Leah Decter, Artist – Winnipeg
Leah Decter is an inter-media artist and scholar currently based in Winnipeg/Treaty 1 territory. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from Queen’s University and an MFA in New Media from Transart Institute. Her artwork, research, and writing focus on contested spaces, largely contending with histories and contemporary conditions of settler colonialism and systems of white dominance from a critical white-settler perspective. Decter has exhibited, presented, and screened her work widely in Canada, and internationally in the US, UK, Germany, Malta, Australia, Netherlands and India. Her artwork has been featured in The Journal of Canadian Art History, Craft and Design in Canada, Fuse Magazine, and Border Crossing, and her most recent writing has been published in the Journal of Critical Race Inquiry, Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, and Canadian Theatre Review. Her artwork is currently being featured in From Food to Monuments: Northern Retellings at Quest Art Gallery and in Days of Reading: beyond this state of affairs at Plug In ICA.
I take my dog for a long walk every morning. I’m fortunate to live close to the Red River in a neighbourhood where we can walk along the riverbank unencumbered by the distraction of streets, cars, and, for the most part, people. These morning walks have become a vitally important space for the immersive, embodied kind of thinking that feeds my art and research processes. Admittedly, some mornings I’m just walking my dog, but this daily habit is also part of the connective tissue that returns me to walking as a critical art practice I began working with during my MFA, and I am now enlisting as a form of unsettlement.
Rivers have run in and out of my life and my work, so their qualities are often on my mind. I think about the way their currents carry stories that dis/connect across time, geography, and the incommensurable. The way they have acted as a conveyance for invasion and for visiting. The way they are always in flux, following a course and ever so slowly altering it. The way they are simultaneously what was, what is now, and what will be. I’m especially enamoured with the frozen river. Being on it offers an uncanny inverse perspective of the city and of the water. Its stillness is reassuring, but there’s always an undercurrent of uneasiness in the proximity of all that is carried along beneath the icy surface.
3. Critical place inquiry
As detailed in Eve Tuck and Marcia McKenzie’s 2014 book Place in Research, critical place inquiry situates the politics of place – how place impacts the way lives are lived – as central to academic research. Highlighting the dynamics of place in relation to the effects of settler colonialism, the importance of situated Indigenous knowledge, and the potential of decolonizing actions, critical place inquiry is as applicable to art practice as it is to academic research.
4. Artist as killjoy
An echo of the feminist killjoy Sara Ahmed proposes as being “willing to be willful” in exercising a “refusal to look away from what has already been looked over,” the artist as killjoy disturbs the cherished myths, entrenched systems, and damaging practices of the dominant culture, reveals their underpinnings and consequences, and offers alternative ways of thinking, being, and relating.
5. The late Neechi Commons
Neechi had decades of history serving the community of North End Winnipeg. It was more than just the only grocery store in our neighbourhood for the few years it operated in its final location. Now that it has closed we can no longer walk a couple of blocks to buy produce, local fish, bison, and freshly baked bannock. We can no longer stop by to pick up local artwork and crafts or books at Neechi Niche. And we can no longer enjoy sunny breakfasts and meetings (not to mention the best ever wild rice pudding) at the Bisonberry Restaurant. It is missed.