Photo: Gabriella Kinté, Kwamé, Farha Najah
Photo credit: Valérie Bah
In August 2017, I received the greatest honour of my artistic practice thus far: I was at the Queer Between the Covers bookfair when I received a message from Gabriella Kinté, inviting me to paint at a mural at Librarie Racines.
When I asked her what she wanted me to paint, she said a calligraphy piece. This warmed my heart. I recognize that calligraphy in Urdu/Arabic-Persian script is an inaccessible script for most, especially in Tiohtia:ke. But, beyond it being one of the first scripts I learned as a child, what I love about calligraphy is the message that its image can evoke. The idea of communicating solidarity in a non-colonial language of, and in, the global north felt and feels powerful. I conceptualised an image, informed by my “Honouring Fierce Resistance” and “#BLM and Du’a” pieces (postcards available for sale at, and for, the bookstore). I sought material support and artistic feedback from family, friends and community. Based on discussions with Camille Larivée and Joana Joachim, followed by reflections, I decided that the mural would now be a painting on canvas using black gesso. From September 2018 to December 2018, I went to Librarie Racines almost every Sunday to work on it. Some Sundays were spent working on the piece while chatting with Gabriella; some Sundays were spent with sweet Kwamé; one Sunday was spent among Gabriella’s family & friends during Kwamé’s birthday gathering; some Sundays entailed meeting new people coming to the bookstore; other Sundays involved seeing familiar faces; and on some wintery cold Sundays, I painted in my solitude in this beautiful Black- centered bookstore in Montréal-Nord/Noir.
During the process and during brush strokes, I asked myself questions like, “What does it mean to center Blackness, including internally – within myself? How do we effectively eliminate systemic oppression, including white-supremacy? How do we effectively counter anti-Black racism in Brown South Asian communities, and non-Black Muslim spaces?” This is part of an ongoing process and commitment.
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