FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Yasmine Hassen
FUTURES/forward Mentee, Yasmine Hassen — cohort #3 triad, October 2020 to March 2021 — mentored by Rup Sidhu
— As part of the triad model, Yasmine was placed as an artist-in-residence at the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), Halifax, Nova Scotia.
— Community-engaged arts project co-created with EAC, Art for Social Change: Weaving Together Just Livelihoods, a series of collaging workshops hosted simultaneously virtually and in-person (according to COVID guidelines).
YASMINE HASSEN (she/they) is a settler with Afro-Caribbean ancestry on her mother’s side and Ethiopian ancestry on her father’s side who lives as an uninvited guest on traditional territories of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and The Wendat Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Yasmine stands in solitary with Wet’suwet’en land defenders and water protectors. Yasmine is community organizer rooted in decolonial approaches in bridging the gaps and finding the intersections between diaspora(s), personhood, anti-racism, feminism, Indigenous sovereignty and climate justice. As a mover and maker, they use multi-sensorial mediums as a way to tell stories that centre 2SQTBIPOC experiences and resistance. Beyond that, she loves gardening, mycology and can be often seen giving her wrists a big ol’ dose of ylang essential oil. They hope to eventually live out their days in an eternal Autumn haze, creating disruptive and experimental ethnographies on culture through the embodied practice of reflection, ecologies of care, a love-ethic, and emergence.
During my time in the FUTURES/forward national mentorship program, I was paired with Rup Sidhu as my mentor. As part of FUTURES/forward’s triad model (mentee, mentor, and organization), I was placed in the Ecology Action Centre as an artist-in-residence. In our initial meetings and discussions, we moved from a place of emergence. I find as artist facilitators in the social change sector, we are constantly on the go because justice and systems change work never stops, so we often don’t either. I have been thinking a lot about what it means to evaluate; how can we move away from reports and evaluations, into centring reflection, communication, accountability, and co-creation throughout a process or journey. Especially during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think there is an urgency around justice organizing and systems change. Something that I learned during a BIPOC Grief Circle is that this urgency often pushes us in a constant state of fast thinking and reactionary practices. It’s through these pressures and feelings of urgency that capitalism can and will pervasively seep into our social change work, and our lives. This is why we find such a high burnout amongst practitioners in justice, non-profit and/or social change spaces. It is here that the somatics practitioner in the BIPOC Grief Circle reminded us that this urgency is real; however, we come from a long and deeply rooted lineage of peoples who have been doing this work, and they encouraged us to lean back into that lineage, remember it, and be grounded in it. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, but instead build on and centre this intergenerational wisdom that we hold in our relationships and ancestors. For me, this is practice of slowing down. Centering relationship building and reflection are a vital piece of art for social change, something I tried to centre during the FUTURES/forward program.
It was during these initial few months, that Rup, Joanna, and I explored the themes and issues that we were each holding. In the time of COVID-19 pandemic, some questions that we were all thinking about were:
- What will the future look like?
- What does it mean to belong; to be home; to be in community? How did we get here and where are we going?
- What do just livelihoods look like; what is needed for that and who gets to access it? What does it mean to be living a good life?
- What do you need to make a dignified life?
- What does community care/ mutual aid look like to you?
- What is one thing that you love about where you live and one thing you want to see change?
- What would your life look like if you were not under the constraints of capitalism (i.e., “if there was no scarcity,” or “communities had the resources they needed to take care of each other,” or “everyone had enough,” or “we valued earth and people more than money)”?
We started with these themes and questions to explore what art medium would be best suited to unlock deeper reflection and exploration around these questions. We landed on collaging and an audio soundscape to accompany the colleges in the storytelling. This landing came from a long history of collaging and art making. When I first got into collaging, it was when I was child, something we were introduced to during arts + crafts time in elementary school. I remember being obsessed with it because it was something I could do to my old tweeny bopper magazines, or for a mothers’ day card or to photocopies of old family photos. It felt so accessible. After that I spent a long time focusing my energy on facilitating art programming and curation, such as through The Humming Collective (which is the community arts publication and organization I co-founded) and through my movement and dance practice — all of which have been so incredibly nourishing.
However, since the onset of the pandemic, but especially as of late fall 2020, I was finding it increasingly harder to create and have a routine of art making. This was incredibly frustrating as I knew I was feeling burnout in other aspects of my life, but for burnout to show up in my art practice was new and disheartening. Then it dawned on me that I could pick up the art-making practice of collaging again. I remembered the joy of making something new from something that already was. Creating something different from things that already had a place in the world. The actual process of making through collaging felt quite parallel to all that I was holding around just futures and just livelihoods. To create just futures + livelihoods, we needed to dream big, imagine an otherwise from what has already taken shape in our world. So, I started independently collaging again through a digital medium. However, I quickly realized that after being on screens all day due to grad school, work, zoom workshops, etc. that I was experiencing screen fatigue. So, I shifted my collage making from digital to material. It felt so good! The process of collaging started to feel quite meditative; sometimes I would go in with an intention of what I wanted to make, but others I let my materials and emotional mood inspire my piece. After realizing how meditative this practice became for me, it really clicked that this would be the fullest offering I could host for the FUTURES/forward x EAC art for social change sessions. We wanted to really dig into the possibility of exploring these questions and themes of Just Livelihoods in the particular context of so-called Halifax through the practice of collaging. There felt like so much possibility within this context of place and space; particularly, due to Halifax’s historical and on-going segregation amongst Black, Miꞌkmaq, and white folks. I was curious about how we could foster space for community and relationship building by exploring the truths of the colonial past into a decolonial future.
We ended up running three 2-hour long sessions with folks from all intersections and positionalities. There was a lot of intention in the space created during the sessions. It was our intention to move towards a culture of mutual support by bringing people together, who may have never met outside the workshop, by crossing linguistic, cultural, religious, and socio-economic barriers through collaborative artmaking. The sessions were also run in a hybrid format, bringing together folks digitally via zoom with people in-person (following COVID protocols) at Wonder’neath Art Society’s studio. For the in-person folks at Wonder’neath, we had set up in-person facilitators: Chelsea, Lux Habrich and LaMeia, all of whom are BIPOC artists that are connected in community.
This was my first time facilitating in a hybrid approach and it was incredible! To me, this approach feels like it will cement itself in post-COVID workshops, lectures, and sessions, since it creates a level of accessibility that is incredibly important. A learning that came from this experience was that belonging and community come with engagement, but engagement does not have to look the way we think it should.
Someone’s presence can be their form of engagement, so if someone does not fully participate in the artmaking but is at the art table talking with other members or in the room they feel the presence of community with them. Some of us are just talking with people and others are floating around the (zoom) room trying to reach out and talk to those around us. I found that we often think of belonging and community as this limited notion, but often what divides us are the neocolonial structures of white supremacy. Home and belonging may look different depending on who you are and what you need, but it is often something we are all yearning for and we all deserve the right to feel that we are part of something, part of a community.
Something I centred in the session flow was making room for a spacious check-in and the overall importance of check-ins with your colleagues, community, and yourself. By checking-in at the beginning of the session, we often learn more about what is going on in the lives of others and ourselves which allows for this connection to take place of feeling listened to and acknowledged. I encouraged folks to practice decolonial introductions, which is a practice I learned in community, that holds that spaciousness and trust for each person to introduce themself and check-in in their fullest sense; meaning speaking their preferred language, saying their full name and pronouns, any accessibility needs, any background that they would like to share and why they’re coming into the space.
Meditation and mindfulness are also at the centre of everything I do. It was important for me to engage in mindful meditation in the session. This is meditation may look different depending on the day and what we all feel that we need on that day. The practice of mindful meditation was held in the sessions’ art-making section. After our decolonial introductions and check-ins, we made room for land stories and community agreements of the shared space in which participants were invited to ground themselves in their positionality, their location of space, place, and land as well as how best to honour other folks in the space and their intersections as it relates back to the group in the session. Afterwards, I facilitated some of the foundations of collaging while inviting folks to simultaneously take what they wanted from these “foundations” and to keep or dismiss what they felt was best for them. From there we had between 30-45 minutes of independent collaging time, in which we played relaxing music as folks began to dive into the artmaking. At the end, we held space for large group share backs and it was always so incredible to see all the beautiful and different pieces folks created in the session, some finished and some unfinished! It was during these large-group share backs that I recorded the reflections and pieced together an accompanying audio soundscape for the collages. The soundscape pieced and weaved together all the different reflections from the three sessions and will live as part of the digital installation along with the collages.
Thinking about the time I held with FUTURES/forward makes me reflect on what it means to do arts-based evaluation or reporting. Arts-based evaluation centres non-western knowledges, the importance of mapping, artmaking, and more field-note style reflections. As I began to do this arts-based evaluation, I realized it also centered around collaboration, something that is not often valued. I realized evaluations are just an extension of the work I was already doing with FUTURES/forward, just slightly more formalized and documented. With arts-based evaluation it allows for a more holistic reflective perspective on the work being done in the organization.
We wish to thank the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) for this collaboration and hosting Yasmine Hassen’s amazing artist-in-residency! FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Yasmine’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of the McConnell Foundation, Judith Marcuse Projects, the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund and Community Foundations of Canada.