August 31, 2017

Bite Sizes: Whess Harman

Whess Harman is a mixed race, non binary, queer artist and member of the Carrier Witat Nation. They have mostly been working with text work with font they invented that references formline design. They break up the words in different ways and make decisions on what the rules are for the context for that form. A big part of that for them is wanting to make something appear indigenous with without representing an expected image of indigenity. Questions of representation weaves through Harman’s work as they are constantly straddling between a drive to make indigenity more visible and present but also trying to protect that as well. They tell me about the frustration they often find when thinking about audience, thinking about existing stereotypes and how to avoid making work that may perpetuate them.

“It’s been really great to speak with Walter Scott and Maya Ben David. We talked about having multiple characters and not trying to infuse one character with all of the meaning but rather creating scenarios where different narratives can interact with each other, creating dialogue with different static images” Harman describes.

And to that, Harman has also been working on these shape shifty mystical mask-like drawings with slight references to formline which they say has been a way of figuring out a personal style of drawing that they intend on possibly using as source material for a comic: “I’ve been thinking about the different ways to bend, and look at a face structurally so that they aren’t all conventional. For me when I look at the masks they can be grotesque, imposing, and they carry their own presence and they are really comforting for me to look at. Because they are protective. When you wear a mask, it’s a persona you are taking on. To be given a persona is a huge honour. It comes with a specific cultural gravity. It is not something that’s funny or to be taken lightly” Harman expresses.

I ask Harman one last question at the end of our chat. I asked them what the world needs more of and with the complexities of indigenous representation on their mind they answered :

Everything. As far as representation goes you need more funding to create different kinds of things. Like APTN, they have often one big headlining Native show that tries to fit everything into it. If there was more funding to create multiple shows, a lot less stress will be on that single show to represent everything. In superheroes they all tell the same story in this repetitive way i.e. Spiderman without changing things. I feel like there needs to be more people who don’t feel the need to follow a conventional script. We can have everything, whatever we want, and we can have as much as we want if you are willing to make it.

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