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Interview / Jade Ariana – Grieving the inaccessibility of memory

December 6th 2023 – February 22nd 2024, Massy Arts will host, Traces, a window installation by Vancouver-based emerging artist Jade Ariana. Exhibited in one of the building’s windows, the installation investigates in-betweens of memory, heritage, and anti-colonial modes of embodiment.

Jade is a Black artist and cultural worker, driven by a desire to reflect and re-frame realities of Black life that are at once playful, resilient, and reverent. Through the use of the physical body, organic matter, family artifacts, found objects and traditional mixed media, they uncover and recover untold histories. Jade is fascinated by the multiplicity of origin stories carried in both tangible objects and intangible lifeforms.

This project is supported by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver + First Peoples’ Cultural Council.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to:

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To celebrate the installation, curator Rafael Zen interviews Jade for Massy Arts, asking what roles do memory and heritage play in anti-colonial modes of embodiment.

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Jade Ariana – Grieving the inaccessibility of memory

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Rafael Zen – Why the show’s title, Traces? What do you think this work traces between memory, heritage, and anti-colonial modes of embodiment?

Jade Ariana – I like the variability of meanings embedded in the concept of a trace. There’s an activity involved in tracing for drawing that has to do with attempts at replication, but the inevitability of the human hand means that the resulting trace bears record to this attempt at preservation through doubling.

I think there’s a lot of potential within that concept as a Black person, descended from enslaved people for whom there is no record, that attempt as this act of attention, or care, of trying to remain aware of something that is always a little bit elusive. I think about how people surviving enslavement preserved ways of being that weren’t able to be recorded in any way at all, other than through dance, hair, style, attitude.

Oral histories, stories told to children by elders, unremarkable lines in a diary after someone’s passing – these are the things that I’m interested in. In many ways a trace is a way of dealing with how heritage is more transmitted through affect rather than memory because memory is often a luxury of those whose histories are preserved through more official, bureaucratic means.

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RZ – In your artist statement, I like the idea of vestige – as something that is disappearing or no longer exists, but leaves marks, fragments. What do vestiges allow you to remember? And in this sense, what do you think your body witnesses in this piece?

JA – Vestiges give some space for grieving the inaccessibility of memory. What I mean by that is vestiges give an imperfect nexus between shared cultural traumas, individual family stories, somatic embodiments, and historical imagination. Vestiges are an Afro-futurist strategy in a sense because it’s a time traveling strategy – it allows me to recuperate a sense of community and history that is fundamentally garbled and obscured.

My body experiences a sense of suspension – suspension as in a sense of potential for creative strategies for recuperation, a suspension of the “rules” of lineage tracing. I think all the time for example about the literal centuries of data many European descended people have access to through record keeping, familial documents, crests, portraits, I mean just loads of information.

Whereas I have to employ different strategies to find that information – like looking in ledgers for sales of oxen, salt, cattle, and slaves. Just the mundane sale of human beings as a line item on a receipt. That alone is a process of grieving, and a different way of looking and seeing.

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RZ – In this installation, you’re working with several materials layers: writings onto writings onto writings, that sometimes trick the eyes, revealing or highlighting, amongst transparencies. How do you think the piece’s materiality informs its cultural/conceptual idea?

JA – The materiality of a surface, of the media that I’m using in a piece are always very intertwined with it conceptually. The transparency gives that sensibility of merging of planes, of capturing movement, and demonstrating that feeling of uncertainty that comes from obscurity.

Materially in my own practice I am interested in, as a painter, “opening up” the painting a bit, I’m still quite interested in painting as a practice, and in its history, but I think in order for painting to have a compelling role in the contemporary economy of images it needs to bring something that other images we see don’t – and I think that’s why I have this interest in my work living somewhere between painting and installation.

Installation has this element of presence – of your body or my body in that particular site with the work itself and relating to it in space.

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RZ – If you were invited to suggest another artist to our readers, one that would create an interesting dialogue with your installation piece, what artist/work would you suggest? What dialogues could emerge from these two pieces?

JA – Saidiya Hartman’s work “Lose Your Mother” has been hugely influential with helping me cope intellectually with some of this wounding around memory. There’s a scene in that text where she describes walking through a Ghanian village, and the children walking past and teasingly saying “obruni!” to her group, which translates roughly to “stranger, one without roots or ties.” And I keep returning to that concept, of being Obruni.

This text, and Dionne Brand’s “A Map to the Door of No Return” were really important touchstones that I think are in dialogue with what the piece is attempting to do. Titania Kumeh, who is the art model for the piece, has a phenomenal body of work produced with her as a muse, and she’s an artist and activist in her own right and one of my homegirls, and is incredible to work with.

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