Over the course of several months, the Bearing Witness team gathered stories from graduate students at York regarding their encounters with research harassment. Anonymized interview transcripts were then shared with artist-researchers, who are also students at York, to create artworks that shine a light on the experiences of their peers.
The culminating artworks by Sarah Hancock, Shanique Mothersill, and Shams Seif were showcased in an exhibition during Congress 2023. The exhibition was held in the Special Projects Gallery in the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts at York University from May 27 to June 2.
Alongside the exhibition, the Bearing Witness team hosted a programme of panel discussions on June 1, 2023:
The first, Bearing Witness: Hate, Harassment and Public Scholarship, discussed the genesis of the project and the implications of online harassment in academic communities. Panelists included Alex Borkowski (York), Natalie Coulter (York), Eve Haque (York) Ganaele Langlois (York), Marion Grant (York), Kris Joseph (York), Jake Pyne (York), and Sandra Robinson (Carleton)
The second, Illuminating and Amplifying Stories of Research Harassment, featured a conversation and exhibition tour with artist-researchers Sarah Hancock, Shanique Mothersill, and Shams Seif, followed by a reception with light refreshments.
The exhibition space is the Special Projects Gallery in the main lobby of the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts at York University. The exhibition will be on display May 27th to June 2nd from 10 AM- 5 PM daily. Join us to experience the works of four Artist-Researchers from York University.
Special Projects Gallery Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts, York University 86 Fine Arts Road, North York
Panel One: Bearing Witness: Hate, Harassment and Public Scholarship
June 1st, 3 PM- 4 PM, Schulich Executive Learning Centre, Room X106
This Panelists include Alex Borkowski (York), Natalie Coulter (York), Greg Elmer (TMU), Ganaele Langlois (York), Marion Grant (York), Kris Joseph (York), Jake Pyne (York), and Sandra Robinson (Carleton)
Panel Two: Illuminating and Amplifying Stories of Research Harassment
June 1st, 4:30 PM- 6:30 PM, Special Projects Gallery, Main Lobby of the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts
Join us for a conversation with artist-researchers and an exhibition tour, followed by a reception with light refreshments.
Sarah Hancock is a contemporary artist who likes to explore and push boundaries to make radical, conceptual, and technical art.
My installation is meant to be a space of confrontation. I appropriated the popular term “online trolling” by making a physical online troll. This troll becomes a body to engage in a dialogue about online harassment; it represents fear, erasure, politics, and danger. The QR code on the troll’s chest invites the viewer to use media as a tool. I want to highlight the ambiguity of technology’s usefulness in our society. As a platform to share information or opinions, the lines are blurred. Similarly, the QR code is a tool for communication, however, it takes the viewer to a video simulating the threat of online harassment. The video was made based on the emotional takeaway of anonymous interviews with researchers.
In front of the troll are two stacks of cease-and-desist letters. One stack represents the harassment experienced among university researchers with a monthly online presence; the other stack represents those without a monthly online presence. I believe this highlights the growing concern surrounding the ambiguity of social media as a tool. This data also demonstrates the persistence of targeted online harassment as researchers without a monthly online presence still face victimization.
Across the table is a chair for the viewer to sit facing the online troll. I want people to approach the online troll, experience the video in dialogue with the troll, engage in the very tool used by trolls, see the data about online harassment, and consider the physical and emotional weight of that many cease-and-desist letters. The viewer is encouraged to sit across from the troll and reflect on the severity and harm of targeted online harassment. It is my hope that proper support be provided to researchers publishing socio-political or controversial studies to mitigate the erasure of marginalized perspectives in science.
Shams Seif is an artist, writer, and academic currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Gender, Feminist, and Women’s Studies. Their unique blend of academic and activist backgrounds informs their innovative and creative perspectives, with a focus on fostering inclusive learning environments. Shams holds a Master of Arts in media production from Toronto Metropolitan University and has amassed considerable expertise in community building via their writing collective, The Poetry Passport. Their mosaic background allows them to connect theory and practice, creating a dynamic bridge between academia and the public.
Researching On Eggshells is a mini-film that explores the pervasive issue of online harassment that graduate students face while conducting their research, seeking participants, or disseminating research information. The film features a powerful spoken-word poem, crafted from the interview transcripts of affected graduate students. The poetry has been sculpted to honor the meaning of their stories while ensuring their anonymity and contributing to accessible public scholarship. Abstract and sensorial visuals are integrated throughout the film, adding a new dimension to the viewer’s understanding of the issue. The spoken-word poem is subtitled to make it easier for viewers to follow the stories and fully grasp the gravity of the situation.
Shanique Mothersill is a Jamaican-born Black feminist poet, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, and Ph.D. student in Gender, Feminist & Women’s Studies at York University. She recently completed her second MA in the Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Florida Atlantic University after completing her first MA in Pan-African Studies and a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Women’s and Gender Studies at Syracuse University. Shanique focuses on theorizing (through poetry) Jamaican women’s aliveness and the ways in which their multiple acts of living help us to understand gendered and racialized “beingness” and existence in the Caribbean.
Witnessing some of the most horrific scenes of terror, hate and harassment, this work is about “evincing”. Evincing in and with the stories, voices, screams, hurt and pain of the victims, the scholars. My reflections, while they led to a poetic art piece, are about the critical “ongoingness” of continuously revealing the evidence and truth of the unsafe world of doing, being and sitting with online research. In the evincing, we censure and condemn hate and harassment while vituperating and execrating the perpetrators, cyberspaces, systems and institutions that target, abuse, mistreat and malign women, BIPOC, queer, disabled and other marginalized scholars. Evincing is the ways in which their research, work and lives remain present and alive through this art and those to come. In this evincing, their experiences of racism, misogyny, violence, isolation, powerlessness, helplessness, frustration and fear are not simply spectacles for awareness. Rather, they are the grounds from which our methodologies for witnessing these scenes are our vocabularies in resistance, solidarities and solutions. Evincing then, is how we mobilize against these encounters of hate and harassment in celebration of safe, healthy and continuous academic journeys for all scholars.