Social Oblivion: Raised Black in New Brunswick

Written by Thandiwe McCarthy

Featured Artist Series – Thandiwe McCarthy

Well let me start by being honest. I’ve only found my identity as an artist two years ago, so I am very new to this whole community. And I’ve certainly never written a book before. Sure, I had been accepted to a national writer’s residency and I have completed a few chapters and scenes as exercises. But that in no way prepared me for the hurricane of challenges a writer faces when they glare into the infinite depts of their creativity and are tasked with organizing it into words.

My job as a spoken word poet is to be seen. See I have the interesting art practice of finding very large hills, climbing to the top of them, and then articulating as loudly as possible everything within my vision.

Heck, when I first applied for my grant to write my book. Many of my fellow mentors told me it was an amateur idea. That I could have gotten my grant just to write the first draft. That I had made a mistake to say I could write an entire book. Well, I can proudly admit that yes it was a mistake. But not a bad one. Because of the pressure to show up for my first project I was able to complete my manuscript in eleven months.

My life was changed during this project. My art project was originally supposed to be essays and poetry on aspects of my life. It turned into a long narrative memoir with poetry spanning the first 20 years of my life. The personal nature of this process and the work caused me to relive memories I didn’t even know I had. Good and bad. Working though these I have become more in tune with the man I am today due to facing what I, as a boy, had to experience. It has completely shifted how I see myself and my capabilities.

This is why I’m thankful for the New Brunswick Arts Board and the jury for awarding me a grant to write my book. For giving me a chance to prove myself as an artist when I had barely enough in my portfolio to pass the requirements for the grant. The memoir titled: Social Oblivion: Raised Black in New Brunswick is an exploration on identity culture and education in rural and urban New Brunswick. All told through the eyes of a Black New Brunswicker. I’m working on publishing and promoting the book, which is the last phase of this journey and now a whole new set of skills are needed and I’m excited to see what I’ll learn (any help on this would be wonderful).

To be a Black artist in New Brunswick is to be invisible. Regardless of how great you are able to wield your creativity as a human being; if you also happen to be Black you run the risk of being forgotten. Like the great painter Edward Mitchell Bannister who has paintings in the White House, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and known internationally but has never been shown in Canada and especially not in New Brunswick. His story of being a phenomenal painter from Saint Andrews is not only never celebrated in our art galleries he isn’t even known in our art communities.

My job as a spoken word poet is to be seen. See I have the interesting art practice of finding very large hills, climbing to the top of them, and then articulating as loudly as possible everything within my vision.

Thandiwe McCarthy, performing at Frye Moncton Festival in 2020

When it comes to expressing my identity, my chosen practice is to express very loudly and powerfully on issues that affect me. And when it comes to my identity, I happen to be a Black artist who was raised in New Brunswick. My culture’s survival and my artistic success are one and the same and it’s my mission to express that with every piece of art I create.

So, it is in my best interest to not only be incredibly visible so as to thrive as a Black artist. But it is also fundamental to the survival of my story that what I create, also generates conversations so meaningful that in 200 years when people are discussing artists from New Brunswick, they will never forget the contributions from all the other wonderful cultures that live here. Hopefully, my book will help keep such conversations alive.

Art is the expression of our humanity, our moments in life. For me art is a healing process that allows us to find the person we would like to become and while also providing us the tools to work towards that vision. Art is the compass, the map, and the telescope for navigating the highs and lows of this jungle we call life. I honestly believe if everyone was confident in their art practice, communities would be a lot safer, people more kind, and New Brunswick more awesome.

Watch Thandiwe McCarthy perform as part of Frye Moncton in 2020

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Take this opportunity to discover other NB Black artists:

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