Collective Grief, Collective Futures: Finding a Community

By Regan Shrumm, Assistant Curator, AGGV and Amy Smith, Community Engagement Coordinator, Legacy Art Gallery

For three Sundays in October, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Legacy Art Galleries held Collective Grief, Collective Futures. This series of discussions gave space for emerging artists to grief the losses that have been experienced during the pandemic and discuss methods of adapting to share a creative future. The sessions were facilitated by K.P Dennis, and featured three mentoring artists (Kemi Craig, Estraven Lupino-Smith, and Ghinwa Yassine), who discussed how the pandemic has had an effect on their practice. Participants shared their own artworks and struggles of their practice. The following is a summary of some of the conversations that occurred between the mentoring artists and the emerging artists.

Estraven Lupino-Smith (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Session 1: Grieving losses with Estraven Lupino-Smith
In the first session, the group discussed how we can grieve things that we cannot control and that are happening so fast. One way is to connect with people, be it through an artistic practice or through personal support work. Things such as making a meal and leaving it on your neighbour’s doorstep, or checking in on a friend with a text more often. During times of trauma, everyday life cannot always be done alone, and while the pandemic makes it more difficult to connect, we can still use technology to help bolster the people around us.
Remember that grief is not linear, it comes in waves of emotions, ups and downs, that should be given their equal space. It is normal to grieve the things that you had before, but that now cannot happen. Setting up a practice of mourning as an everyday thing, such as wearing black or listening to a sad song in order to cry, can help towards healing.
Resistance to systems and oppressive structures is a form of resilience and can be a part of your own practice through donations, volunteering, or generally supporting the work of groups such as Black Lives Matters. Learning from BIPOC, LGBTQA2+, and disabled communities who already have knowledge on how to interact when a world is not set up for you can be a reciprocal practice.
Ghinwa Yassine (Image courtesy of the artist)
Session 2: Imaging New Ways of Working with Ghinwa Yassine
During the second session, the group focused on the ideas of curiosity and fearlessness as important factors in moving past trauma and grief and towards the lifelong journey of healing. We were reminded that people with trauma are used to interruptions, which could possibly make the pandemic a little easier. When working in times of uncertainty, it is important to befriend the unknown, as losing that armour of safety can be beneficial in the long term, even though it can be hard to let go of the safety net. We should not spend so much time thinking about the future when you are in the midst of change; instead, wait for stability before dreaming of what is to come.
Kemi Craig (Image credit: Nina Turczyn)
Session 3: Looking Towards the Future with Kemi Craig
In the third session, the group were reminded that beauty, violence, grief, and joy can all happen simultaneously, and it is good to realize how focusing on joy is a part of survival. We must acknowledge that during the pandemic that we have all experienced a collective trauma, but human history has always had collective trauma, through slavery, genocide, natural disasters, and terrorism. The fact that you as an individual are here on Earth, that your ancestors have endured so much and you are still present, is evidence of survival. There is joy in that survival.
While we should be holding space for grief, in thinking about the future, we should be fighting for those moments of joy. Write on a sticky note a list of things that bring you joy and put it on your bathroom mirror or front door. When you are feeling down, go to the list and do one of the things to get back to your body. Remember that you have all the power of your ancestors who came before you.
Suggested Readings:
  • Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
  • My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts by Resmaa Menakem
  • Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief edited by Cindy Milstein
  • “Wakiksuyapi: Carrying the Historical Trauma of the Lakota” by Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart

Feature image: K.P. Dennis (Image credit: Skywalk Photo)