Written Transcript, Interview with Susan Blight for Kindling
Louis Esmé: Okay, so we're going to start the interview. Thank you, Susan, for meeting with us and talking about your art practice. The questions are laid out kind of very formally, but also if you want to jump around like it doesn't need to be a start to finish and answer them in whatever ways you feel comfortable with and I think we'll start off just like if you could tell us a bit about who you are, your name, age, your Indigenous identity, gender identity, sexuality, and where you live.
Susan Blight: OK, well. OK, well. Mikinaak nindodem. Nanigegonebiik nindigoo. Susan Blight nindizhinikaaz zhaaganashiiwinikaazoyaan. Couchiching nindoonibaa. Anishinaabekwe nindow. Bezhigo mide’o. So I'm Snapping Turtle Clan from Couchiching First Nation and that's in Treaty #3. My English name is Susan Blight and I'm an Anishinaabe woman and I am an artist, an interdisciplinary artist, and my practice is very interdisciplinary in that I do a lot of different things. So I have a solo practice and a collaborative practice and I would identify myself as an Anishinaabe woman, Anishinaabe Kwe, and also I think it's important that I identify as a cisgendered heterosexual woman because that offers me, unfortunately, a privilege over others. So it's important that I say that as well. And what other questions did you just ask me? I'm sorry.
Louis Esmé: I think that's it. Did you want to say how old you are? It's up to you.
Susan Blight: Sure. Yeah. I'm forty two, so I'm happy to be forty two. I'm really happy to be forty two because I feel like, I really do feel like, life just keeps getting better. You know, even within this horrible state that we are occupied by, like, there are moments where I'm just so happy to be a woman at my age, in part because of the things that I've learned and in part because I feel like every year I gather strength and I'm able to offer something back in ways that I wasn't before. So yeah, so I definitely am happy to be the age that I am and yeah. Forty two is a good age. Forties are good. Yes. Very good.
Louis Esmé: I agree. I turned forty one this year and I'm like, yes! Like I'm finally coming into my age, where I have probably been for a long time.
Susan Blight: Yeah, yeah that's nice.
Louis Esmé: Yeah, do you want to ask the next question?
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Great, so the next question is about artistic expression. So, I guess the questions begin, and it's a four parter, so: what's your method of artistic expression? Why is it important to you? Which piece of work are you most proud of, and why? And which artists or art movements have you been influenced by? I guess starting off: what is your method of artistic expression?
Susan Blight: Well, as I mentioned before, like, my practice is very interdisciplinary, so I'm kind of - I would consider myself a very rebellious and free spirited person. So I like to move and pivot and do different things, so my solo practice is mostly installation, public art, site-specific intervention and social practice, and then I've recently in the last year moved into textiles, whereas my collaborative practice is primarily street art and public art. And those methods to me are very important, and I think they say and do different things, but for me, it really - I like the idea of surprising myself and other people by moving in a new direction and being able to do things in a very free way, and in terms of the difference between my solo and collaborative practice, I think it's important for me that I do both because I really question - I deeply question these sort of Western ideals about authorship and about what those things mean, because I think they're linked to ownership, which I think is linked to an imperial kind of worldview. So I like to work in a way where there is... Where that's called into question.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Yeah, right. Which piece of work are you most proud of, and why?
Susan Blight: That's a really hard question because I think, as Indigenous artists, like we come with a responsibility. So every time we make something we're doing it within a practice of being accountable to our ancestors, to our relations, to the land, to an ongoing sort of project of justice and liberation. So that's a hard question because I would hope that I'm proud of everything that I do, or at least in the sense that it did something in the world. But most proud of, I would say probably... Yeah, I know what it is, actually, it's like - it's not necessarily my work, but it's part of my work. So I appeared on the APTN show Future History, and up until that point, I had been approached about doing sort of TV things like being on The National, for instance, and I turned it - I always turned it down because I for the most part, like to remain somewhat covert and don't want my face on the news and don't want to open myself up to those things. But when I was approached to do Future History, I thought to myself, "okay, it's going to be on APTN. And that means that people back home will see it," and they did. So I was on it. I talked about my work with Ogimaa Mikana, I talked about language revitalization and what we're trying to do with the project, and then I - and it was like two years until it aired. But recently my dad said, "were you on TV?", and I said, "well, yeah, I was on APTN". And he said that people were coming up to him and saying, "is that your daughter? She speaks really good Anishinaabemowin". You know, and like, and for me, it was like I actually almost cried when I heard it because I thought that's what I wanted, was for people back home to see a younger person who cares about the language, has put the effort into learning, wants to do some good, and so for me that was like it was worth it after all of that. So I'm proud of that just because everything I do is for my people back home. So the fact that they saw it was important to me.
Louis Esmé: That's so awesome, thanks for sharing that.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Thank you. What I am hearing is that the relations that come from your art and the impact that it makes is something that's very important to you. And you also say that collaboration is a huge part of your practice. The next question is: which artists or art movements have you been influenced by?
Susan Blight: Well, definitely Indigenous art in the broadest sense. Definitely Rebecca Belmore for her rigour and her courage. I think she's such an amazing artist in terms of her ability to make work that can be very painful, but at the same time stubborn in its resilience. You know, like I just think that she - that her work is just hugely important and I relate to it in a way that I don't all the time to other work. I think at this moment, like, I think the work being made by Indigenous, queer, trans, nonbinary artists is hugely important. I think they are all making some of the best work in this country and I think their theorizing in particular is really important. And then I've also been influenced, I think, by schools of thought sort of more broadly, so I think there's happening. And because I work in an institution, I do read a lot of theory and I'm expected to sort of, you know, to teach these things. And I think they are important, although maybe they're not as accessible as they should be but certain schools of thought, I think, are making work that imagines or reimagines a world and the world that's being sort of reimagined within that theory is a world that I would like to live in. And so when it comes to sort of Black thought, Queer studies, Indigenous studies, Women and Gender studies, and Disability studies - like these are the schools of thought that are imagining and envisioning and putting into practice a world that I would like to live in. And so I'm very influenced by that as well, and I spend a lot of time reading. And then I also really like film. I like experimental film in particular. So I think there's some really amazing Indigenous experimental filmmakers coming out who are really questioning this sort of colonial idea of narrative and how narrative is structured and breaking out of that, which I think has themes of like non-linear time and reimagining and those kinds of things really influence me as well. It's really hard to say - there's so much, but those are a few of the things.
Louis Esmé: So the next section and talks about childhood reflections, which I just want to acknowledge too that that involves memory and that that is a special place and also can be more complicated, referring back to a different time. So please only respond in a way that works for you and feels okay.
Susan Blight: Okay.
Louis Esmé: And we can take a pause at any time.
Susan Blight: Okay.
Louis Esmé: So thinking about the land and the water where you're from and where you're from, where you feel is home and how has it influenced your work.
Susan Blight: Well home for me is Treaty #3, specifically the southwestern part of Treaty #3, so I realize that well, first of all, the Anishinabek Nation is huge, covers a huge swath of land and that there are different landscapes within that land and that it does become problematic to sort of identify yourself with a nation that was formed out of a treaty that has never been adhered to and those types of things. But on the other hand, we are a group. I mean, the Anishinabek Nation is not a monolith, and that, you know, Treaty #3 has some very specific histories. So I do identify myself that way in terms of belonging to the Anishinabek Nation of Treaty #3, and in terms of specifically where I'm from: my mother's father comes from Couchiching First Nation, and my mother is a member there and I'm a member there as well as my sister. My grandmother, my mother's mother, comes from Naicatchewenin, which is very close to there, but is a different place. And then my father's mother comes from Mishkosiminiziibiing, which in english is Big Grassy First Nation in Lake of the Woods. So, going back generations, that's where my relations come from. And I was very privileged in a sense to grow up there.
Susan Blight: My mom and my dad split up when I was young and my mom was a working mother, and so because of that my grandparents really spent a lot of time babysitting. You know, I spent every day with them. And it was like - looking back it was such an amazing opportunity and like something that not everybody got to experience, unfortunately, you know, for a variety of reasons. But that time with them, I think, made me culturally Anishinaabe, as you know. So there's that sort of like that history of being there, but there's also the fact that they raised me up into part of the person that I am today, you know, up into a certain point. So for me, like that sort of legacy of family history is really intimately connected to the land, to the water there. If you look at a map of our land, it's mostly water. You know, it's like more water than land itself. So to me, I'm a water person. You know, my clan is Snapping Turtle. I'm connected to that in that way as well. So it's really - it's a combination of those two things, it's like my family histories and being raised by my family on that land, and so I feel like all of my work has been towards, at least in the last ten years, has been towards reclaiming that and doing everything I can to sort of reignite those sort of connections. I really think I veered off there, I'm so sorry. Did I veer off?
Louis Esmé: Oh, my gosh. Everything you're saying is amazing.
Susan Blight: Okay, well that's good.
Louis Esmé: Yeah, whatever you want to say.
Susan Blight: Okay.
Louis Esmé: Related, maybe unrelated, how do you feel that your gender identity and or sexual orientation, knowing those are also english words and concepts and they do not translate into Anishinaabemowin very well; how do you feel like who you are now and then has related to your art work?
Susan Blight: Well, I think, you know, I think as someone who is a Midewiwin person, a Midewiiwin woman, I do feel like I've had a couple of lifetimes in the sense that the colonial system has done a lot of damage in our communities and has done a lot to sort of put up barriers to being Anishinaabe. You know, in many ways for people like me, who grew up the way I did, it's easier to not be Anishinaabe. So for me, being Anishinaabe and being an Anishinaabe woman is a very deliberate act, like I feel like I have to practice it every day in some way. But what I mean by different lifetimes is that I do feel that when I became Midewiwin and I was brought into the lodge I was reborn, in a way, as a different - as an Anishinaabe woman, because it came with different responsibilities and it came with being very deliberate in my actions and how I was going to work. So because of that I feel like, some sort of like essentialist notions of what it means to be an Anishinaabe or what it means to be a woman or any of these things, or what it means to be "traditional", are really harmful because in reality, Anishinaabe ways are very adaptable. They're very fluid. You - nobody should ever give up on anyone. Like there's the opportunity to be reborn again and again and again in a new lifetime, in a new way of being. So, and as I mentioned before, I do identify as a cisgendered heterosexual woman in the sense that my gender, you know, I was assigned a gender at birth and I still am that gender. But I also sort of reject these ideas that Anishinaabe womanhood comes with certain responsibilities, like, I don't know that that's true, I guess I question that. And as it applies to my practice, I do feel because of these things, these - you know, being able bodied or being a woman, cisgendered woman, a heterosexual woman, like, it comes with certain privileges. And for that reason, I feel like I have to use what I have to make space for other people. And I hope that I do that. So - and to not take up too much space as well, I think is important.
Louis Esmé: I'm gonna start crying, thank you. Do you need some water?
Susan Blight: Yes, thank you. I had this - I got a cold right before I left for Las - I went to Las Vegas with my mom and my sister; it was my mom's birthday, and she turned 71, so. Yeah, my mom, she lost her husband of twenty two years, almost two years ago now he passed away.
Louis Esmé: I'm sorry.
Susan Blight: Thank you. So every year we try to take her somewhere and do something, you know, just you have to start sort of like rebuilding things, new life. So we took her to Las Vegas and it was really fun, but I got sick.
Louis Esmé: Sounds like that didn't stay in Las Vegas.
Susan Blight: It's not even Vegas, it was like the airplane, you know, like being on the airplane, I always get sick. I'm sorry.
Louis Esmé: I just read an article about it recently, and it made me - I was like, "ugh, maybe I'll never fly again,".
Susan Blight: It would be nice if we didn't have to, if there was just, like, pods or something that would just take us to a place. I would like that.
Louis Esmé: Yeah! Less fuels, that'd be nice.
Susan Blight: Yes, yes, that's true.
Louis Esmé: Are you okay to keep going?
Susan Blight: Yeah.
Louis Esmé: Okay, what role did art play in your early years, and how is that - how do you bring that into your practice now?
Susan Blight: Oh my gosh, I really feel like art saved me so many times because I, you know, I grew up in both: on Couchiching First Nation and then in these small rural towns of Northwestern Ontario that were like, maybe not extraordinarily, but incredibly racist, hostile places. You know, I grew up visibly Native in a place where I had been called every name that you could possibly imagine that you would call a Native person if you were racist. So, and then there was also sort of like the small town, the small rural town, culture of thinking anybody who's different, you know, should be bullied or should be ostracized, so those kinds of things, for that reason, I really did feel like I grew up in a place that wasn't responsive to my needs as a young Anishinaabe person, but also as an artist. And so thankfully for me, and I'm so grateful, both of my parents were really accepting and like... They really validated my creativity from a young age. My mom, I think, always knew I was an artist and always knew I was creative, that I wasn't an athlete or I wasn't, you know, the things that my cousins were. Like, a lot of my cousins played hockey and like these types of things, I just wasn't that type of kid.
Susan Blight: So, and I used to, you know, I just think I showed them both from a young age that I was interested in other things, intellectual pursuits, artistic pursuits, and being different. So, yeah, I feel as though when I was a pre-teen it was like movies, music, art, you know, opened up worlds to me, like ways of being that were - where it was like okay to be different, where it was like pushing boundaries, questioning like hegemonic ideas about identity and about ways of being. And then so when I became a teenager, it was like punk music, Riot grrrl. I used to, like, make my own zines. I would actually - there was like a one bookstore where I went and I would order books there. And this person loved me because I would order these obscure, like, books that no one else would ever think of to order, comic books, you know, and then just looking at art and looking at independent films and things like that was the thing that was, you know - I was happy to be home and like not out and about. Like, I did - I mean, you know, I stopped being social in the town like around 14 because it was just so horrible. So basically it was like cool, it was fine with me to be home and doing those things because I had, you know, these creative outlets. So I always drew, I made zines, I can even remember, like, making little recordings and making little films with, like, you know, an old VHS video camera and things like that. So, yeah, that, to me it was like a whole new... It was like imagining worlds that were so much better than what was going on, you know? Yeah, it was - I can't express to you how important that was, yeah.
Louis Esmé: That's so punk, that's so badass.
Susan Blight: I envisioned myself as a punk, but I really was, yeah.
Louis Esmé: Cool, maybe that like plays into the next question around, like, the generation that you grew up in and how did that influence your idea - your current ideas of art or punk or punkness or different... yeah, it's a pretty broad question, but I'm also thinking about like the markers that come with different generations and the labels and expectations around some things.
Susan Blight: Yeah, there were a few things for sure. One was when Riot grrrl started, I was just a very young teenager, almost pre-teen young teenager at that time, and that was really hugely important because I think even looking back, like, some of the questions - and yes, it was very you know, it was very white, but at the same time, a lot of the questions they were asking, I think, were really important ones and the space that they were making for women within those spaces, I think, was really important. And calling bros to task for their toxic masculinity and like calling people to task for sexism and for heteronormativity and all of these things that were very prevalent in that style of music. Like, that was really - and also I just love like a DIY ethic, you know, I love people making zines and patches and t-shirts and these kinds of things, you know, of their own - out of their own aesthetic, like, that I love. So that was one thing, the other thing is that I came of age during a time when the "Oka Crisis" was happening, and so we only had cable - we had like 12 channels in Northwestern Ontario and to see Indigenous people making a stand against the state in a very visual way was hugely important to me and to my whole family, really. I can remember every night we would get together and watch the TV and see what was happening. Like to see that sort of resistance, particularly against the state represented by the army, and the courage that it took to do that was hugely important and hugely influential. And then I think too, I came of age during a time when Public Enemy was - really had this very cohesive idea of what their music was about and how they presented it, and I remember going to a store and buying this VHS tape of like a show that they did. It was, like, Public Enemy - I think it was like Fight The Power around that time - no, it was Fear of a Black Planet, and watching them be on stage with like two people dressed up with like, kind of like, almost like a Black Panther type of uniform and guns, and to me that was very radical. You know, like if you think back, it's still pretty radical that they did that and the things that they were saying and doing. And yes, like I know they're, you know, looking back, there are definitely problematic aspects of that group, but I think their visuals were really important to me, that sort of like - the radical aspect of what they were presenting visually and what they were saying was really interesting to me. So those are things that I can think of that sort of helped to influence the direction that I took later in life, yeah.
Louis Esmé: Awesome, yeah I've been singing literally, like, Fight the Power. I was like, "okay, yeah, good direction,".
Susan Blight: And they called out John Wayne, which (unclear) a person is like, "okay,".
Louis Esmé: I didn't know that!
Susan Blight: Yeah, it's like: "Elvis was a hero to most/ But he never meant shit to me/ Straight up racist/ Motherfuck him and John Wayne," something like that.
Louis Esmé: I'm gonna go relisten, yeah.
Susan Blight: Yeah.
Louis Esmé: Do you want to do the next question?
Amanda Amour-Lynx: So you touched on, I guess, your Anishinaabe Kwe identity and being of the Midewiwin society - the next question kind of touches on what cultural teachings around gender and sexuality do you feel comfortable sharing and how they relate to your art practice, an expansion on that, and what it means to you?
Susan Blight: Yeah, well, I really question and try to reject any sort of essentialist ideas within "Anishinaabe traditionalism" that ascribes roles and responsibilities based on gender, and particularly on binary gender. Like, I really question that, and I certainly wouldn't belong to anything that validated that because I think it's harmful, because I think it excludes people and presents barriers for people to access the things that we need to heal as Indigenous people. So the lodge that I belong to doesn't do that. The lodge that I belong to, in many ways, is not... Well, it's certainly not essentialist, and it's not even providing you with a set of like, you know, rules or ways of being that you must follow, but instead is just offering you teachings that keep you within an ethic or a practice of being kind and generous. Because, to me, if you aren't kind and generous, then you're not "traditional", like you're not practising Anishinaabe ways. So in terms of the things that I've learned, the things that I've learned in the Lodge, are about being disciplined, in a way, with how you are in the world, with how you talk about people, talk to people, how you work with people; like, from morning to night, how you go about your day. You have to be very thoughtful about giving back and, like, being generous and being caring, and loving. So when it comes to that practice, like, to me, it's just offered me - it's like, it's offered me a way of sort of being in the world that I feel good about, that I can - like, even in this horrible situation of settler colonialism, it offers me: "okay, there's a beautiful way of being in the world, still." you know? And as an artist, to me, that means that everything that I do, it informs that; whether it's my teaching, or my art practice, or being a good friend, or being a good relative, a good daughter, a sister, an Auntie... To me it's like - it has to be within those ethics. Or being on the land, or any of those kinds of things, like it's all sort of informed by what I've learned there. So in that way I feel like it's a practice more than a set of beliefs, in a way, because you can believe something, but unless you put it into practice, what is it really doing, you know? And others will reflect back to you who you really are, so my hope is that what's reflected back to me is that I've tried my best to be - and nobody's perfect, but I've tried my best to to be kind and generous when I can be, you know? Does that answer the question? I'm so sorry, I feel like I'm rambling, did it answer it?
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Yeah.
Susan Blight: Oh, my art practice. You asked me about it, I'm sorry. Okay, yeah. With my art practice, I'm not interested in being famous or a big star. Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. If anything, I just want my work to do something in the world that does something for... I hope that it does something in the world that offers up a way of thinking about land differently, a way of thinking about histories differently, or at the very least that other Indigenous people can see something reflected there that makes them go out and do something. I wouldn't like to think that my work closes up avenues for other people to be creative. I would hope that it would open up opportunities for other people to be creative and that, you know, it makes space, I guess; that's what my hope would be, that it would make space for other Indigenous folks and for other folks who want to reject the sort of set of beliefs that come with settler colonialism, yeah.
Louis Esmé: Do you want to ask the next question?
Amanda Amour-Lynx: What do you think? I think, like, number five kind of has been answered in several ways, do you want to go forward?
Louis Esmé: Sure. Yeah, we were realizing before we came, and as I've interviewed a few people before, just that there's some repetition in questions, so we just want to make sure we're not asking you the same things.
Susan Blight: Okay.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: In a way that allows the questions or the answers to really come out, but I think it's done in such an intuitive way where I think the questions lend to the next, or the following ones. So the next series of questions are on mainstream art scenes: as an Indigenous artist, what is your experience with mainstream art scenes?
Susan Blight: Well, I can say that when I did my bachelor's degree - I did a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba and my educational experience was fine, it was good, I learned a lot and I made really good friends, but it's funny because I think institutions oftentimes, because they are versed in and articulate a kind of Western worldview, oftentimes they prop up artists to become very famous or very well known who don't have a good practice or a good ethic about them and who are actually often harmful, exploitative, and oppressive in their practice. Oftentimes, in institutions, they are not thinking through thinking relationally the way that Indigenous people do, where a person who could have great scholarly work or great artwork, like formally good artwork, is not a good person, is not a good relative, and therefore their work is invalidated in that way, right? They don't think that way. So my experience with mainstream art scenes is that I try my best to sort of avoid it, you know, because I think it's a... I just don't think its practice, as a scene, is one that I would want to be involved in.
I guess, to a certain extent, there is a way to be an artist in the world where you don't necessarily have to involve yourself with that. I think institutions, meaning educational institutions, as well as the mainstream art scene as an institution, tries to convince you that you need to do those things, but I don't think you really do. I think those types of scenes become very insular in terms of who they are accountable to. So, you know, I think if anything, I would - I have tried to stay away from that for the most part. And openings and things like that, like, they're just so... Unless it's an Indigenous artist, a Black artist, like it's often just so boring. Like there's other things you can do with your time, you know, they might have some like hummus and crackers, but that's about it. Like, it's just no one's looking at the art, right? It's just it's - and it's funny because in my bachelor's degree and I think, you know, well, less in my masters, but definitely my bachelor's degree was like they were trying to convince us that we should do that. You should go to openings, you should network and those types of things, and it's like, we don't - like as Indigenous people, we don't think "network", you know, we think relationality. We think about developing good relationships with people and they don't think that way, so I try to avoid it.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: What's been useful for you in terms of solidarity and support from non-Indigenous artists?
Susan Blight: I'm sorry, can you say it again?
Amanda Amour-Lynx: What has been useful for you as an Indigenous artist in terms of solidarity and support, receiving support, from non-Indigenous artists?
Susan Blight: I think the approach that's been useful to me is to really invest in having good relationships with other Indigenous peoples first - and, you know, first and foremost, as well as our Black and Black and Indigenous relations, and I say that because there's solidarity, but there's also sort of... Like if the solidarity is based on a transactional sort of relationship, and oftentimes, unfortunately, within art, people develop transactional relationships where they're looking for something from you. I think what's been useful to me is to sort of like to know that, understand it and recognize it when it's happening and unfortunately not to open myself up too much to people who aren't Indigenous. Well, I'll just say, okay, to people who are white, you know what I mean? Like, I just like - to me, it's a protection thing that I learned when growing up but I still do it to a certain extent because, as we all know at this table, Indigenous people work - have to work very, very hard to live, you know, to actually live in an occupied state. Like we have to work to keep ourselves alive every single day. So our labour is often unrecognized and we often don't have a lot of time. So to me, it's self care and it's like preservation to keep most people who are not Indigenous at arm's length and to reject sort of the idea that we need to be open and sharing and giving towards those who benefit the most from settler colonialism. That's not to say that good relationships can't be made with white people or, you know, with non-Indigenous people. They certainly can, but it requires something from - it requires time and it requires a lot of work going into trusting. So to me it's like what I found useful, I guess, is to be very... To keep my eyes open and to really not invest too much in those types of relationships but to rather invest in our own community. You know, as someone who works in an institution, who has a salary, like those types of things offer me some privilege. And my hope is that that privilege can carve out space for people who don't necessarily have it. So I've always tried to find situations where I can get money for Indigenous artists or Indigenous people, where I can offer space to them to do their work or to, you know, whatever it is. Yeah, it might sound harsh, but it's really, I think, like, I think we all know that to be true, yeah.
Louis Esmé: Learning.
Susan Blight: Yeah.
Louis Esmé: Do you want me to ask the next one?
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Yeah.
Louis Esmé: What do you think some of the ways - like if we were to ask non-Indigenous or white spaces or institutions to support our communities better, so, you know, I'm expanding on the question here, but like to take some of that labour off of particular Indigenous femmes, and women, and non binary people, what do you think would be helpful?
Susan Blight: When it comes to intellectual labour, I feel like they can Google. Like, at this point, if a person hasn't Googled a lot, read a lot, read Indigenous writers, Black writers, you know, all of that stuff, hasn't shown up - if you haven't seen this person at five or six, at least, like community events or Indigenous events, like, that's where they can start. They don't need to be Facebook messaging us or, you know, writing us emails to educate them, like that to me is like a bare minimum. And it's actually a good barometer, right? Like, have I seen you out and about? If I haven't, you know, you need to start there. The second thing is structurally there needs to be - when it comes to sort of like - when it comes to decolonization, right? Or a new way of being in the world, we're talking about a major structural shift that has to happen. We're talking about diverting money and capital and structural power, like taking that and putting it in other places. So, to me, I don't know Indigenous artists who own studios, who own art galleries, you know, those are primarily white spaces. So, to me, it's like: if you have studio space, we can start with you giving some to Indigenous people. If you have gallery space, we can start by, like, you giving shows to Indigenous people, for free, you know what I'm saying? Like, I mean, it sounds like - it sounds wild, but it really isn't because it's done every day, it's just done in a different way. Like, you know, if you think about sort of what they call like legacy people at universities, people who eventually get their names on buildings, like that's the same process you are essentially giving, you know, you're getting that in return for something. And those legacy people have had their children and their children, their children and their children, their children go to that university, not necessarily by their own accord, like oftentimes things are granted to people in order to get that kind of access. So I think if a non-Indigenous person believes in decolonization or believes in wanting some type of social change, then there's the stuff that they can do for free, meaning educate themselves, come out and support, you know, maybe cook some food for a community gathering, like, those kinds of things.
Susan Blight: But there's also like a huge structural change that has to happen where people have to give something up and straight up give it to Indigenous peoples. And it's being done, this is not unheard of, if you look at - there's a project in Oakland and it's led by urban Indigenous women. It's called Sogorea Te' Land Trust, and they've set up a land trust where they've set up a land tax, and it's a voluntary thing where well-meaning allies can opt to pay a land tax based on, you know, whether they have a house or an apartment and that money goes into buying land back for Ohlone people, like, these are things that are happening so it's, you know, it can be done. But if anything's going to change, that's what has to happen. They have to give some things up and give it to us.
Louis Esmé: Bam!
Susan Blight: We want land back!
Louis Esmé: Yes, so bringing that to your art practice, do you collaborate or involve non-Indigenous people, white people, in your practice?
Susan Blight: We definitely don't collaborate with white people. Bringing them in, you know, we don't really bring them into our practice either. Like, if anything, we have worked - I don't even think we've worked with a non-Indigenous curator. Maybe? Not that I can recall. Like, every curator we've worked with has been Indigenous. And then a lot of the stuff we do isn't even - it really kind of circumvents the art market, like the mainstream art scene. So everything we're doing so far is on our own - (a crash is heard), there it is.
Louis Esmé: Structures falling apart.
Susan Blight: So, no, I can't - I don't recall a time when we did that and that's primarily about what that project does, you know, and it's a choice. That project is very specific and what it's trying to do, so.
Louis Esmé: Do you want to ask the next one?
Amanda Amour-Lynx: As an Indigenous artist, what's your experience with Indigenous art scenes?
Susan Blight: You know, it's funny because I think to myself, like, a few years ago I would have said I am not part of any scene, like I don't have a scene, I don't like being in a scene. But at the same time, I can think, in the last three years, that some of the spaces that I've been in that have been the most generative and taught me the most have been spaces that are filled with Indigenous artists. So, it's funny because I think there's sort of like the mainstream, well I can't call it mainstream, but the Indigenous art scene that's very established and there are certainly some really harmful Indigebros artists in that scene that I would not want anything to do with. That said, there are also some really wonderful people who are really well known Indigenous artists. I would say, if anything, like, avoid a scene and just, you know, trust your intuition when it comes to people and how your interactions have been and seek out those people to create community with. But yeah, I can definitely say, like some of the best experiences I've had have been rooms or spaces where it's all Indigenous artists and we can actually talk through, in really deep and generative ways, what we're doing and what we want to do and what we hope for. Yeah, I think scenes as a whole are probably not worthwhile to be in.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: What's been useful for you as an artist in terms of solidarity and support from other Indigenous artists?
Susan Blight: Well, again, I think everything comes down to relationships, so I guess I focus less on what others can do for me and more on what I can do for others, because I do think, as an artist, to a certain extent, you are - you know, it's a very vulnerable state to be in to make something and put it out in the world. And I really honour and validate that vulnerability when other people do it and when I do it, you know, so in that way, I don't believe in tearing people apart. I don't even really believe in art criticism as a discipline. So, to me, it's like when I think about that, I think about ways in which you develop relationships that are good ones and that are reciprocal and that are fulsome and generative for you as an artist are relationships that are built over time. So my expectation is not for anyone to necessarily give me anything or do anything for me, but rather that I put - I invest in relationships that feel good to me and that I believe in that person as a human being. And I stay away from people that I think are harmful or that I just don't want to put any energy into that person. And there I'm speaking mainly of like very famous Indigebro artists who don't have a good practice when it comes to Indigenous women or Two Spirit people.
Susan Blight: So yeah, I guess, like, acts of solidarity from Indigenous artists - I think there's ways that we can support each other, so I would never want it to be one way. Like I would like for us all to practise generosity towards each other and to value - I mean, it's okay, it's okay - criticality is fine if it's a generous criticality. If you, you know, I would like for us to honour what's in the making of something as opposed to whether we like it or not or how many shows it's travel to or what it/where it was written about. Like those things to me are not meaningful.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: So expanding on that - I think you did touch on this: how do you offer support and solidarity to artists whose lived experience are distinct from your own? For example, queer Indigenous folks creating opportunities for trans women to work on their own theatre productions, middle aged programmers creating space for youth and elders to collaborate, urban Indigenous people centering artists from reserves, etc.
Susan Blight: That's a really good question. I think that there's always more work to be done in that way, and as I mentioned before, you know, we are all exhausted. Like, I just find there's so much work to be done, and as I mentioned before, like we're exhausted from the work that goes into living as an Indigenous person. So there's that. In terms of what I do: my goal and what I think I'm doing is that using my own institutional power, meaning as a professor, since August, or other spaces that I've been in to create space and to open up opportunities and get money for Indigenous femme and women artists, and queer, Two Spirit, trans, non binary artists. I think also using that privilege to open up opportunities; so, oftentimes if I get an email or a request to do an interview, for instance, which I do not so much anymore, but I did a few years ago, often get those kinds of things, I would pass it on to someone I know who was trans, Two Spirit, queer, non binary - I would actually give them a name and say, "you should reach out to this person". When it comes to granting opportunities, I do sit on quite a few juries, I have sat on quite a few juries and in that time I've tried my best to sort of like prioritize projects that are created by Indigenous, trans, queer, Two Spirit, non binary artists. Yeah, and then just on a personal level, I really tried and, especially in the last few years, to not employ language that excludes people. So we see that a lot with traditionalism, you know, in terms of our languaging, like how we - how often times our Indigenous languages, for instance, get translated into these - into gender binaries, I've tried to avoid that. Yeah, and just - yeah, I would say in terms of like my own language of opening up space and not excluding anyone when it comes to how I talk about Anishinaabe things, yeah.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Does your art practice involve or include global Indigenous artists, and how does this impact or influence your work?
Susan Blight: I wouldn't say that my practice itself includes global Indigenous artists, although my teaching does. I mean, I would certainly like those kind of opportunities; it's hard with my work because my work is so invested in Anishinaabe self determination and Anishinaabe philosophies and epistemology and ideas about land and being in those kinds of things, that that's sort of where my interest lies. And that's just a personal thing, that's just sort of intellectually and creatively where I'm at. So it's difficult in that way, and when I've travelled with my work overseas to - I went to Sweden last year and I went to Vienna; it's been a very conscious decision to sort of take that work and to understand how it travels and how it might travel in the ways in which taking our stories to another place where that - how that works. But I also think about sort of Indigenous international relations on Turtle Island, you know, in a way, what we're doing here is an international gathering, right, because we come from distinct nations. So, yeah, I don't get - I haven't had the opportunity, but I would be... It would be interesting. I would be open to it.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Thank you.
Louis Esmé: Cool, the next section is like getting into some more specific social issues, which, you know, may be redundant because so much of - you've interwoven a lot of different topics and issues into things you've shared already. Do you want to maybe speak a bit more closely to, or directly to, how you use your art to address social and cultural issues?
Susan Blight: Sure.
Louis Esmé: Yeah?
Susan Blight: Sure, well, my practice... I will say that, like my collaborative practice, and my public art, does a very specific thing. In a very distinct way, it's very much about claiming space for Anishinaabe language and ways of being. It's very much about claiming sort of like "legitimate space" for those things and about being very direct in terms of taking that space up and not offering, for instance, english translation, and using Anishinaabe language with no english translation does a certain thing in the world, right? For me, it's about communicating with other Indigenous people, specifically Anishinaabe people, and sort of allowing a space where settlers have to work for it if they want it, which I think is a good exercize for them. So it does that, and in many ways, for me, that is an act of self-determination, right? Is saying, like, "our ways, our language are just as valid as anything else, and here it is, and we're going to take that space in order to do that," in order to reclaim a landscape for our stuff and, you know, in terms of the different projects and different iterations, it's varied in terms of what the words are saying or what the messaging is or the questions that it's trying to address or open up. But essentially that's the core sort of impetus for that work.
Susan Blight: My gallery work, things that I do in installations, things I do in textiles are very much about, again, privileging Anishinaabe language and ways of being, and in a way it's sort of like - it's personal in the sense that I want to present myself to the world as an Anishinaabe person and let people know - let settlers know, like, there is not one fucking thing that you could do to make me feel inferior as an Anishinaabe person. Like, this is it, I'm - this is where my strength comes from. The other thing it does is it's an attempt to communicate, right? It's an attempt to put something out in the world that communicates in a way that is asking you to think in a way that is very generous and that communication is what I hope sort of starts a dialogue in your mind about different things: relationships to land, relationships to - other than human beings, relations with other humans, relations with ancestors. Like my hope is that it starts a kind of dialogue in the viewer. So I think, you know, I think broadly my work addresses settler colonialism, but also the resistance and resilience of Indigenous peoples. The fact that we are here and alive... I hope that my work honours that - that whatever it took for you to survive, for you to see this work, I hope that my work is reflecting back to you that I see it and I see you.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Thank you.
Louis Esmé: Damn, Susan.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: A lot of your work involves the public space and disrupts and reclaims urban settings or, I guess, public property; how does your creative practice involve community, or can you share about that process and how it reflects on the relationships that, like, are required to interrupt spaces?
Susan Blight: There's a couple of ways. So, one way is that when we make the work we are - the first sort of phase of it is this sort of phase of research, and that research goes into looking at the history of a place. So, not just the colonial history, but the pre-contact history of that place, so it really considers in a deep way, in a relational way, what that place means to people or to other than human beings or, you know. So there's that - there's also the fact that I'm not a fluent speaker, I'm an intermediate Ojibwe speaker, and so there's the relational aspect of translation. And I would never - like I have a few language teachers and I would never just like text them and be like, "give me the translation for this," like to me that's about a relationship as well. And they would never allow it anyway; they have a certain way of being with me where, you know, I do the work and they check it or they, you know, they'll have a conversation with me about it. So there's that aspect as well, and then there's the idea of not doing things in isolation, so; and I think this is true for art more broadly, but in terms - especially in terms of the public art and aspect of my solo and collaborative work, there's a degree of collaboration that's needed in order to get anything done, but also to be in good relation. So when it comes to that there is a lot of discussion that has to happen.
Susan Blight: I'm also very conscious of my positionality as a guest on this territory, as someone who grew up in Treaty #3, although I'm Anishinaabe, like, this isn't - I'm not Mississauga Anishinaabe, I'm not Haudenosaunee or wherever else this work might take place. I often think about what it means to be a good guest here. And then there's other things that we've done with Ogimaa Mikana, which is like we've held walks and and things like that, where the community is very much present and able to... Where we're able to sort of discuss the work, yeah.
Louis Esmé: Is there anything else that you would like to add, or?
Susan Blight: No, just that I'm really grateful to talk to you both, it's really nice to get to know you a little. I mean, it's not really getting to know but it's like spending time with you, and you both, because I know both of your work, and just like the opportunity to talk to you more is really nice. Yeah.
Louis Esmé: It's like good storytelling time too.
Susan Blight: Yeah, yes!
Louis Esmé: Thanks for sharing your stories.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: I'm also really grateful for the time we got to spend today and to be welcomed in the space. I feel inspired by both of you and it's nice to be present and to hear stories and see how this research and process can maybe make these spaces less of an anomaly.
Susan Blight: Yes, thank you.
Amanda Amour-Lynx: Thank you.