Jun 12

River Run 2012

I was really happy to work with friends who are organizing this year’s River Run with Grassy Narrows First Nation. I made this poster and a mini-booklet / fold-out flyer for promo.

And we spent this weekend making almost 200 placards. There’s two different halftone screenprint designs and they are the most beautiful placards I’ve ever seen! The kids from Grassy were great and by the end of the first day, they were running the print station on their own.

Full event details here

Tuesday June 5
Grassy People Speak
Speaking Event with Judy Da Silva and Dr. Hanada
6:30pm Steel Worker’s Hall (25 Cecil Street)

Wednesday June 6
Fish Fry
Noon – Queen’s Park

Friday June
River Run Rally
12pm Grange Park

May 12

Burning the Flag

Graffiti stencils in London, Ontario via Toban Black

Playlist: Pledge of Allegiance  /  PJ Harvey “The Glorious Land” 

On my first day of school, I remember being introduced to my teacher, Ms. Witch, dressed in all black. When music started playing from the ceiling and everyone froze, I was mystified. What sorcery was this?

Some of my teachers expected us to sing this song, or to faintly mouth the words, but we always had to observe the anthem obediently, if only in silence.

Hearing the music confirmed that you were late, that your body was not where it should be. Watchful figures guarding hallways stopped us in our tracks, holding us with their stares, adding to our delays, to make sure we observed the anthem.

Why was it so important to them? What did it mean?

For one thing, respecting the anthem is part of upholding respect for “the rules” and rulers who govern schools. Otherwise, anarchy would break out.

And then there’s the national part of the anthem. There’s a reason why they make 4-year-olds rise at attention and profess “true patriot love” before we even know what that means.

Playing the national anthem in schools is part of nation-building, or upholding respect for “the rules” and rulers who govern Canada.


As activists and designers working with social movements, many of our struggles require us to challenge “the rules” and rulers who govern Canada.

Switching formats from audio to visual, I’d like to look at a different nationalist symbol – the Canadian flag – and the way it gets used in graphic design.

Flags: Rainbow, Marijuana, Black, Tar Sands

When I look at simple graphics that riff on the flag, I notice two kinds of dynamics: seeking inclusion by wrapping yourself or your subject in the flag; and raising critical ideas by showing the flag in a new light.

In the first pair of images (top left + right), the association with the flag is viewed as benign, while with the second pair (bottom left + right) the image of Canada is visibly tarnished.

However, all of these images share a common limitation. Not one grasps things at the root. How can we talk about nation-building without acknowledging the colonial history and present of Canada?

So-called “Native Canadian” flag, unknown origin; 2010 Canadian Olympic hockey jersey logo by Debra Sparrow (Musqueam) with Nike (not a flag, but may as well be one)

Even images that engage with (some might say co-opt) indigenous art and identity can fail to do this. Perhaps intended as an inclusive gesture, or as a powerful corrective, my concern is that this is actually a form of assimilation, of subsuming indigenous nations under Canada in order to extinguish land and treaty rights that are rooted in nation-to-nation relationships.

Ultimately, the Canadian flag is part of an ambitious re-branding exercise. The goal is to consolidate the emotional pull of nationalism to avoid the unsightly reality of Canada’s colonialism.


So just because you use the Canadian flag in your design, does that mean you are supporting colonialism?

Aren’t there good reasons to use the Canadian flag? The flag is an instantly recognizable symbol. It provides political and geographic specificity. It helps us name power so people can understand what we’re talking about.

Let’s look at some examples.

By Afuwa Granger as part of NOII-Van’s People’s History of Kanada Poster Project

Occupy Toronto poster; Keep It Public image; Imperialist Canada cover; Shut Down Bill C-10 poster; Canadian Prisons: Apartheid in Action & They Shoot He Scores prints by Jesse Purcell

With the flag graphics, the flag was the statement. Here, the symbol of the flag is just one part of the picture, helping to provide context and convey particular values and ideas.

These communication strategies range from appealing to a sense of nationalism in the Occupy Toronto poster, which uses the maple leaf and red-on-white colour scheme to suggest that the values of Occupy reflect “Canadian values”, to critiquing the nationalist idea that Canada plays a benign (or subservient) role in the world with the cover of Imperialist Canada, which uses the maple leaf to map the oppressive actions of the Canadian state at home and abroad.
Illustration from Briarpatch March/April 2011; The Dominion Jan/Feb 2012 issue

While some images use the maple leaf instead of the whole flag, others use a distinctive land mass that clearly signifies Canada. This image may seem less politically charged because it is not an iconic nationalist symbol, but space is contested and geography is political.

We can see different political geographies in the work of indigenous artists like Erin Marie Konsmo and Gord Hill. Konsmo and Hill push back colonial borders by centering a different conceptualization of the land from Turtle Island to Abya Yala.

Instead of proposing a cut-and-dry answer or formula, my suggestion is to think carefully about the choices we make, and the delicate balance between naming oppression and re-enforcing it.

No Borders & Occupy: The Game of Colonialism by Erin Marie Konsmo, Métis/Cree Indigenous feminist and artist

500 Years of Indigenous Resistance, cover and pg. 61, by Gord Hill, member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation on the Northwest Coast

Illustration by Emily Davidson for The Dominion

Dec 10

Art Deco and Colonialism

“East African Transport ~ Old Style”  (1931) and part of “East African Transport ~ New Style” (1931) by Adrian Allinson, in Graphic Design: A New History (2007) by Stephen J. Eskilson

“a number of Art Deco graphic works were commissioned to advertise the colonial empires that were a huge part of the European economy. In the face of criticism at home regarding the economic and moral issues of colonialism, both Britain and France sought to convince their own citizens of the virtues of empire. In 1926, the British government established the Empire Marketing Board, in order to persuade its citizens to do business with British colonies.”

“Pick brought to the Board the conviction that modern abstract styles were more effective at catching the eye of the viewer than traditional illustration”

“the two images do not communicate an economic theme, but rather are intended to convey the message that the Empire has improved life in the colonies while at the same time assuring the public of the benevolent control exercised by the white man.”

Oct 10

Facing Canada’s Racism and Colonialism

These posters are about Canada. They are about foundational myths. Foundational double standards.

If you are from the wrong side of whiteness, colonialism and capitalism – witness the frenzy and fury when you arrive at these shores.

Now, turn to these posters from Canadian Pacific Steamships, and consider, who is being invited to bring their families, to travel and to enjoy leisure – and at whose expense? Whose land, whose labour, whose bodies and whose cultures are being violated to underwrite these experiences?

Come Britishers. Bring your racisms, bring your patriarchies, homophobias, and ableisms to Canada.

Enjoy native land, enjoy native culture, enjoy native people, enjoy native land, enjoy our land, enjoy our land.

See the noble savage? See the servant?

Of course not, he has no face. She has no face. Coal face. Coal face has no eyes.

We do our duty to support the wars. Visit our tributes to empire. Stay a while, take comfort.

The world is in our hands. Sail the White Empress. Go Empress to the Orient. Go empire.

Go anywhere – until the empire strikes back, until truth speaks to colonial power, until the double standard is called, and boats show up on your doorstep.

No One Is Illegal!

Sources (in order of image appearance from top to gallery):

[1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11] Posters of the Canadian Pacific, Marc H. Choko and David L. Jones, 2004.
[3, 4, 5, 8] L’affiche au Québec: des origines à nos jours, Marc H. Choko, 2001.