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Workshop: A Common Imagination

Date and time
Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Workshop: A Common Imagination

Update 05.10.2020 | In accordance with the latest health measures put in place at the PHI Foundation, our workshop A Common Imagination will be offered to the public once our physical spaces re-open. For any question, do not hesitate to contact us

A Common Imagination is a creative workshop conceived by Michaëlle Sergile. It is being offered as part of the exhibition RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting, on view from July 8 to November 29, 2020.

Curator: Daniel Fiset

“The discovery of a Haitian children’s song a few months ago raised several questions about the meaning and origins of nursery rhymes around the world. Fiyet Lalo, or in English Lalo girl/girl of the water, speaks of the period of the Duvalier dictatorships in Haiti. Although at first it seems to be about only the adventures of a small bird, it quickly becomes a warning against the violence of the National Security Volunteers. Despite everything, it is a song that many parents have sung softly to their children and which, in a sense, is foundational to the Haitian diaspora.”
— Michaëlle Sergile

It is often difficult to establish the origin of the songs we learned when we were children. How did they come down to us, and what do they say about us? Frère Jacques, for example, can be sung in English, Creole, Amharic, Vietnamese and Spanish. It first appeared in France and has been learned by successive generations there since the eighteenth century. Its global permutations testify to the force with which colonization informs culture even as it indicates the possibilities for the creative reinterpretation of texts over time. The example of Fiyet Lalo shows that a nursery rhyme can become a song of resistance against power. Beyond these forms, how are we to gauge the political dimensions of these songs?

These questions are central to the creative workshop A Common Imagination. For this workshop, our Education room will host an installation by Montreal artist Michaëlle Sergile. Made up of textiles, texts and videos, this work will be at the heart of the creative workshop and will change with your contributions throughout the exhibition.

First, we invite you to participate in establishing a library of nursery rhymes by contributing the words to a song of your choice online. You can also take part in a video recording session in which you will sing your nursery rhyme and write it out for us by hand.

These songs will become the principal material of the workshop. Using a technique for making paper thread commonly known as shifu, the sheets of paper on which the nursery rhymes are written will be cut up to make paper threads, introducing members of the public to this way of transforming paper fibre and helping them understand the fundamentals of weaving. The thread produced in the workshop will then be used to complete Michaëlle Sergile’s installation, which she will alter occasionally. By giving materiality back to a series of texts largely transmitted orally, and by making possible an infinite series of meshings, A Common Imagination will invite us to reconsider the ways in which nursery rhymes inform our individual and collective identity.

Michaëlle Sergile is an artist and independent curator. Currently, she is pursuing an M.A. in Fibres and Material Practices at Concordia University. Employing principally texts and books of the post-colonial period (from 1950 to the present day), Michaëlle Sergile’s work sets out to understand and rewrite the history of black communities, and more precisely that of women, through weaving. She uses the lexicon of weaving, a medium often seen as artisanal and categorized as feminine, to think about the relations of domination based on gender and ethnicity.

Michaëlle Sergile’s work has been exhibited at the ArtHelix gallery in New York and at the Miami Art Fair, in addition to its inclusion in various group exhibitions in Montreal at venues including Place des Arts, the Art Mûr gallery and the Conseil des arts de Montréal. She has also received several awards and grants in the course of her studies. She is currently project manager and curator for the platform Nigra luventa, where she served as co-curator of the first exhibition created by and for black women in Quebec, which brought together the work of several artists from Quebec and beyond its borders. In February 2020, she was co-curator of Je sais pourquoi chante l’oiseau en cage, a three-part exhibition inspired by the autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by the American author Maya Angelou.

Photo: Michaëlle Sergile

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