Michèle Pearson Clarke is a Trinidad-born artist who works in photography, film, video and installation.
Using archival, performative and process-oriented strategies, her work explores queer and black diasporic longing and loss. Recent exhibitions include Parade of Champions at Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto (2015), (art)work(sport)work(sex)work at The Power Plant.
Through my practice, I am able to work through all the ways in which I fail at normative ways of being. As a queer person, I fail at heteronormativity, as a black person I fail at whiteness, as a masculine woman, I fail at femininity and as an immigrant, I fail at Canadianness. It is a way to complicate these failures that have chosen me, and to reimagine them as opportunities for knowing differently.
Recently, I have been interested in exploring what knowledge is generated by the experience of grief. My mother’s death has been the most devastating loss in my life, and grieving her, in particular, is the focus of Parade of Champions (2015). In this 24-minute, three-channel documentary video installation, I explore the grief experiences of three black queer people—Chy, Jelani and Simone—whose mothers have also recently died.
Death and mourning remain taboo subjects for discussion in our culture, and in turning to black queer grief as a subject, I was seeking not only to better understand my own grief experience, but also to represent a reality that is continually deprived of an existence. As black queers, we exist in a space of irresolution: too queer for blackness and too black for queerness. In failing to meet the normative ideals of either, our black queer lives are most often ignored within the visual and discursive spheres of both blackness and queerness. We are refused access to black intimacies and queer possibilities, and as such we are denied our humanity, allowed only the affect of racial/homophobic trauma. Our fears, our hopes, our anxieties and our pain remain concealed, presumed not to exist. In publicly grieving our mothers’ deaths, we disrupt these standard narratives, expressing a suppressed and unexplored dimension of experience, emotion and knowledge.
Drawing on my experience of grieving my own mother’s death in 2011, Parade of Champions centres this black queer counternarrative in creating a poetic encounter with grief. Employing still video portraits and audio interviews, the installation purposefully inserts my participants’ black queer bodies into an affective space that lies beyond familiar representations of our communities. Therefore, while as a work of mourning, it examines both the universality of grief due to mother loss, as well as the specificity of a grief complicated by lived experiences of marginality and invisibility, Parade of Champions also strives to reveal a suppressed and unexplored dimension of black queer experience, knowledge and possibility.