Bonerkill Toronto

Toronto collective takes on male-dominated art world

An artist collective isn't always a group of folks who hang together and paint portraits of nature in the same way. Sometimes being in an artist collective means creating work that doesn't always hang on a wall and that might actually change the world.

Bonerkill is a group with these lofty ambitions. They are a Toronto collective of women (or gender independent and non-conforming femmes) born out of looking at things around gender equity, and gender based violence and the need for a support system for young women looking to get into a male-dominated art world.

"There's nothing new about another art collective," says Pamila Matharu, lead artist-facilitator and co-founder of the now nine person group. "But helping young folks, particularly young female artists, feel empowered by their choices and getting into an industry that is not very equal is.

"The M.O. is not to push the girls out into the spotlight... we're just giving them the time and space to grow and figure their project or ideas out. Bonerkill started as an experiment around testing gender equity and culture production, but it's also about taking space and making space for others."

They've been intelligently taking up space in Toronto since 2013, and you might not have even noticed.

Perhaps best known for their public project Schooling You and its Bitching Booth at the Big on Bloor Festival, they want to interact with public when they can to push people to think differently about the world. "It's about public engagement but in a fun way," she says.

They're about to do this in big way after being invited to create works for the AGO's First Thursdays night alongside Mykki Blanco as well as a project at Xpace called What Would the Community Think. For their AGO piece called "House Lessons: It Takes a Village to Raise An Artist" they invited three performance artists to take over the art institution.

Kiera Boult, Leelee Davis and Shaista Latif will perform and invite "shenanigans, revelry, intelligent debate, and, most importantly, those challenging moments that lie at the interstice of jamming across cultures and generations," according to the group's press release. They're also going to party.

"House Lessons is a nod to Adrian Piper's Funk Lessons," Matharu says. "It addressed racism and the cultural form of funk while teaching white folks how to dance funk.

"We're trying to address the glaring concern of access. The idea that we cannot assume that all audiences will understand what inequity looks like in an institution like the AGO, so it takes a village to raise an artist is a tableaux where we'll be all around the space, be in the house, holding space for these artists and for ourselves.

"It's a slight action to say this is a public space, a public institution, we need to eradicate that notion that we don't belong in these spaces. Where did that notion come from?"

That's what the collective boils down to. At its heart it's challenging received notions and creating things that make you and me think about our normative values differently. Even the name Bonerkill is an example of that.

The group received flack about the name with folks claiming they were misogynist for even using the term. In fact, it was a term men originally gave to women. "So we just took it back and reclaimed it and became and feminist collective," Matharu says.

Basically Bonerkill exists in Toronto (they have no home base by the way; they're nomadic and meet all over the city to accommodate all the members) to question ideas and concepts that we're often not comfortable to challenge, and to thus change the way our often-robotic world works.

"We're a source of social activity. Sometimes it's just about taking up space and having a gathering. It's purposefully intergenerational and intersectional," Matharu concludes. "I don't think we're going to solve every problem. And is art supposed to do that? We don't really know. It's just a social experiment. It's become like a sisterhood; it's beautiful."

Catch Bonerkill and Co. at First Thursdays, September 1 at the AGO and then later in September at Xpace.

Photo of some of the members of Bonerkill from their Tumblr.


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