Flourishing

January 3, 2020

Introduction

Yousef Abdullah Kadoura

Yousef Abdullah Kadoura

Born in the U.S. Midwest and raised in Canada's capital, Yousef found himself surrounded by literature and political discourse. Yousef spent countless hours working alongside disability groups and youth mentorship initiatives. He has since dedicated himself to performance and storytelling as tools for education and social justice. Yousef is a recent graduate of the Acting Program at the National Theatre School of Canada. When he is not preparing for a role, Yousef spends his free time writing. From the writing of his one-man show, One Night, to the inception of his first podcast project, Walking the Space, Yousef's passion for equity and representation lends itself to the creation and production of art that speak to a range of issues.

The Flourishing project began as a collaboration between Tangled Art + Disability, the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), and other partners. The project was conceived as a response to Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying Policy (MAiD), specifically based on the United Nations’ response to MAiD, which reminds Canadians that while policies are in place, we also need to make sure that all Canadians have access to support for full human flourishing.

Flourishing consisted of a series of four exhibitions that took place in Toronto entitled: Somehow We Stay Attuned, Somewhere We Stay Authentic, Three Windows, and Mad Ones. Flourishing features the work of seven artists from across Canada whose work addresses the complexities of what it means to flourish, and how flourishing exists in harmony with, and in juxtaposition to, suffering.

Tangled Art + Disability’s role in the project was to showcase seven Mad, Deaf, and Disability-identified artists from across Canada who in their work express the complexity and depth of what it means to flourish. When I began working on this project, I found that flourishing held an intricacy which I did not yet comprehend. The word conjured in my mind images of flowers and gardens—things which I could say were flourishing. When applied to humankind, this definition felt inadequate. Considering the diversity of our bodies, minds, and experiences, how could I compare the experiences of people to plants? With this conundrum in mind, we asked the participating artists to define flourishing for themselves, to present from their unique perspectives what this word conjured, and the challenges and rewards it posed.

When I speak about these artists flourishing, I do not mean to do so in a prescriptive sense. For example, people may experience suffering, but the experience of suffering does not preclude them from flourishing. The artists’ individual experiences of flourishing within their work and lives are a testament to their dedication and belief in their craft. Each artist’s experience exists uniquely within the concept of flourishing, and those experiences are woven together through artistic communication, be it through the use of VibroTactile technology (communication of ideas and sensations through vibration), the lyrical nature of theatre, or direct collaboration between artists. It is this artistic communication employed by the participating artists that generated excitement, interaction, and profound conversation throughout the series.

To complement their work in the exhibit, the artists were asked to interact with their home communities across Canada. They responded to this request with artist-led talks, workshops, small exhibitions, and readings. The goal of these sessions was to provide the artists with an opportunity to maintain their connection with their community and to impact it through the sharing of knowledge.

The way an artist conceptualizes flourishing is intimately entwined with the communities to which they are connected. This series highlighted the relationship between individual acts of flourishing and power—power to impact our communities, power to support one another, and the knowledge to empower ourselves.

With this expanded understanding of flourishing in mind, I posed three questions to the artists: How has the Flourishing series impacted your process as an artist? What impact did your community sessions have? Has your personal definition of flourishing shifted since the conclusion of your project?

—Yousef Abdullah Kadoura, Facilitator

RESPONSES

Salima Punjani

Progression, the work I developed for Flourishing, is a multi-sensory exploration of how individual medical data can be transformed into possibilities for human connection in order to ignite empathy rather than to find abnormalities.

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Peter Owusu-Ansah

As an optical artist, I am always observing and reading about the art world in which I exist. In my time as an artist, I have found that there is no recognition for deaf artists. That is why I make art—it is an attempt to turn attention toward my community and to earn a living.

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Max Ferguson

The notion of joy as activism is a theme I was introduced to through the Flourishing project, and one I have taken into my being as an artist and activist working in the field of disability arts.

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Maanii Oakes

One of the most powerful functions of art is to make change irresistible. This exhibition elevated my sense of personal justice by giving us control of our own stories and representation, and I felt on a personal level that it also served to facilitate collective healing which made the work all the more powerful.

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Laura Burke

The play I wrote for The Flourishing series was a sincere, complex attempt to represent the real and messy depictions of the politics of mad identity. But working with this thoughtful team of artists did more for my artistic process than it did to advance my fledgling script; it allowed me to develop a more expansive view of my own mind in the process of creation.

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Aislinn Thomas

The idea that flourishing is solely the individual’s responsibility obscures the fact that forces outside of the individual are the source of so many barriers. And that our systems don’t acknowledge and can’t anticipate every barrier a person might face in any given moment.

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