Chantal Gibson is an artist-educator living in Vancouver with ancestral roots in Nova Scotia. Her visual art collection Historical In(ter)ventions, a series of altered history book sculptures, dismantles text to highlight language as a colonial mechanism of oppression. How She Read is another altered book, a genre-blurring extension of her artistic practice. Sculpting black text against a white page, her poems forge new spaces that challenge historic representations of Black womanhood and Otherness in the Canadian cultural imagination.
How She Read is Gibson’s debut book of poetry. Her work has been published in Room magazine and Making Room: 40 years of Room Magazine (Caitlin Press, 2017), and she was shortlisted for PRISM magazine’s 2017 Poetry Prize. An award-winning teacher, she teaches writing and visual communication in the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University.
Photo credit: Marianne Meadahl
How She Read
How She Read is a collection of genre-blurring poems about the representation of Black women, their hearts, minds and bodies, across the Canadian cultural imagination.
Drawing from grade-school vocabulary spellers, literature, history, art, media and pop culture, Chantal Gibson’s sassy semiotics highlight the depth and duration of the imperialist ideas embedded in everyday things, from storybooks to coloured pencils, from paintings to postage stamps.
A mediation on motherhood and daughterhood, belonging, loss and recovery, the collection weaves the voices of Black women, past and present. As Gibson dismantles the grammar of her Queen Elizabeth English, sister scholars talk back, whisper, suck teeth, curse and carry on from canonized texts, photographs and art gallery walls, reinterpreting their image, re-reading their bodies and claiming their space in a white, hegemonic landscape.
Using genre-bending dialogue poems and ekphrasis, Gibson reveals the dehumanizing effects of mystifying and simplifying images of Blackness. Undoing the North Star freedom myth, Harriet Tubman and Viola Desmond shed light on the effects of erasure in the time of reconciliation and the dangers of squeezing the past into a Canada History Minute or a single postage stamp. Centrefolds Delia and Marie Therese discuss their naked Black bodies and what it means to be enslaved, a human subject of art and an object of science, while Veronica? tells it like it is, what it means to hang with the Group of Seven on the walls of the Art Gallery of Ontario amongst the lakes, the glaciers, the mountains and the dying trees. Supported by the voices of Black women writers, the poems unloose the racist misogyny, myths, tropes and stereotypes women of colour continue to navigate every day.
Thoughtful, sassy, reflective and irreverent, How She Read leaves a Black mark on the landscape as it illustrates a writer’s journey from passive receiver of racist ideology to active cultural critic in the process of decolonizing her mind.