so much for sharing. I love that you have three mediums that you're speaking to in this one interview, it's great. Can you speak to a piece of work, so that can refer to lots of things, but a piece of work that you're most proud of and why?
Denise B. McLeod: I mean, my go to is always like my kids, like I made them and they're pretty special little pieces of art, I think. But outside of like - outside of that, I think I'm proud of all of the things I've learned or all of the pieces of work that I've done and, you know, I guess it would depend on the day, but like I think about doing a burlesque piece to like Darling Nikki by Prince, which is like an overtly like super sexual song that talks about masturbating. And I like simulated masturbating on stage. Did a like, you know, undressing, in front of people. And people responded very like positively so like that's something I'm really proud of, but also like, you know, I did a show for Yas Queen for the fourth anniversary, their fourth birthday, in the Comedy is Art Festival, and, like the creator of Yas Queen specifically reached out to have me - like asking me to be a part of the show. Which was kind of... I didn't actually realize what a big deal it was until like I read a CBC article and I was like, "oh, I think I'm gonna do this thing on Thursday next week, like maybe it's kind of a big deal. Maybe I should write a joke or two for this." But I, you know, like... I went on and did like a perfect set, like I did the set that was like so off the top of my head, was not prepared and like (unclear). Like the land acknowledgement joke actually stemmed from that show, and me just being like, "we were here first. You're welcome." So, you know, that - those were like important like things that I'm pretty proud of.
Denise B. McLeod: I also think of like the - no, I also think of the last fundraiser show that Manifest Destiny's Child all did together, which is been like a first time in like four years that we've all like - well, not all of us, but most of us, had been together and it was really fun. And it was packed and, you know, and I hosted, which is the first time I've ever done that with Manifest Destiny's Child and like... Just felt so confident in - like so confident in myself as a comedian that I was just like, "I'm not going to worry about any of this." So that was good. I think those would - yeah. Also, like, I guess all of the moss bags I make for babies, I'm always very proud of, and I always want to keep them and I know that I can't because I'm like, "somebody has asked me to make this. I can't keep this.".
Krysta Williams: Well and what do you do? Like put squashes in it? Like I don't know.
Denise B. McLeod: I just like love them all so much, they're all so like different and special. I actually realize that I have one to make. I mean, if we're quarantined, I have a while to make a new one though. I'll have time! Anyway.
Krysta Williams: Amazing. And the (unclear), your confidence did show through at that show, it was very clear.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, I mean, I knew my jokes, I knew... I mean, it was in a place where I basically live, in front of lots of people that I love. Like I wasn't once nervous or... Sorry, I wasn't once nervous, I knew my... I know my jokes, so. Yeah. Anyways, thank you.
Krysta Williams: No problem, I'm holding back, I'm definitely nodding and smiling along with everything you're saying, but I'm holding back so that it's your voice on the recording and not just my reaction. The last question in this section: what artists or art movement or... Have you been influenced by, would you say?
Denise B. McLeod: Oh, God, I wish I could be like super bougie and just be like, "I really like -", Yak - I can't even say his name, I can't even be like, you know... Yak - what the fuck, I can't even say his name.
Krysta Williams: I don't know who you're trying to reference, so that makes two of us, you're great. Any artist, any art movement that's been important to you that you feel like has influenced your current practises.
Denise B. McLeod: I mean, I think that can the emerging, not really emerging, but finally being sort of like applauded as art, like Indigenous - like this Indigenous renaissance that we're going through as Jeremy Dutcher likes to... Sir Jeremy Dutcher likes to put it. Like it has been like, I'm like, "oh, you know, there has been a bit of an Indigenous renaissance," but then I think of like all of the artists that came before, you know, our bougie Indian asses came. Like there were so many that like paved the way for us to be able to exist in this space that, yeah, I would definitely say that like - it's like the Indigenous art movement.
Krysta Williams: Great, so we're going to move on to some childhood reflections, if you're comfortable with that, keeping in mind you can skip or decline any other question.
Denise B. McLeod: Okay.
Krysta Williams: How does the land and water where you're from influence your work?
Denise B. McLeod: So... Okay, when I think of like - when I think of where I'm from, I will often think of like Toronto, because this is where I've spent most of my life. Like, yeah, Toronto is where I spent most of my life, and so I think of Toronto as like land and water that definitely does influence lots of what I do, and I also think of like my home community, so Sagamok Anishnawbek, and how beautiful that space is. And it influences me in like a way that, you know, home community/other places where I've spent as a child, they're there, but they're not as... They're not as important to me as Toronto is, and I would even go as far to say that like any time I travel to a new place I always need to put my feet in the water. Like water to me is really important. And maybe that's not really reflected, per se, in my art. Like, I don't write jokes about water, or...
Krysta Williams: I think it's more about the influence, like how it's influenced your work, maybe not reflected, but...
Denise B. McLeod: I think that like, you know, I... When I write about home I sort of write about it as a far off place that I know exists, but isn't really tangible or real to me. And I - like, what like what really reflects, like really sort of influences my work is definitely Toronto, definitely being urban, like the urban landscape of being here, and as much as I grow tired of [this place, this place] is very much a part of who I am. It definitely influences all of... All of the pieces of my art. In a way that like... I write jokes about Toronto, I write jokes about being urban, you know, all of the moss bags I make... You know, I can show you the exact place where I go and buy all of the material, so much so that the guy knows me as soon as I walk in he's like... You know? Like, this city, or like, you know, Church Street is where like I'll sit at Glad Day and write some things, or I'll sit in Kensington Market or, you know, this place in Chinatown, I will go buy materials, go get my nails done at this, you know, the Nail Queen on Queen Street and then go buy a fancy bubble tea that has ice cream in it at the fancy bubble tea shop at Queen and Spadina and then I'll go home, like... Like when - like that's very much a part of like the... I use the word ceremony, but it's because I forget the other word that I'm thinking of but like... The custom of the tradition, or of what I do when I'm in a certain neighbourhood, is very much influenced about like - it would be like ceremony, like I'm going to go to Affordable Textiles and I'm going to buy all of this material and then I'm going to buy some ribbon from here, and then I'm going to go get the rick rack from the place across from the bubble tea place. And I don't ever know what the place across from the bubble tea place is called, I just walk into the place across from the bubble tea place and it has my rick rack, you know? Like it seems... Like a traditional - like a knowledge keeper or an elder might like scoff at this, but like it is very much ceremony, like I take this street car and I get off here and then I walk here and I do this and it's the habit of it all. But like habits do become ceremony. So, like it, you know, it very much is my urban way of being in ceremony, of creating.
Krysta Williams: How would you say your gender identity and sexual orientation influenced your kind of early years as a person growing up? And how would you say that those experiences have influenced your work?
Denise B. McLeod: So... My gender identity has like... I've always - like I'm cis gendered, I've noticed as I've gotten older, have prescribed... When I was younger and more like, you know, "I'm not going to do what the world tells me to just because I'm a woman, blah, blah, blah." I really had a hard time with being feminine or like expressing my femininity, but always really, really wanted to. And so I was mostly like in jeans and hoodies and like, you know, and those things, and as I've gotten older I have just been more comfortable in owning my femininity as a woman and like... And being like, "I really like to wear dresses and red lipstick and earrings," I really like to do those things and that doesn't make me weak and it doesn't make me - like I think once I unlearned all of like the internalized like homophobia and patriarchy and misogyny, once I tried to - once I unlearned all of that my - one, my life got a lot easier in that I didn't have to fight this battle every day, like with myself, not like... Not unless I destroy patriarchy or misogyny or homophobia. Like within myself I've been able to live like a more authentic life and feel comfortable being who I am and all of the like - in all the facets of who I am. Like I wear dresses and I wear red lipstick and I wear makeup and I wear earrings. And sometimes I do all of those things. And other days I'm just... I'm going to sit in my living room in a housecoat and my hair is greasy. And that's also okay.
And once I unlearned homophobia - like that internalized homophobia... I know it probably does influence my art in a way that I can't - that I don't know, because, you know? I think that like I've always hung out in queer spaces whether or not I've been entirely out or not; I mean, I don't really feel like I've never not been out, but maybe I haven't been out in the way that society has wanted me to be out. Or like come out of the closet in a way that people are like, "oh, my God. We never knew!" I don't know.
Krysta Williams: Whose responsibility is that, yeah.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, like. You know, and I think that's a bit of internalized homophobia that we all feel that we have to be out in the same way. And I don't know, like I'm still... Maybe I'm wrong, like I don't know. I don't think that queerness is one way or Two Spiritness is one way. So I feel like - I mean, I guess with burlesque that really - Actually, I guess all of it does, I'm like, "oh, it's just one thing," but like learning how to sew is weirdly inherently a feminine thing, even though men are fashion designers of all of the major houses - like fashion houses of the world, which is also very weird. Just like being a chef is a man, but being a cook is a woman.
Krysta Williams: Right, they attach some power to it.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, we'll talk about that later. But like learning how to sew is inherently feminine. And, you know, in my 20s, I was like, you know, "I'm not going to do anything that's like woman's work because that's the kind of feminist I am." And now I'm like, "yeahhh, you know, I'm a feminist in whatever way that looks like," It makes me feel weird. And also I know how to sew. I'm pretty - like I'm quite good at it. And I sew in like pretty dress shoes and
red lipstick while listening to Prince and practicing in my brain how I'm going to take my clothes off, so.
Krysta Williams: That was amazing.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, I guess, you know, like in - like I now perform largely in queer spaces. Which is quite fun and sometimes a little bit harder.
Krysta Williams: Mhm.
Denise B. McLeod: But, yeah, like, I got... Yeah, I never want to be one of those people that's like, "none of it affects my life," but it all affects my life. It's just I'm not - I don't think that I'm entirely aware/have taken blinders off of like my own internalized shit yet.
Krysta Williams: Mhm. That's real, thanks for being super honest. How would you say the generation that you grew up in influenced your ideas about art?
Denise B. McLeod: I grew up in the 90s, so I like Basquiat. That's who I was thinking of, anyways -
Krysta Williams: Say it again?
Denise B. McLeod: Basquiat.
Krysta Williams: Okay.
Denise B. McLeod: You know the guy that did the painted crown thing, he died in like the 80s, he's quite - he's quite like a cool artist, is very cool. Anyways, he was, yeah, he was - so I was born in 81 and so like the 80s was an interesting time, and some of it I remember and some of it I don't, obviously. Like the 80s was an interesting time, but like thinking of like my formative years really as a child, being a teenager in the 90s, you know, we lived through like hair metal and then grunge and then like pop-y grunge and then shitty punk pop; I think largely of music when I think of like art. Because I wasn't really... My family never exposed me to other kinds of art. Like, the art that I consumed was like poetry that was all written by white men. Music that was largely all written by white men. Wow, that's all kind of fucked up, actually, now that I think about it. Like it was still very like dominant culture, white, straight, cis, able bodied men that like in full - that like I consumed their art largely. How did it influence me...
Krysta Williams: How did it influence your ideas about art?
Denise B. McLeod: How did it influence... I think what had actually - well, now that I think about it, what had actually happened is I, for a really long time, and still have a hard time calling myself an artist because artist... I know that this is not true, but artists don't look like me, like art is created by like the elite bourgeois and every once in a while like a BIPOC person will slip in there by accident, like Basquiat or Norval Morrisseau, but they're largely all men, largely all cis gender, largely all - I mean "straight", wink, wink, largely all... You know, like that's what art - like art was like mass consumer... Consumerized media for me and that's like - and how it influenced me is like that internalized... like racism, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny of: "you can't be an artist because you're not like us." which I know is not true, like that's not real. But yeah, like when I think of like the people that I held up as these like monumental... Like, "I love these people so much," like Kurt Cobain, and like Eddie Vedder, and Chris Cornell. And basically I really dug grunge music for a really long time and still do, it's largely what I listen to. And like - but like grunge music was art, but when I listen to hip hop - I mean, I also, like I now know it is art and I now know that like the poetics of hip hop art are real, but like at the time, like hip hop was garbage and like Zeppelin was art, you know? Even though, like all of it is. Yeah, so, I think that's how it sort of like has influenced me, that art wasn't accessible. Art wasn't a thing.
Krysta Williams: That's really interesting. How are you feeling on time, you want to keep going? I feel like you're on a roll.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, I can keep going.
Krysta Williams: Okay, well it's also up to you. So the next section's kind of asks more about Indigenous identity. And you kind of have spoken to this a little bit, so if you feel you've answered it already and you feel free you can move on. What aspects of your Indigenous identity influence your art practice?
Denise B. McLeod: All of them. Period.
Krysta Williams: Okay, next question. What cultural teachings around gender and sexuality do you feel comfortable sharing? And how would you say they relate to your art practice?
Denise B. McLeod: I mean, I don't know if I know any like... I mean, I know that's not true, because I'm sure if you sat me down at another time, I would tell a story of a teaching. Like I don't any -
Krysta Williams: We can definitely set up another time - I know, you're going to say you don't know any teachings, I'm like, "that's a lie.".
Denise B. McLeod: "I don't know any teachings," I think that like -.
Krysta Williams: Yeah we can come back to it, though, if you're not in that head space.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, yeah, I think that like the teachings - actually, what I will say here is the teachings that I do know that like we could talk about, I actually - like I often like try to question a bit more, like I try to like put in through like a lens of colonization or a lens of like, you know, who are the folks that pick these teachings up? Like from when they were asleep, like who woke these teachings up, and what was their lived experience and their biases of like how they distributed the teachings to us? You know?
Krysta Williams: Ooh.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah. Which is like really like... that - nothing against the people who like - we're so glad that you picked up the teachings, and woke up the teachings, and did all these things. And it was largely how you healed and all of that, like no shade to anyone, but like - not "but", and... Like what kind of internalized racism, homophobia, sexism, misogyny do you have - patriarchy, did you have that like led us to these teachings that we have? Like the teachings surrounding skirts or a lot of the like homophobic teachings that we... That I have not actually been privy to, clearly, but like... Or if I have been, if they have been around me, I don't think I've ever absorbed them because the homophobia is bullshit, the homophobia in our community is absolute crap and is entirely based on colonization and the church. And so, like, I have mostly like gendered stuff, and gendered teachings that I tend to like grate a little bit, but I don't have a lot of Two Spirit teachings, and I wish that I did. And I wish that we had access to more of them, because I think that they're really important for the Two Spirit community. Like, I - and actually not just Two Spirit community, strike that. Two Spirit teachings are important to all Indigenous community because we need to know them.
Krysta Williams: Yeah. I don't even know how to move on from that, I have no segues, that was so good. I think you answered this already, but just coming back to it, how does your gender identity and sexual orientation influence your art?
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, yeah, like we - an act of rebellion, actually. I would simply say that my gender identity and sexuality in my art is an act of rebellion.
Krysta Williams: Okay. Do you identify as Two Spirit or Indigenous LGBTQ, and if not, how do you identify?
Denise B. McLeod: I identify as queer, and if somebody really was like - needed to have a like, "queer, but like, what are you?" answer, I would probably say pansexual, even though it sounds very clinical to me. I'm like, "oh, that doesn't feel right." And Two Spirit... So I sort of sometimes use that word, that term, that word, that term, but it also doesn't feel entirely right to me.
Krysta Williams: Mhm. Are you comfortable elaborating?
Denise B. McLeod: Oh, yeah. So my teachings always were like, "people who are Two Spirit have two spirits, like a male and female spirit inside of them, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah," not to, like, negate the teaching, but I'm just trying to be like fast about it, and I don't feel like I have male energy inside of me, like I feel, you know, I kind of joke that I'm like painfully cis gendered because I have a lot - like I feel like I have a lot of... I don't know, I just - the teaching around Two Spirit doesn't seem like it would encompass who I am as a person. And I would - like, I'm an Anishnawbek woman who loves a trans person, like I'm very queer. Do queer things all the time, hang out with cool, queer kids, queer, queer, queer. I - like I don't know if there's a term that would like feel good to me, like sometimes I will use the term Two Spirit in like community settings because that just, you know, is community. But, yeah, I don't - like I don't feel like that's the term that defines who I am, but I think that the English language is also really tricky and we're trying to translate, you know, almost a millennia worth of history into one... Siri just like popped up - go away, Siri. Every once in a while the Siri on my iPad is like, "yes, can I help you?" I'm like, "we didn’t call you,", weird, they're listening. Yes, I think that's... Yeah.
Krysta Williams: Okay, yeah, thanks for sharing. And how would you say your identity as a queer Indigenous artist has kind of been consequential to your art? And if that - yeah.
Denise B. McLeod: My identity as an Indigenous artist...
Krysta Williams: A queer Indigenous artist, an Indigenous woman artist, how has that been consequential to your art?
Denise B. McLeod: I mean, I think that's how I became an artist, like as an act of survival, like I'm definitely, you know, like the mainstream definitely does not want - I guess it's also, again, like another act of rebellion, like the mainstream definitely does not want to hear from, like, the queer, cis, Indigenous woman, especially, you know, who's fat and has mobility issues, like they definitely don't hear from me, but I'm like pushing myself into spaces where I'm like, "no, no. You're going to listen to me. You're going to watch me dance, you're going to look at the things that I show and you're going to pay attention and fuck you." Like, yeah, I think that's what it is.
Krysta Williams: And we're so grateful for that. As an Indigenous artist, what would you say your experience is with mainstream art scenes?
Denise B. McLeod: It's like it sometimes runs the gamut of like... So fucking painful, that I want to, like, run away and never participate in mainstream art again, to like really just like, "wow, this thing happened, and that is okay," you know, not all mainstream people are awful human beings, cool, cool, cool. Like, I did a show on Friday at the ROM and it wasn't like - we usually get asked to, like Manifest Destiny's Child, usually gets asked to be at the ROM in June because it's like Native month and you know, that makes sense. But we got asked to be there for, you know, March, and which I was like, "that's weird, but okay. Sure." And then we have to be there and then the crowd was like, you know, really mainstream and just did not want to be - like they [just weren't] very responsive.
Krysta Williams: Hmm. (unclear).
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, no, they were like...
Krysta Williams: What would you say was useful for you in that space or in other spaces in terms of like solidarity and support from like mostly non-Indigenous artists?
Denise B. McLeod: I think that like when we know that we're going to be in spaces - like when Indigenous people know that, you know, other Indigenous people are going to be places, like pack the room, there was Indigenous people there that night, thankfully. And so it was not the worst, but the amount of laughs that we got, say, at Glad Day was, you know, Glad Day was a great show, comparatively. And, you know, Glad Day isn't really mainstream, but like for Indigenous people, it is, like, you know? Also sometimes it's super painful to be places that people don't know or that you have to explain the jokes or you have to explain what a moss bag is and... You have to explain what a moss bag is and why they're important. Or people being like, "oh, I really like your skirt. Where did you buy it?" I made this. Because, you know - or like when you wear regalia and they're like, "oh, I really like your costume." You know, all of that is really painful because mainstream Canada still doesn't know about Native people.
Krysta Williams: What do you feel comfortable sharing about how art scenes could better support Two Spirit, trans, nonbinary, and like Indigenous women artists?
Denise B. McLeod: Oh, just stop being like racist, homophobic, misogynist, patriarchal... Like stop holding white people to the standard of that's art and the rest of us are just doing something cute, you know? Like... you know, when Bug came out, like when Bug, the show, was like happening and, you know, the creator of Bug says, like, "I don't want white folks like reviewing my show because you don't get it." And then white folks being like, "what do you mean? That's reverse racism!" Or whatever they said, I didn't really pay attention to them because they were all up in arms. "What do you mean we're not included in spaces?" And I just like whenever that happens, I'm always like, "but we're not included in spaces," like we're always used as tokens. It's like, "ohp, I have the queer person. I have the, you know, Indigenous woman. Oh, like I have, you know, the person who lives with a disability. I have the trans person. I have -" you know, like we're not like... Start picking us not because - not to fill a quota, but just like because that we’re really fucking good artists. Like, there are lots of really fucking good artists, that nobody pays attention to because, you know, because they're not white, cis, heterosexual, able bodied, good looking people.
Krysta Williams: Did any of your art practices include non-Indigenous artists? And how would that impact your work?
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah. I mean, yeah, I do work with non-Indigenous people. The guy that I buy -
Krysta Williams: Can you elaborate?
Denise B. McLeod: The guy that I buy my materials from is not Indigenous, that's a collaboration, I would assume. I mean, if we want -
Krysta Williams: If you decide that it is.
Denise B. McLeod: I mean, I have to pay for it, so it's not really a collaboration, but like, you know, not everything is, you know, like it's not everything -
Krysta Williams: I mean, yeah, in your part, you're - most of the work that you do is like - it's you. You're working together in Manifest Destiny's Child with all, I believe, Indigenous people. Yeah, I don't know - well and the sewing work that you're doing to for Indigenous community, right?
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, that's true, I'm not making moss bags for non-Indigenous people, 'cause fuck them.
Krysta Williams: That's amazing. And so now I'm going to basically ask like the same kind of series of questions about art scenes but instead of asking about mainstream art scenes, I'm asking about Indigenous art scenes. So, as an Indigenous artist, what your experiences are with Indigenous art scenes?
Denise B. McLeod: Largely - I mean, largely positive, I think I'm like... I'm not one of the cool artist kids, you know, like I'm not... I'm not the cool artist, you know, we're kind of - Manifest Destiny's Child's just kind of quirky and people kind of have us around because they're like, "oh, they're funny, okay." And maybe I'm like - maybe I'm sort of... I probably am minimizing like what MDC does, or like the impact it has on community. I mean, I don't think it does, but maybe it does. I don't know. But we just tell some jokes like, you know, talk about giving our land back and trauma, like... Yeah, I feel like I - like I think in certain sort of like art scenes, with certain folks who know - who specifically know me as a human being outside of art, they're likely to... Yeah, yeah, I don't really know. I can't explain.
Krysta Williams: Okay, that's okay. What's been useful - I'm going to ask this other question: what's been useful for you in terms of solidarity and support from other Indigenous artists?
Denise B. McLeod: I think it's like the feedback on the art is really important. It's being able to have shows that are curated by Indigenous people who specifically search me out or community out or MDC out to be able to create things, or like to be able to perform together. Also, it's really important for like - like it's Indigenous people who search me out to make skirts or make regalia or make moss bags and baby bonnets, it's not - it's largely not non-Indigenous people. Like, they don't know that I have that skill, so they wouldn't be on the search for it. I'm just having folks like support me in a way that I am able to take hone my skills a bit more, you know?
Krysta Williams: Right, right, that makes sense. How do you offer support and solidarity to artists whose lived experience are distinct from your own?
Denise B. McLeod: I feel like there are some like youth artists that I come into contact with in just like, you know, in curating shows and stuff like that, that I am constantly like their biggest fan, like I'm like their mom, like their Auntie that's just like comments on every picture that they post and really want them to like be a part of - like I really want them to be successful like - and it's being able to like... It's being able to have faith that when they reach out for support, I can give them the kind of support they need and not just like... Like authentic support and not just like a pat on the back, you know? Like I want other artists - pardon?
Krysta Williams: What do mean by authentic support, can you elaborate?
Denise B. McLeod: If someone needed to just vent on a phone call or someone, you know, like wanted me to come to their show or like... Authentic support in not just when it's convenient for me, you know? Which seems - like it's rarely convenient for me, so whenever I have the spoons and am able to like do the thing that they need in a way that feels good for both of us, that's like not being selfless, not being a martyr, not being like - not selfless, but like not being a martyr, you know, like those people who are just like, "I have to do it for my community." Yes. But we also have to make sure that we're like... We're rested, we're, you know, we're okay to be able to help - not help, support ourselves, our families, our communities, etc.
Krysta Williams: Last couple questions, you're doing so great. How do you use your art to address social and cultural issues? And I think you've shared a couple examples, but if there's anything else you want to...
Denise B. McLeod: I mean, my comedy is definitely like a big - like I address all of the social... Not all of them, but I try to address, like, as much injustice as I can when I - when talking about - when doing comedy, I feel like that's what I talk about. And then like burlesque is about... Yeah, again, about like addressing the fact that, like my body is not considered sexy, but I'm still going to do this thing anyway, I'm still going to dance sexy to Prince and get my tits out. And you don't have to look if you don't want to. But I'm going to do this and I'm still going to take up space.
Krysta Williams: Yeah, totally. How does your creative practice involve community? Can you share a little bit about your process?
Denise B. McLeod: Moss bags, ribbon skirts, regalia, that is all for community, like, you know, you - like how many moss bags can one person have per se, right? Like without it being, like, weird and hoarding and stuff.
Krysta Williams: I mean, you also like do workshops. You don't just make these things for people, but you also like help people make things if they want to make it themselves.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, that's true.
Krysta Williams: But, you know, needed some guidance for it.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah. Yeah.
Krysta Williams: I see you sharing those skills.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah, I feel like, yeah, I can't be like the only moss bag maker in the city, I know that I'm not, but like that's just not - that's not fair, and that's very like Western way of like knowing and being, right? Like, "I'm the expert of this thing and nobody else can have this knowledge because I am the expert,". I'm not the fucking expert. I'm sure that there are other people who make even better moss bags than me. But what I can teach you is the methods that I know. And maybe you're going to make them better. Maybe you're going to even, like, improve it. Maybe you're going to, you know, like - and that's about like keeping the knowledge going, right? Like we almost had all of our knowledge erased from history because they wanted our knowledge to go away, and so it's our responsibility to like keep passing down the knowledge as an act of resistance. So. I mean, maybe I don't - like maybe it's not - that's not how I think every time I teach like a moss bag or a ribbon skirt making workshop, but I know that like the youth that are doing this, I still see them like wear their ribbon skirts and they're very cute and they're like, "see, I'm still wearing it!" like, so cute.
Krysta Williams: They're so cute.
Denise B. McLeod: Little babies wearing the ribbon skirts or the ribbon shirts. And, yeah, like it's not just about me being the expert. I mean, although, somebody was like, "Denise, teach us how to write a joke!" I couldn't teach you how - I couldn't teach you that information, I don't know how to do it.
Krysta Williams: That's okay.
Denise B. McLeod: Yeah.
Krysta Williams: Okay, that's okay. Is there anything else you want to share?
Denise B. McLeod: No, that wasn't - no, I have nothing more to add, this was very concise, and we really took a really long time to do something that was pretty straightforward for us.
Krysta Williams: Sounds like us.
Krysta Williams: Thanks for taking the time, bud.
Denise B. McLeod: No, no problem, thanks for taking the time out of your day to do this.