Artists Tackle COVID-Era Racism Across the U.S.-Canada Border

“We started talking about the pandemic itself … especially in terms of marginalized communities and how they were not receiving the equitable care that was deserving of them,” said Saunders.

Canada doesn’t have any plans to collect nationwide race-based data on the pandemic. But some cities, including Toronto and Montreal, have found that reported COVID-19 cases were more frequently found in neighbourhoods with diverse racial backgrounds and lower incomes.

“Unfortunately, [COVID-19] has had a greater impact on those in our community who face greater health inequities,” Toronto’s medical officer Eileen de Villa said in July.

Saunders and Walker began working together in the early days of the pandemic. But soon after, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — and the ensuing resurgence of the Black Lives Matter protests — put these considerations into even sharper focus.

“Excuse my language — I’m frankly pissed about everything,” said Walker.

She said she uses contemporary and historical imagery in her digital collages to signal the importance of history and historical context in our current dialogues about systemic racism.

“I want to keep talking about those issues … layering with things that may have happened with Black folks in America and in past times,” she said.

In her essay, Saunders acknowledged that the Black experience in Canada isn’t exactly the same as her peers’ in the U.S., such as Walker.

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Tekikki Walker is an artist and designer in Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Tekikki Walker)

She’s thankful for her relative economic privilege and access to health care during the pandemic, and put a spotlight on racism that Indigenous and other communities suffer.

Despite these differences, however, they found their causes had more in common with each other, and could strengthen each others’ voices by speaking as one through this project.

“I think that was the most poignant thing, was that two Black women were able to connect over this line in the sand … across borders and really talk about a Black history and what was meaningful to both of us,” said Saunders.

Despite the remote nature of the work and the difficult, personal subject matter, Saunders and Walker consider their contribution to the Long Distance Art Series a success — and, hopefully, the prelude to more collaborations.

“I really do hope that Tekikki and I can stay connected and to keep that sisterhood, because we really are here for one another, even within these two different countries,” said Saunders.

AUDIO CREDITS: Digital lead producers: Tahiat Mahboob, Ruby Buiza; Copy editor: Brandie Weikle; Web development: Geoff Isaac; Radio producer: Vanessa Greco; Executive producers: Ann MacKeigan, Paul Gorbould.

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