Q1. How do you approach visual arts compared to how you approach writing?
For the most part, my work lives in the overlap between visual art and writing, so I approach them the same—as a sculpture. Both involve manipulating black material into a form against a white background. Sometimes the material is black thread against a white page, sometimes the material is black text against a white page. Both are doing poetic and esthetic work.
Q2. In addition to being an artist, you are also a teacher. Often times, teachers end up learning from students. What's one of the biggest things you have learned from a student?
To listen. I know it sounds simple, but, for me, it’s not. I have so many opinions. Sometimes students come to me with a design problem, an artistic problem, a research problem, a life problem—and I have to resist the impulse to ‘fix it’ and share all over them. Sometimes they just need to talk through an idea and hear their thinking out loud, so they can find their own solutions.
Q3. Being a woman of colour in the arts can be tough for many different reasons especially in today's topsy turvy CanLit climate. What do you do to make sure your work/voice is heard?
I try to share my work, words and ideas with community-building organizations, libraries and arts centers. If my work can help them design activities, promote public events or create teaching curriculums, I’m happy to share it. As a book of poetry, I think How She Read is a good read and a decent contribution to CanLit. I also think the poems are useful tools for engaging readers in conversations about race, gender and national identity. (I know, I know…I can’t stop being a teacher.)
Q4. Your book is many things. Poetry, art, history book ... what was your reasoning for the mashup?
I’m a reader of words and images, an interpreter of objects and interactions. I’m an everyday semiotician. Poetry, art, history, academics, pop culture—How She Read reflects how the same signs, myths, tropes and stereotypes about Black womanhood and Canadian national identity float across different disciplines and discourses, how they are woven tight into our culture. My book is an exercise in untangling it!
Q5. 1 minute of fame: promote!!
West coast—come hear me read at Growing Room on March 10th!
East coast—if you wanna see 2000 black souvenir spoons, go see my installation ‘Souvenir’ in Here We Are Here, Black Canadian Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia from May to September!
Chantal Gibson is an artist-educator interested in the cultural production of knowledge. Her work explores the overlap between literary and visual art, challenging imperialist notions quietly embedded in everyday thing. Last year her work appeared at the ROM in Toronto and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Recently, she had exhibitions bookending the country—in BC and Nova Scotia. Both were based on her first book How She Read, a CBC books favorite for spring, published by Caitlin Press.
How She Read is an extension of her artistic practice. Sculpting black text against a white page, her poems forge new spaces that bend and twist English grammar rules while confronting historic representations of Black womanhood and Otherness in the Canadian cultural imagination. Author Lawrence Hills says “By turns outraged, elegiac, and loving, Chantal Gibson meditates on blackness, womanhood, betrayal, denial, resilience, and freedom. How She Read flings open the back door to Canada. It sparks an inquiry and packs a wallop in every line and on every page.”
Recently named one of CBC’s 6 Black writers to watch in 2019, Gibson is an award-winning teacher in the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University.