by James Martin
Other Conundrums: Race, Culture, and Canadian Art, written by Assistant
Professor Monika Kin Gagnon, is about identity and its also
a bit of an identity puzzle itself.
The author is a native Montrealer who, until three years ago, hadnt
lived in the province for close to two decades. The book was co-published
by a Vancouver small press (Arsenal Pulp), and two British Columbia art
galleries (Artspeak Gallery and the Kamloops Art Gallery). The artworks
and events discussed in the book span the country.
Yet, in the eyes of the Quebec Writers Federation, Other Conundrums
is a Quebec book, and worthy of the shortlist for its 2001 First Book
Award. Nobody was more surprised and delighted than Gagnon.
I definitely think of myself as a Quebec writer, she said.
My work is about issues of identity and culture, and so the shift
back to Montreal is exciting for me, because it forces me to rethink a
lot of the relations that were formational to my identity.
Gagnon left Montreal after completing her undergrad degree at Concordia
in 1982. Active in independent cultural communities in Toronto and Vancouver,
she spent 10 years writing criticism and essays for that usual mix
of disposable art mags, journals, exhibition catalogues, and anthologies.
In 1994, she began working on her PhD at Simon Fraser University. The
shift back to academia was a catalyst in writing Other Conundrums.
Starting with 75 articles, she whittled her oeuvre down to 11 pieces,
resulting in an engaging historical testament to a vibrant time in Canadian
cultural race politics.
Gagnons insider account fluidly slips between several forms: critical
writings on specific artists (including Dana Claxton, Shani Mootoo, Jamelie
Hassan), firsthand accounts of pivotal events (the Minquon Panchayat anti-racism
strategy caucus in 1997, the In Visible Colours Film and Video Festival
and Symposium in 1989), theoretical essays, letters, and lexicons.
I wanted to consolidate that body of writing as a book, because
I didnt know what was going to happen to me once I entered the institution.
The university has certain advantages, but it also has a way of
marking you apart from being able to participate in alternative communities
because youre now in some ways part of the mainstream.
Gagnon is currently finishing a second book, co-written with Toronto videomaker
and critic Richard Fung.
After its completion, she says, shell have to revisit another period
in the 90s: her PhD dissertation. She plans to revise her work on race
and Disney films.
Thats something which has been on the back burner, she
said, mock-groaning at the idea of sifting through two huge boxes of Mickey
Mouse research she has accumulated, that I have to move to the front