Cheryl Pope, I WANT TO BE PROUD, 2016. Text by Debora Puricelli. Nylon and tackle twill, 3 x 5 ft. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.
In early 2016, renowned Chicago-based visual artist and designer Cheryl Pope collaborated with OCAD University students and local community members in her first Canadian exhibition, which formed a major part of Onsite Gallery and the university’s Pride 2016 programming (June 8 to July 4). This site-specific exhibition, Objects for Listening, included 10 colourful, varsity-style champion banners and multiple audio installations she calls “listening stations.”
All the pieces were developed in workshops, in which Pope led us through a variety of exercises, each one bringing us deeper into our private personal thoughts and perceptions. We answered questions. We sewed and chatted. We wrote while looking at ourselves in mirrors. And then we chatted some more.
Queer diversity and community
Pope designed the artworks in Objects for Listening to carry individuals’ thoughts from the OCAD U community. Those individuals may or may not have very different viewpoints, but they all reveal deep reflection on diverse identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations. Today, at the 35th anniversary of the bathhouse raids and Toronto’s Pride Parade, it is impossible to find any overarching language that could define the OCAD U or queer communities.
As discussions at the intersections of gender, race, cultural background, ability, age, class, education, politics and values are expanded, the significance of community remains important. As a community, over the past 35 years many in Toronto have fought hard for diverse sexual and gender expressions and identities.
Now, as we investigate systemic oppression, community strength, support and brainstorming remain vital. Working collaboratively, in the manner Pope does, successfully navigates and supports individuals and their communities.
Cheryl Pope. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photo credit: LaMont Hamilton.
Pope’s 7 most important elements for designing collaborative art projects
- “Generating content with people through conversations, workshops, text submissions and free writes is rooted in the value of discovering together, of asking, looking, listening and finding.”
- Creating collaboratively “respects and celebrates the individual and highlights that individuals together make a community.”
- Pope’s works “offer the possibility to hear both the individual and the community.”
- “Working in this way, I find that it is possible to avoid assumptions and, instead, hear and better represent the voice of the people I am collaborating with.”
- “Research through conversations and workshops draws a foundation to the work that it is for the people, by the people and with the people. I see myself as a journalist; this is extremely important, as the work is understood as a voice of many.”
- “Being physically present with people and listening offers me the opportunity to hear the call and reactions, the community speak, the value and weight of the voice, of the body, the temperature in the room, the cadence and the progression, the silence, the comfort and discomfort. These aspects are most important in the research, the physicality of language.”
- “The workshops are focused opportunities for reflecting, sharing, questioning and listening. They offer the opportunity for members of the same community to hear one another, in a safe, respected and valued space. The awareness that their voices are being listened to as part of the research seems to call forward a heightened intention to the contribution and exchange.”
Lisa Deanne Smith is the curator of Onsite Gallery, OCAD University’s experimental curatorial platform and professional gallery of art, design and digital media.