Exploring text on the body and the experience of being "read" or "judged" by people became a personal fascination at a young age. I would cover my denim jeans with my thoughts in blue and red ink and write lines of poems on my skin.
Growing up with various medical conditions, I struggled with how society perceived my (dis) abilities and began documenting my experiences through poetry. It brought me solace during a time when the outside world projected many false parameters between me and what I could achieve. "You can't judge a book by its cover" became a mantra while experiencing the prejudices and discrimination I faced as a woman and person with disabilities. Yet, at the same time, those adversities became a catalyst for my life's work as an artist and community development professional.
My hometown Antigonish is nestled along the sunrise trail in Nova Scotia, Canada. Strong in Celtic culture, the street signs read in English and Gaelic. Bagpipes, fiddles, step dancing, kitchen parties, and kilts representing different Scottish clans are common during community events.
The Mi'kmaq are Indigenous to Antigonish and were the first point of contact in Canada by European settlers. Antigonish is Mi'kmaq and means "Where the Baechnuts grow," but the locals know it by its nickname, "The little Vatican," due to the substantial Irish and Scottish Catholic influence.
These elements played an essential part in my upbringing, the lens through which I experienced the world and influenced the resistance I faced when challenging the status quo. As part of generation X, I continually questioned authority. At an early age, I understood this was a privilege and something my mother and many women from the baby boomer generation were forbidden to express most of their life. However, I refused to settle for the accepted injustices of the past and the obstacles I witnessed women, 2SLGBTQ+, African Nova Scotian, Mi'kmaq, and people with disabilities continually face. Through my artwork, I use poetry, performance, photography and video as a tool to bridge our individual experiences and analyze bias, boundaries and trust while holding space for complex journeys of unlearning, truth and reconciliation.
The inception of my series, People Paper, began with my introduction to the art of photography in my first year of art school in 1997. Like a painter's brush, my camera is a tool I use to explore and document the relationship between language, perception, and environment. I incorporate handwritten text in my work to infuse myself into the portrait. By placing the subjects in diverse settings, I combine elements that reflect my experiences captured in the poems.
Over the last 20 years, I experimented with various materials to write on the skin of my subjects, and I found that eyeliner pencil was the best medium for the series. The thick texture moves quickly across various skin types, creating an ideal method of transferring text on the body.
I began the series using a Mamiya C Series – Twin-Lens Medium Format Camera and a single lens 35 mm camera. In 2007 I started using a digital camera but continued to lean towards minimalism in post-production with very few alterations in Photoshop.
During the early years of the People Paper series, I enlisted the help of fellow artists to write my poems across my skill and entered public spaces. As onlookers tried to read the text with only fragments available for consumption, many asked for access to the complete poems.
The performance was an experiment in observing the curiosity and desire of strangers to understand the whole text, a commentary on the complexity of people beyond what they choose to share with the world
The series has evolved to include spoken word poetry, video and live adaptations. These performances are an essential component of the series that help me build trust and empathy through sharing some of my most vulnerable thoughts with those who choose to be in my series.