“I’m not asking for anything extra, just the space to exist.”
This week, artist-mentor Jasbina Justice reminded us that our stories and our bodies have so much value to them: the whole of them, the entirety of them, all at once.
After a check-in that included our names, our pronouns and our access needs, Jasbina spoke to who they are, their artist practice and what being a spoonie means to them. As a group, we talked about Imposter Syndrome: the chronic self doubt that we face as Black artists and writers. We also spoke about the ways society depicts Blackness in mainstream media and literature and how these visuals never seem to represent the most marginalized of us (if it represents any of us at all). Where are the stories of Black, disabled/chronically ill people? When will they be centred and celebrated?
Jasbina then asked the question, “As an artist, have you ever found yourself hit with barriers around accessibility?”
With this question, we had a discussion on how the current system of what it means to be a “professional artist” in Canada limits Black neurodiverse and disabled artists (i.e. the grant system and its glorification of inaccessible, academic, seemingly fancy language; where and how your writing is published with the shunning of self-published writers, etc). All of us had stories of the ways words like “writer” and “artist” seemed to be words we needed to buy into, not identities and titles we could take on because of the work we create.
Jasbina read some of their work, including a poem from OCHUN: Watah Poetry Anthology Book I, and spoke about how one word or literary device can really inform an entire piece. This led to an introduction of several exercises participants could use to support their writing, including developing a lexicon of words – favourite words, interesting words, evocative words – to be kept close in a journal (“What do you enjoy or think of when you hear these words words? What senses do they invoke? What is the texture of the word? What does this word remind them of? What emotions does this word bring up? Really unpack your relationship to each word”)
In closing, Jasbina left us with a few words of wisdom from their mentor d’bi young anitafrika and from their own thoughts. “Treat your poems with care,” d’bi says. Jasbina expanded on this and added that we should also trust our words and create space for our stories and our needs. And to take up space; as much as we can. Because our stories are valid, valuable and do matter.