Harar V.A. Hall is reimagining the value of art. In 2020, the queer Jamaican poet, illustrator and activist co-founded The MRKT, a BIPOC art collective in Montreal that provides a unifying platform for racialized creators across Ontario and Quebec. One of the MRKT’s pillars is alternative commerce, an approach that prioritizes skill sharing, art trades and in-kind donations to overcome the influence of capitalism in creative communities.
Barriers: There’s this constant level of tokenism that Indigenous and racialized artists face, and that’s why we created The MRKT — we had to create a space for ourselves where reduction of our work would never exist. Another huge problem is if you, for instance, rent a space and learn that the owner is misogynistic or queerphobic. That happens often: there’s a well-priced venue and then you find out the owner has been harmful to people coming into that space. Now you’ve lost another space, and you have to create new relationships with new organizations. We’re sometimes forced to interact with people who don’t respect us or don’t care for us.
Innovation: We’re all very aware of the way that capitalism can sometimes take away the love we have for art and turn art into a luxury. But art is something we all need. We need beauty. The MRKT’s alternative provides access to art through trades. A lot of people who come to our markets are artists themselves. They’re people who make things in the community. Some people like trading for tattoos. A lot of people like trading for plants. It gives people the ability to trade for things they can offer and not money.
Expression: The act of creating, in and of itself, is an avenue for liberation — you are imagining what the world can be or expressing anger over what the world is. People can be exposed to ideas that they never considered. Art is a unique and powerful tool not only for advocacy and mobilization but also for healing on a community level. It is one thing to feel healing for yourself, but it’s another to broaden that to people with shared experiences and identities.
Ideals: A world without capitalism is not something I will see in my lifetime, so we need to think about where artists fit in this world. What is the place of creativity when we’re not doing it for money, but for ourselves and the joy of it? When creating under capitalism, there’s this idea that everything you do is constantly for consumption. And it’s really draining and sad for people who create, because we’re not meant to churn out, say, 10 pieces of content every week.
Support: If people have money, they should support local artists. It’s really important. And by local, I mean local to you — people who are creating change in your community rather than in a city across the country. I’m not discounting people working together on a national level, but I think it’s really easy to ignore the work that people are doing right around you based on who gets a feature in a magazine.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. It first appeared in Broadview’s June 2023 issue with the title “Harar V.A. Hall.”
Rawan Youssef is a freelance journalist in Ottawa.
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