Babely Shades is a self-described “collective of artists and activists of colour and marginalized genders from the Ottawa area.” The truth is, Babely Shades is doing some of the most radical work at the cultural level that this nation’s ultra-conservative capital has ever seen. They’re breaking barriers left and right, giving queer people of colour (POC) and marginalized folks the opportunity to express themselves freely in artistic spaces that have historically excluded them.
I chatted with two members of the collective, Corrina Chow and Kelsey Amanda, who together gave an in-depth look at what Babely Shades is all about.
The McGill Daily (MD): Can you tell me more about what you do? What artistic or other types of areas are you most active in?
Corrina Chow (CC): I would say what brought us all together is feeling that we didn’t necessarily belong in the Ottawa arts scene just because we never saw bands or other artists of colour that we could kind of relate to. […] We have a ton of people who have formed their own bands […] and then others who are visual artists and a lot of musicians [and] poets.
Kelsey Amanda (KA): Illustrators, writers. [It’s] pretty much a big conglomerate for us to all kind of support each other and be able to feel visible.
CC: On top of that we do a lot of bookings, events where the venue would be in a safe space – where racism, transmisogyny and ableism wouldn’t be tolerated. […] It’s been difficult to find venues that [can] accommodate that in Ottawa, but we found a couple, particularly Pressed Cafe.
KA: We’ve also even created some DIY venues that we use that are pretty much houses where they are really open to having shows and holding up our mandate.
MD: And would you say the Babely Shades zine spreads the same message?
KA: I would say that our zine is kind of more personal in the sense that we’re creating it for ourselves. I feel like it’s a very healing thing. We’re not out there to teach as much as to kind of reclaim ourselves.
CC: Yeah, the zine really lets people know that we’re people too, like we do the same stuff that everyone else does.
KA: We’re creators and we want to have the same opportunities to create, the same funding opportunities, and the same space.
MD: The number of members in the collective is now over a hundred. You even gathered attention from the Ottawa Citizen and Vice. Did you ever think you would get this big and how do you feel about this attention
CC: When I first joined we didn’t really think that it would receive this much attention because I guess we’re not really accustomed to achieving that much attention in the first place. […] It’s great in the sense that people actually recognize that these issues exist, but at the same time you’re kind of putting yourselves out there as a target.
KA: I really just thought it was going to be a small group of friends just supporting each other. But […] the work and the activism and things that just came to be because of that support and that network has blown my mind.
CC: Yeah, [like] being invited to the Black History Month reception…
KA: Oh yeah, Parliament Hill! Yeah, we met Trudeau!
MD: Is there a particular time or event with Babely Shades that you are most proud of?
CC: There’s a two day event at Pressed [Cafe] called #DIYSpring.
KA: It’s basically a collective of some of the artists that are already in Babely Shades and people of colour that we know […] putting on this two day festival to celebrate artists doing it themselves; and obviously specifically queer people of colour. So that’s a really exciting thing that we’re doing, […] we’re presenting artists from the U.S. and all over. Shoegaze legends!
CC: They’re quite established and they’re also people of colour, and it’s really exciting to have them come to Ottawa and play with Everett, which is [the founder of Babely Shades’ Elsa Mirzaei’s] band.
MD: In terms of the bad times that have been a little more rough for your group. You started a petition against The Queers who claim to engage in the “reclamation of queer identity” while actually being a white, hetero, cisgendered group, and faced backclash from their fans in return. How did you cope with that negative, even threatening, incidence of cyber bullying?
KA: Yeah, this is a really sensitive topic. I think overall we really stuck to each other and really reached out to people who [had previously] reached out to us. […] We were literally targeted and we were threatened. […] I think in the end it’s just being there for each other and knowing that people are only coming against us because we’re doing something that is going to displace them in their comfort.
CC: This was positive in the sense that [those] people on Facebook that kind of just float around and you never really interact with them […] messag[e] you in solidarity, being like, “Hey, I really appreciate [the work] you’re doing. This isn’t necessarily my space but even if any of my friends say or do anything that could damage this community, I’ll be sure to call them out […] and bring attention to your group.” And yeah [they could be the same] people who would […] take away space or occupy space in a community that doesn’t belong to them.
MD: So the people who were offering their support then turned out to be the ones who were spreading the hate?
CC: Yes and no. There are some people who you could genuinely call allies but then there are people who declare themselves as allies but then take up all the space. […] It’s certainly white feminism. It’s trying to equate something that white women experience […] to something women of colour would experience or trans women of colour even.
KA: They just don’t get the intersectional aspects of it and that’s damaging in itself.
MD: If people did their research, this wouldn’t even be an issue.
CC: Yeah that was another thing that was elicited during the [incident with The Queers]. These people want you to spoon-feed everything directly to them when this isn’t my job, I’m not paid to do it, and it’s actually quite exhausting.
KA: People who are marginalized and oppressed don’t owe you an education.
MD: Would you say most people in Ottawa are like this or are more open and accepting to the cause?
KA: It’s weird because that’s not even the first incident. […] Initially, we took a stance against The Queers in such a passive, online petition way and it just [ended] up blowing up. I think the reaction to it can kind of [point to how] people are still not that ready and willing to make the foundational changes.
MD: Why do you think it’s important to have collectives like Babely Shades active at the local level especially?
CC: I think it’s making these things accessible to marginalized people.
KA: At least at a local level, it’s nice to kind of hold people accountable and if they don’t want to be accountable for their actions or whatever they’re doing, [we will influence them to change that].
CC: If [the change] is happening at a local level, then maybe it can spread along.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Talk Black is a column that seeks to engage in anti-racist culture writing, addressing art, music, and events. Jedidah Nabwangu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.