My Body Is the Ocean, an exhibition by Kama La Mackerel
Artist in Residence
P. Lantz Initiative for Excellence in Education and the Arts

May 3 – 17, 2017
Curriculum Resources Centre (1st floor)
Faculty of Education
3700 McTavish
H3A 1Y2


This exhibition is the culmination of Kama La Mackerel’s 8-months artist residency in the Faculty of Education at McGill University. During this time, Kama has worked on several creative and research projects each exploring the potential of artistic practices as resistance to colonial violence.

Amongst others, Kama has designed a series of 3 arts-based anti-oppression training workshops that they ran amongst students; they conceived and performed a 3-hour durational piece, UN/FREEZE, to engage with the ongoing trauma of microaggressions in institutions of learning; they curated SPEAK B(L)ACK, an all-Black performance night as part of Black History Month; they curated and hosted their annual QTBIPOC community show, The Self-Love Cabaret: l’amour se conjugue à la première personne; they developed the manuscript for her upcoming spoken-word show, My Body Is the Ocean; they painted a series of water-colours inspired by poetic imagery from My Body Is The Ocean; they reclaimed public spaces through trans-positive affirmations through her textile installation Remember Trans Power; they worked on an audio-visual series on decolonization (in FR, with ENG subtitles) in collaboration with Le Délit, and she wrote a bunch of articles & spoke at galleries, universities and community dinners.

Through this exhibition, you are invited to engage with some of the material developed by Kama during the course of this residency.


My Body Is the Ocean (performance: May 4, 6:30-7:30pm)
My Body Is the Ocean (series: water colour)
Remember Trans Power (series: textiles, acrylic)
UN/FREEZE (installation: textiles, paper, metal wires)
Bois d’Ébène (installation: textiles, paper, metal)


My Body Is the Ocean is a collection of lyric poems that braid together voices across lineages of Mauritian women, femmes, spirits and goddesses. Seeking healing from the trauma of plantation heritage, Kama La Mackerel uses their poetry to find new languages of love with which to repair the severed relationships of their family and their ancestries. Oscillating like waves between ocean & island, past & present, childhood & adulthood, rage & forgiveness, family history & colonial history, My Body Is the Ocean is a painful yet celebratory journey into a trans femme identity that refuses to be defined and confined to colonial gender narratives.


My Body Is the Ocean is an aquarelle series that explores imagery from Kama La Mackerel’s poetry collection through water-colour. Through this series, the artist attempts to find “languages without words” with which to articulate the unnameable haunting of colonial pain and the ancestral longings for love & reconciliation.


Remember Trans Power is a textile installation that reclaims public spaces through trans-positive affirmations. The series is painted on long stretches of silk that used to be saris that belonged to the artist’s mother: she wore them for years and then gifted them to the artist. This offering of femme clothing, from mother to child, was a moment of reconciliation that gestured at forgiveness after three decades of gendered violence.

In this series, Kama La Mackerel paints short, trans-positive affirmations on these saris, a couple of which have also acted as banners in the Montréal trans march. This series merges the personal into the political, it folds the public into the private: the banners occupy public space while holding the fabric of deeply personal acts of love & forgiveness.

The affirmations are kept simple and to the point, as a choice: in a contemporary context where the mainstream media sets the agenda for “the trans tipping point” discussions are often clouded with unnecessary debate while the message, for Kama La Mackerel is rather clear: PROTECT TRANS YOUTH. HONOUR TRANS ELDERS. LOVE FOR TRANS WOMEN OF COLOUR. REMEMBER TRANS POWER. CELEBRATE TRANS HISTORY. 


UN/FREEZE is a 3-D installation that Kama La Mackerel created in November 2016 through an interactive 3-hour durational performance piece. UN/FREEZE explored the embodied and emotional reaction of “freezing” when experiencing a micro-aggression. By wearing chicken wires around their body to restrict her movements and very slowly moving her body through postures of discomfort, the artist instilled the hardness, pain and discomfort of the marginalized body in institutional spaces that are not safe.

The audience was invited to participate in the performance by writing testimonies of a time they experienced micro-aggressions within institutions. They rolled the testimonies and left them behind as part of the installation, which grew heavier with the stories as the performance progressed. The installation remains, beyond the performance, reminiscent of the ways that the trauma of micro-aggressions can inhabit marginalized bodies for long after their occurence. 

Bois d’Ébène is both a 3-D piece and a wearable garment, made of left-over material traces from two performances. In August 2012, Kama La Mackerel performed “WHAT YOU LOOKING AT?” at La Centrale, Galerie Powerhouse (Montreal, QC). In this durational and interactive performance piece, they explored the figure of the fleur-de-lys to interrogate the ways in which trans and gender non-conforming bodies of colour are surveilled through racist, trans misogynist and nationalist gazes. In August 2016, she performed “Bois d’Ébène” at Fonderie Darling (Montreal, QC). In this piece they engages with Québec’s Slave history by grieving and conjuring the voices of the Slave ancestors on whose broken backs the modern nation was built. As part of these performances, the artist used paper cut-outs of fleur-de-lys as well as fabric cut-outs in shape of the map of Quebec. Bois d’Ébène is a femme armour made of the left-over cut-outs and other material from these performances. With this installation, Kama La Mackerel uses deconstruction as an aesthetic to critique nationalist discourses and to point to the fallacy of universalism and singular narratives characteristic of nationalisms.