“Art Is Research”: On Knowledge from Identity and Place – A Conversation between Maddy Ross and Artist-Researchers Pree Rehal, Bert Whitecro

This episode features five artist-researchers from the Making With Place Research Project (MWP), a collaborative initiative in T’karonto between York University graduate students Charlotte Lombardo and Phyllis Novak and SKETCH, an award-winning community arts program. Pree Rehal, Bert Whitecrow, Ayrah Taerb, Ammarah Syed, and Jahmal Nugent are all established young artists who came together during the COVID-19 pandemic to explore and create placemaking art installations and activations. MWP recently launched an online journal-zine at makingwithplace.ca, and four exciting immersive and interactive public art projects taking place across T’karonto throughout fall 2021 and spring 2022. In this conversation, the artist-researchers discuss the epistemologies of identity and place that guide their creative practice, and their perspectives on whether art is or can be research. They also reflect on their initial skepticism of the MWP research and how they subvert colonial ways of knowing and knowledge production as artists, place-makers, and culture creators.

Priya “Pree” Rehal Pree is an artist educator currently based in Tkaronto, originally from Tiohtià:ke. They’re the children of immigrant settlers from Punjab. Pree’s work centres their identity as a queer, non-binary, trans, disabled, fat, and racialized individual. They have an interdisciplinary arts practice under the name: Sticky Mangos and co-founded the Non-Binary Colour Collective. You can follow their arts practice on Instagram: @StickyMangos or on Twitter (@preezilla).

Roberta “Bert” Whitecrow Bert is a 2 Spirited, Anishinaabe multidisciplinary artist from Seine River First Nation. Their work explores themes of healing, preserving, and practicing ancestral knowledge. As a conceptual artist, Bert works with a variety of media, often combining traditional and unconventional materials. They are a founding member of the Weave and Mend collective, which is a mixed Indigenous collective that focuses on building relationships with Indigenous communities through art making workshops, facilitated conversation and permaculture. Bert is currently attending OCAD University in the Indigenous Visual Cultures program.

Ayrah Taerb Is The Founder Of Kundalini Kurrency Khansultancy; A Collective Of Creative Professionals & Administrators Who Seek To Spread The Values Of Self Determination & Co Operative Economics Among The Global Black Community. As An Executive Producer, Creative Consultant, and Embodiment Instructor; He Is Equipped With The Skills & Expertise Required To Develop Artists, Mentor Professionals, and Responsibly Condition Children & Youth To Exist Within The Context Of A Transcendental Society. Ammarah Syed is an interdisciplinary artist interested in documenting how modern day discourses such as capitalism, colonialism, and various power dynamics have developed to inform mental health, identity and sexuality.

Ammarican explores how words among other factors, influence emotion, culture and politics. AmmariCan’t Even, Ammarah’s performance alter-ego, likes to deconstruct and explore the little boxes our society and our minds like to put us in. Both of their processes involve sitting on their ass for 8 weeks (contemplating of course) & then creating something all in one go. They aspire to use the arts as a means to transform oppression into change. www.ammarican.com (@ammarican)

Jahmal Nugent (aka NINJAHMAL) Visual media artist Jahmal Nugent, born, raised and based in Toronto, primarily focuses on digital photography and videography to create, but sometimes experiments with physical mediums. Jahmal’s work explores seeing the ordinary as extraordinary, and reminding us of how beautiful and amazing elements we take for granted can be.

This episode was hosted and directed by Madeleine Ross, produced by Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández and Sarah Switzer, and supported by Youth Research Lab Assistants