The young artists queering a former colonial outpost have built their project around the restorative and resilient nature of plants.

“We’re planting a seed in hopes that people who interact feel inspired to take up more space, to create art, to integrate healing into spaces where they didn’t think it was possible, to really explore what it means to go through a reclamation process,” said TJ Banate, one of the six young artists-in-residence involved in “Queering Place.”

The public art project invites guests to walk through an installation at Garrison Commons in Toronto’s Fort York beginning on Oct. 5 and explore what it means to make a space — in this case, one deeply connected to the country’s colonial underpinnings — visibly queer.

“In a way, this project is also trying to bring healing to a space that historically can seem very problematic and bring up a lot of pain for people because of what it symbolizes,” said Bert Whitecrow, another of the members of the all-queer collective.

It will feature a medicinal garden planted and tended in collaboration with the Force Field Indigiqueer art installation that just wrapped up in the same historic space, and includes QR codes that visitors can use to access soundscapes and other audio treats.

The plan for the launch is — pandemic permitting — for the residents and other invited artists to share visual art and perform drag, cabaret, and spoken word.

The three young artists who spoke to Canada’s National Observer recently about the project agreed that plants are inherently queer, with Whitecrow noting they exist outside the binary gender roles imposed by colonialism.

“They’re just very natural things, they don’t necessarily require that much attention, too. Sometimes they can just grow on their own, spread on their own, they just claim space and thrive, sometimes ... most of the time,” Whitecrow said.

The all-queer group of creatives works on the construction of a medicinal garden. Photo by Jahmal Nugent

The core group has been meeting twice a week since the beginning of May to conceptualize and then create the installation, and found the process of working in a specifically queer art community nourishing.

“I find it really validating,” said Maddie Lychek, another of the artists involved. “We all tended to make space for each other and hold each other with so much care and tenderness.”

“I want people to feel seen from the project, or see a reflection of themselves. Maybe a part of themselves that they haven’t allowed to come forward yet,” says Bert Whitecrow.

The group said it hopes the work it is engaged in will have a ripple effect and encourage others to undertake similar projects, and to provide comfort for younger folks who may not feel that usually.

“I want people to feel seen from the project, or see a reflection of themselves. Maybe a part of themselves that they haven’t allowed to come forward yet,” Whitecrow said. “It’s somewhat of a safe space for them to explore that part of themselves, especially for younger queers.”

The project and several others being created as part of Sketch’s Making With Place series are supported by the city’s ArtworxTO: Year of Public Art 2021-2022 initiative, which will promote public art and creative communities over the next year.

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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