Danielle Nicole Smith on: privilege, positionality, and SITE-SPECIFIC

SITE-SPECIFIC: Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are the big questions your explore through your art-making?

DANIELLE NICOLE SMITH: I’m a Drawing and Painting undergrad student in my last year at OCAD U; last year, I completed Directed Studio and took part in Grad Ex. Before transferring programs, I did two years of Graphic Design.

My work tends to focus on topics deeply personal to me, topics such as mental health and disability, queer identity and sexuality, and rape culture. I aim to create work that speaks to my own experiences, but also may resonate with others. I use a variety of mixed media and my work tends to straddle the divisions between art, design, and craft.

My politics play a massive role in how I approach and work within my own art practice, as well as how I approach the greater art and design community.  Critical reflection and engagement are key parts of this; understanding how my own privileges situate me within the greater communities I am a part of, and how I can navigate those spaces in a way that is safe and helpful to myself and others. Research is another huge part of my work, situating my lived experiences within a historical context and understanding of my topics- although this happens more behind the scenes.

HOW DO YOU PROTECT YOURSELF AT NIGHT with bat, 2012, image courtesy Danielle Nicole Smith

[image description: painting with bright pink background and black text reading “how do you protect yourself at night”, white hand holding a bedazzled, glittered baseball bat in foreground]

S: What is the SITE-SPECIFIC Guest Blog Series and why is it being launched?

S: SITE-SPECIFIC is a way to advance the dialogue around equity we’re having within the OCAD U community- curating it online, bringing together the perspectives of various community members via the Guest Blog Series, continuing the conversation through comments and interaction with the content presented. OCAD U, and the wider community, needs to be having an ongoing, serious discussion around art and design, education, social justice and equity, and we start that by assessing where our knowledge and understanding is at and making it accessible to everybody. Participation, generation, collaboration, critical thinking, reflection and action are all goals of the Guest Blog Series and SITE-SPECIFIC as a whole.

My job as a Student Monitor with the Diversity and Equity Initiatives Office is to help coordinate and oversee SITE-SPECIFIC- determine the monthly themes, reach out to potential Guest Bloggers, manage the online presence, and always critically examine our content in relation to our goals. My hope for this space is that it becomes both a valuable resource to the community- in that it brings knowledge to the table- but also, that it becomes a safe space to assess what we don’t know or understand yet, and how we might go about approaching potential solutions. I would love for it to become a place of engaging dialogue and thought-provoking ideas. As a student, I know this is a thing we could benefit from, and my hope is to leave at the end of this year knowing I’ve helped build a start to making space to have the conversations we deserve and owe to ourselves.

S: What might a critical understanding of equity look like?

S: Diversity is often seen as the end-goal, while really it is only the first of many steps towards the real goal of equity. A complex, interdisciplinary understanding of equity goes beyond seeing multiculturalism as a final solution to realize that intersectionality is key- this involves understanding how power imbalances are created and maintained through historical context, and what this means for how we must approach the goal of equity today. Recognizing and naming privileges, and how they enact oppressions, is a valuable part of this. Intersectionality is how we understand how different oppressions and modes of marginalization interact and intersect with each other- what do things like racism, classism, sexism, cissexism, ableism, heterosexism, and so on mean for people when they experience oppression from multiple directions, and how do we work towards equity while taking into account the many different oppressions and privileges that come into play. For example- I am a queer disabled woman, and I will experience oppression via these identities; I am also a cisgender white ablebodied person, and these privileges mean I need to be aware of the space I take up and oppressions I may enact upon others. For me, critically working towards equity is definitely about being aware of how my various identities come into play.

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excerpt from Rape Culture Journal, 2013, image courtesy Danielle Nicole Smith

[image description: collaged text reading “Margaret Atwood once wrote that “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them,” but it’s even more complicated than that. Women aren’t just afraid that they’ll be hurt; they’re afraid that they’ll be hurt and they’ll get blamed for it”, quote by Ana Mardoll]

S: What is the role of creativity and imagination in advancing equity?

S: Creative, imaginative thinking is needed to get beyond the barriers of inequality society has set up- we cannot begin to dismantle them if we are unable to see beyond them. So many aspects of oppression that get in the way of equity are ingrained into our everyday society and invisible to those who are not personally affected by them- in order to address these issues, we need to see them, and in order to see them, we need to be able to think beyond the prescribed societal script.

Creative thinking is a valuable skill that is not limited to artists or designers (or found in all artists and designers, to be honest), but can be found in a range of people working in different fields; OCAD U just happens to have a high concentration of creative thinkers. It is clearly a creative space, and we should be leading the way in creatively tackling issues of social justice in the pursuit of equity. We need to acknowledge more openly the issues that stand in the way of equity in order to have the freedom to creatively problem solve.

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