Silence and Money: Fallon Simard’s Memes of Two-Spirit Indigenous Resistance

Sandra Alland introduces a showcase of memes and video art by Fallon Simard.

When in Tkaronto/Toronto last September, I was fortunate to meet Anishinaabe-Couchiching First Nation artist Fallon Simard on a panel at Bi Arts Festival. Simard’s stunning work examines ‘state violence perpetrated on to Indigenous bodies within a context of colonialism.’ As part of ‘Bodies in Resistance’, he projected and described his meme art for an enraptured crowd.

Simard’s memes mix his texts and digital artwork with stock/celebrity photos and already-famous memes, exploring ‘intersections of land, extraction, mental health, and violence’. Searing and hilarious at once, Simard’s pieces highlight communities in crisis and resistance. His cutting visual humour laments – and rejects – co-optation and erasure by cis people and settlers. With current repression of Wetʼsuwetʼen and other Indigenous resistance across Canada, his work forms an urgent part of exposing that state’s corrupt and disingenuous ‘reconciliation’ project.

This showcase features twelve images from Simard’s 2018 meme series, ‘Over Researched and Under Invested’. The series focuses on trans and two-spirit justice and celebration, as well as interrogating policing in queer communities, sex-worker exclusion, and colonialist exploitation by galleries and universities.

Photo of a dog dressed in a white lamb costume. The dog's face, legs and tail stick out. Text above the photo reads 'when your funder says that the money is for gender diversity and inclusivity'.

Am not Doggo, Am Two Spirit. Image Fallon Simard

Photo of a shirtless child wearing a pancake on top of their face, with eyes and a mouth cut into it. They're sitting on the floor leaning on a sofa, pouring Hungry Jack maple syrup into their mouth. Text reads: 'how it feels to spend all your time with the people who get your pronouns right'

Pronouns are mandatory. Image Fallon Simard

A photo of a white boy walking towards the camera wearing a t-shirt that says 'The Expert'. Text above the photo reads: 'When any discourse around gender identity and expression comes up'.

Okay Then. Image Fallon Simard

A person in a purple Barney dinosaur costume holds a ball and looks into the camera. Barney's expression is angry and menacing. Text over the photo: 'when someone asks about your genitals and if u plan to have surgery'.

Don’t ask whats in my pants. Image Fallon Simard

A geometric pattern with an effect like pretty wallpaper. Eight identical photos of a torso showing a chest with scars are arranged upside-down in two rows. Underneath are two identical rows with the torsos right-side up. They are placed on a blue patterned background with bits of bright pink and yellow digitally painted over them.

Top Surgery. Image by Fallon Simard.

On the left, the Pride Toronto logo and a photo of group of white people with rainbow flags. On the right, a cartoon of two white men talking. One of the men is a suited salesman with a Toronto Police logo pasted over where his head should be. Text reads: 'toronto police service salesman: *slaps the top of Pride Toronto* You can fit so much fucking police in it'.

Toronto Police Service Sales Man. Image Fallon Simard

In esse Magazine, queer Cree-Métis-Saulteaux curator Lindsay Nixon outlines some of the implications of Simard’s web-based art:

‘Simard’s memes light-heartedly consider the complex effects of colonialism on the Indigenous body as if to say, yes, we are hurting and our embodiments can be painful but we are still here — alive, laughing, coping, and loving, despite it all… (His) memes disrupt the assumed disconnection between digital worlds and real life by asking, aren’t Indigenous bodies commodities just like web-based productions: monetized, objectified, and their parts deconstructed for settler consumption?’

The day after the panel, I caught more of Simard’s work in curator Amanda Amour-Lynx’s brilliant two-spirit exhibition, ‘Shapeshifters’. Moving the memes into a gallery space and ‘translating’ them into high-quality photographs evoked additional ideas and questions. What kinds of art (and artists) get to be ‘legitimate’? How does the mainstream dismiss the work and chosen media of marginalised communities from serious contemplation? What happens when the gallery is reclaimed by those often excluded from it?

A photo of a sloth being carried by animal control. The sloth has all its limbs spread out as if dancing in a ballet, and looks directly into the camera. Text reads: 'cis people dragging me out of any washroom I use'.

Washroom problems. Image Fallon Simard

Two cartoon images one above the other. The top image is a bottle of pills held in white hands, labelled 'Hard to swallow pills'. The bottom image is the same hands holding 3 pills with the text: 'saying your against sex work and using words like human trafficking doesn't make you a feminist'.

No SWERFS Allowed. Image Fallon Simard

A photo from the top of a wooden staircase with a railing on one side. The walls on both sides and at the bottom of the staircase have been destroyed and are mostly gaping holes. Text: 'when you explain to cis people that social exclusion is transphobic'.

Social Exclusion. Image Fallon Simard

Abstract geometric visual made up of many photographs, perhaps close-ups of the previous torso with chest-scars, arranged in patterned zigzags and diamonds in gentle pastel hues. The pattern is superimposed with two thick bright pink vertical lines that have triangular pieces facing out horizontally from their centres.

Top Surgery 2. Image Fallon Simard.

A cartoon lobster holds cash in its claws, with the all-caps caption 'silence and money'. Text above the visual says 'Non trans or two spirit organizations, researchers, academics, and boards getting funds for gender inclusivity without giving the money directly to the trans and two spirit community'

Silence and Money. Image Fallon Simard

A photo of a large fluffy cat sitting on its hind legs and resting its front paws on a piece of wood, as if standing on a balcony or behind a fence to watch an event. Its head is in shadow as it looks out with a neutral expression. Text: 'me waiting for transphobes to get what's coming to em'.

You’ll get yours Becky-Anne! Image Fallon Simard

In addition to several impressive meme collections both online and on the wall, Simard makes equally-compelling video art. Writing about his videos for Canadian Art magazine, Indigenous queer disabled filmmaker Thirza Cuthand says:

‘(Simard) forces you to consider Indigenous issues without a friendly “Indian” guide… (His) experimental, politically charged work gets to the heart of issues of Indigenous sovereignty and struggle.’

Simard’s video work moves away from the gleeful sarcasm of his memes, embracing a more haunting, bereft and glitchy aesthetic. Cuthand describes Land Becomes Ghost (2016, featured here):

‘…screenshots of news articles and protest advertisements about the Site C Dam repeat in a cycle with an anxiety-provoking soundtrack. Television static obscures the images as the title of the work reminds us that lands that people have lived on and made a living working with will soon be a distant memory.’

Long description for screen readers: High-pitched electronic sounds repeat throughout this 1.5-minute piece. Photos appear in quick succession, getting faster and faster then disintegrating. As they dissolve, the words Land Will Become Ghost are written in black over what remains. Eventually, the photos disappear altogether and the words turn red. The film generally moves too fast to take in all details of the photos, but here are examples. A photo of a two people with text: ‘Please save our family ranch in BC’s Peace River Valley’. A photo of stacked coins with text: ‘Site C Dam: A waste of your money. Act now. Save Peace River Valley.’ A photo of farms and a river, with text: ‘Site C Dam: A waste of farmland. Act now!’ A photo of children looking at the river with text: ‘Protect Their Future.’ Another photo of children, with text: ‘Please save our family home.’ A web page with title: ‘Site C protestors end their blockade. Local farmer says protesters are crying and emotional but packing up “as law abiding citizens”.’ Article: ‘No acknowledgement of Treaty 8: BC Hydro did not acknowledge that Treaty 8 has any authority over the land they are clearing, though they claim to have “been consulting Aboriginal groups including all Treaty 8 First Nations in British Columbia, as well as local landowners, and members of the public about the Project since about 2007”. In their notice of civil claim, BC Hydro states Rocky Mountain Fort is “on Crown Land”, that the protesters were occupying it “without authorization of the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations”.’ Another article: ‘No acknowledgement of Treaty 8, Suzuki writes to BS Hydro CEO re Site C Dam, “I’m deeply disappointed with BC Hydro’s heavy-handed tactics in dealing with Treaty 8 community members…”.’ Another article featuring Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nation: ‘We have elders saying NO to this project and we need to honour them. We need to honour the generations that are coming.’ Photos of people in canoes on the river. Photos of farmland. A plan of the dam.

Find Fallon Simard online:

Website (with more memes!) 

Instagram: @waasegiizhigook

Sandra Alland bio (audio):

Sandra Alland bio (text)

Sandra Alland is guest editor at DAO from 25th March to 26th April. Check out all San’s commissioned pieces on their Project page. Audio versions of all pieces can be found on San’s dedicated SoundCloud channel.

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