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Using performance and media to tell stories of the African Diaspora

Using performance and media to tell stories of the African Diaspora

As a child, Camille Turner, along with her mom and sister, immigrated to Canada to be reunited with her father. Initially in Sarnia, they then moved to Hamilton where their father worked in the steel industry. A feeling of “otherness” and a sense of not “belonging” brought her to the question “who am I and where is home?” Hence, throughout her adulthood, Camille’s work tackled the root issue of identity. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design and a MES and PhD candidate in Environmental Studies, she has received awards such as Chalmers, OGS, SSHRC and CERLAC’s Paavo and Aino Lukkari Fellowship. Camille’s academic and artistic investigations have focused on diasporic identity and intercultural exchange through performance, media and public engagement.

Known for her portrayal of her alter-ego Miss Canadiana, a hometown beauty queen on a Red, White and Beautiful Tour, Camille has performed at events that challenge perceptions of Canadianness and troubles the unspoken binary of “real Canadian” and “diverse other”. This work, which brought attention to her artistic practice has been performed across Canada, as well as in Britain, Germany, Senegal, Australia, Mexico, Cuba, and Jamaica. Describing herself as an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on Afrofuturism, she explains, “I am particularly interested in the ways in which stories that are hidden powerfully shape our perceptions of national identity. Utilizing performance as a research methodology, I step into history to create works of the imagination where the past and future collide”.

Still from video filmed and edited by Brian Ricks

In 2016, Camille created an installation which she calls the Afronautic Research Lab, a futuristic reading room in which participants encounter an archive that presents silenced evidence of slavery and ongoing anti-Blackness in Canada. The Afronautic Research Lab has been traveling across the country gathering local histories. Most recently, it was presented at the Bonavista Biennale in Newfoundland where Camille explored the historical links between Newfoundland and transatlantic slavery. In line with her doctoral research on the Landscape of Forgetting: Staging Black Memory in Canadian Heritage Museums, she uses a Research Creation approach that brings Afrofuturism, Black Studies and Geography into conversation to explore the history and legacy of transatlantic slavery in colonial Canada by bringing to light the historical construction of 19 slave ships built in Newfoundland (then a British colony) in the mid 18th century. The ships, their movements, the terror they unleashed and the wealth they produced illuminate Canada as a node in the Black Atlantic. Drawing from a theoretical framework in which Blackness is central, time is nonlinear and unresolved trauma embedded in space is acknowledged, she creates sonic and visual counter narratives that attend to silenced Black voices that haunt the Canadian landscape. (see CBC, Artist highlights NL’s slave trade connection in Bonavista exhibition).

Camille’s interventions, installations and public engagements have been presented throughout Canada, and internationally. Her latest film, Awakening, a conversation between two African Diasporic subjects, takes place on a spaceship. The two contemplate the stakes and ramifications of traveling back in time to undo transatlantic slavery. Wanted, a series of large-scale photographs, collaboratively created with Camal Pirbhai and presented by Art Gallery of Ontario, transforms 18th century newspaper advertisements by Canadian slave owners into contemporary fashion ads. Freedom Tours, created collaboratively with Cree-Metis artist Cheryl L’Hirondelle, is a national commission for LandMarks 2017/Repères 2017 that consists of participatory, site-specific events that re-imagine and reanimate land and water from Black and Indigenous perspectives. Sonic walks HUSH HARBOUR and The Resistance of Peggy along with  The Landscape of Forgetting, a walk created collaboratively with Alana Bartol Pompadour evoke sites of Black memory that reimagine the Canadian landscape. (Photos filmed and edited by Brian Ricks).