A photography exhibition seeks to rewrite history with precision
‘Between Past & Present’ amplifies the voices of the city’s marginalized communities
The exhibition Between Past & Present opened its doors on the first evening of the city’s 19th edition of Nuit Blanche, on February 26, 2022.
The project was brought to life by Je suis Montréal, a Montreal-based organization that strives to “challenge the concept of inclusion and affirm the importance of belonging for real, lasting change,” as stated on their page. website.
The first day of the exhibition was awaited by many. Through the windows, passers-by stopped to contemplate the huge photographs hanging on the walls of the room.
As the public walked through the space, their gaze was invited to observe the photographs taken by Bliss Mutanda. The plans have been placed chronologically, each with a piece of history sharing the reality of black, indigenous and Chinese communities who have been and continue to be discriminated against by European colonizers since the 17th century.
“History is written by the winners,” said Taïna Mueth, co-founder of Je suis Montréal and associate professor at Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute. In her opening speech, she explained that although she and her colleagues at the organization are immigrants or children of immigrants born in Montreal, they do not fit common definitions of Montreal and Quebec identity.
“History is written by the winners.”
— Taina Mueth
The exhibition was launched with a bilingual panel made up of four speakers, each with their own unique experience of dealing with racism and exclusion. Panelist Samuel Rainville, Pessamit Innu and First Nations Relations Advisor at the University of Montreal, said he could not believe the way First Nations communities are represented in the Quebec history curriculum. “I was totally embarrassed, I couldn’t wait for class to end,” he said of his lessons as a child. For him, erasure is now part of their identity.
“You don’t really know where you’re from, so it’s hard to know where to go,” said Ravy Puth, another exhibit panelist. She works as an illustrator while completing her master’s degree at Concordia University on “Illustrations as Cambodian-Canadian Trauma Healing Tactics,” as the exhibit states. She discussed the relationship between assimilation and erasure, explaining that as a community increasingly assimilates, the merging of cultures makes it difficult to see who can erase whom.
Panelist Marlihan Lopez, a black feminist community organizer, shared her perspective on closeness to whiteness.
“Once you’re given an opportunity, because of your proximity to whiteness, to be able to earn capital or gain privilege, you take it,” Lopez said.
She believes that one of the consequences of taking advantage of one’s proximity to whiteness is deepening mistrust between different marginalized communities. As a result, people will be more likely to organize events within their own communities. The white narrative and the erasure of cultural identity act as a block dividing marginalized communities, Lopez explained.
Dina Husseini, a graduate with a master’s degree in political science from the University of Montreal, warned the audience not to fall into an “olympiad of suffering”. She reminded the audience that the fight against discrimination of marginalized communities is not individual, but rather collective.
“Having a space like this, having the privilege to speak, doesn’t mean we’ve won,” Husseini said. “That means we need more people like you and me who have access to those spaces where words can create that change.”
Between Past & Present will remain open until March 4, 2022. Je suis Montréal has other upcoming projects, with the intention of opening up discussion among marginalized groups in our society. The group hopes to represent cultures erased from the dominant narrative of Montreal and Quebec and create a sense of belonging for those who have yet to “take their rightful place in the civic and political life of Montreal”, as noted on their webpage. Ultimately, Je suis Montréal believes that this change can only be achieved through education and open-mindedness.