I sat in a room, belly laughing, full.

By Brandon Hoax

June 13, 2019

Photo: Glenn Knockwood.

Photo: Glenn Knockwood.

I sat in a room, belly laughing, full.

With Indigenous artists, creatives, writers.

Art Bar +Projects is a small place in the Granville Plaza downtown K’jipuktuk where a gathering of Atlantic-based Indigenous artists met to discuss an idea that's always being discussed, talked about, or thrown around amongst ourselves, an Indigenous-Led Artist-Run Centre, out here in the Atlantic on this part of Turtle Island.

At this two day gathering that took place in February of 2019, I was not only a participant but also the coordinator, bringing in my contemporaries, mentors, friends, artists, idols, and students; whom all benefit, participate in, and exist within such arts spaces. We came together to discuss this idea of a place built by and for Indigenous folks, in their communities. I take this time as a coordinator to acknowledge and thank all those who participated, as well as acknowledge the voices and folks who were not at this initial gathering.

Together we shared our stories and opinions on prompts and topics, then someone would shout out a joke, and the room would share in laughter. Small meetings of twos happened, with people meeting each other, sitting side by side, talking, connecting, sharing pieces of themselves with one another, stifling giggles.

A flow of large communal discussions happened alongside individual intimate personal meetings.

This ebb and flow of communal and individual conversations allowed for: A more well-rounded discussion? Some strife? Active engagement? I’m not entirely sure, but one thing I know is that I spent a lot of time laughing aloud, giggling at a side remark, joking with someone, or bursting into laughter with the room. Laughter and play was an important part of this two day gathering. The days were long, and some discussions were hard. We even had to check ourselves and the play we engaged in, so to not detract from the topics being discussed in our little closed space.

But laughter and play stayed throughout.

My take away from this was the importance of it—that idea of play and laughter. Get together a group of Native folks and belly laughter is bound to ensue. It felt refreshing, rejuvenating, even though the days in the dark wood paneled Art Bar +Projects were tiring. I think when Indigenous peoples get together, Play is important, because far too often the hardships, trauma, and struggle take over our discussions with one another, and in a way, this is the desired conversation we’re guided into by the outside voyeuristic colonial gaze. Laughing and being playful was healing and fun, and it allowed for us to navigate through the discussions throughout the two long days.

Play and laughter are tools to connect with one another, and an Indigenous-led artist-run centre should be a space that allows for jovial carefree Natives and play, as a means to allow ourselves moments of rest from the colonial gaze that voyeuristically feeds on our struggle and trauma. Play and laughter becomes a method of gathering to circumvent the colonial gaze, and to heal from it, moments become entangled in laughter, undocumentable, jokes become methods of communicating with one another, even if recorded, they can only to be understood and decoded by community—those in the know. The fluid  in-and-out of communal and individual, seriousness and humour, allowed us to converse in a way that felt natural, and allowed for information, knowledge, demands, concerns, stories, and statements to be made and told. Things that we allowed to be shared were documented, and the things we liked to keep to ourselves were hidden in intangible laughter, and inside jokes known only to us.

Photo: Glenn Knockwood.

Photo: Glenn Knockwood.

Laughter has always been medicine, a useful thing to heal, but the idea that play and laughter also can be used as a methodology for gathering, or even an organizational structure, became an interesting idea that I only realized after the gathering occured. Ultimately I can only reflect on my own experience and desires in this relation to laughter and play, and don’t know what the application of it looks like in a further scope from just sitting with one another and having fun, carefree and chuckling. How do we bring the idea of play into our infrastructure of an artist-run centre? What is a play-based governance system? How do we employ play in an artist-run centre’s physicality, or how to do we make it a space that allows for such a response to occur?

But I’d like an Atlantic Indigenous-led artist-run centre to allow for play like that, to feel the way I did when I was sitting and belly laughing in a room full of other Indigenous peoples, feeling healed and full.

Trickster child of a Stonecoat mother and Dullahan father. Brandon Hoax is a Haudenosaunee, Onyota'a:ka (Oneida), Two-Spirit artist from London Ontario, and Oneida Nation of the Thames. Currently residing in K'jipuktuk (Halifax).