From Commemoration to Redress in Canada
Canada’s recent sesquicentennial celebrations were the latest in a long, steady progression of Canadian cultural memory projects. Unbecoming Nationalism investigates the power of commemorative performances in the production of nationalist narratives. Using “unbecoming” as a theoretical framework to unsettle or decolonize nationalist narratives, Helene Vosters examines an eclectic range of both state-sponsored social memory projects and counter-memorial projects to reveal and unravel the threads connecting reverential military commemoration, celebratory cultural nationalism, and white settler-colonial nationalism.
Vosters brings readings of institutional, aesthetic, and activist performances of Canadian military commemoration, settler-colonial nationalism, and redress into conversation with literature that examines the relationship between memory, violence, and nationalism from the disciplinary arenas of performance studies, Canadian studies, critical race and Indigenous studies, memory studies, and queer and gender studies. In addition to using performance as a theoretical framework, Vosters uses performance to enact a philosophy of praxis and embodied theory.
“Unbecoming Nationalism critiques the ways in which Canadian military history is commemorated and celebrated as a way to establish favourable national mythologies and to silence uncomfortable truths about our past and our present. It also takes on narratives around white settler-colonialism and asserts that Canadians are less inclined to take responsibility for this national reality and asks what real redress would mean.”
– Jill Scott, Professor, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Queen’s University
“Using examples from the Canadian War Museum, the Human Rights Museum, the Highway of Heroes, and the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, Vosters (postdoc fellow, McMaster Univ., Canada) challenges the existing definitions and inclusion/exclusion of Canadian memories and memorials. The contested terrain of social and collective memory—who and what to remember and who and what to forget—shapes the discourse of nationalism, the nation, and national belonging (especially for indigenous peoples). Drawing on her background in performance studies, the author discusses state-sponsored performances of social memory and countermemorial performances that aim to “unbecome popular narratives of benevolent Canadian nationalism … toward a praxis of redress.” She challenges the image of Canada as enlightened and equitable while obscuring unbecoming acts that do not reflect the dominant discourse. Violence, human rights violations, missing and murdered women and girls, combat wars in history, and blankets of smallpox and genocide are highlighted. The author insists that attention be paid to “becoming and unbecoming performances of Canada’s military and settler-colonial commemorations,” and to reimagining who and what has been memorialized and who and what has not.”
– P. LeClerc, St. Lawrence University, CHOICE
About the Author
Helene Vosters is an artist-activist-scholar. She holds a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from York University, an MFA in Queer and Activist Performance from the New College of California, and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow and Project Coordinator with Transforming Stories, Driving Change, a research and performance initiative at McMaster University.