2019 Jury Speech

Author and Spokesperson: Rebecca Thomas

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and those of you who do not identify with the gender binary.

As we begin this evening, it is important that we first acknowledge that we are on the unceded territory of my people, the Mi’kmaq. That in order for this building to be here, for you to own your homes, drive on the roads you took to get here, my ancestors were removed, displaced, and killed. It is an uncomfortable truth but, if we are to get to a place of reconciliation, we need to know where we are coming from. So I take a moment to hold that truth with the same reverence we would do for anyone person who lost their life for a country.

Thank you, wela’lin, merci.

When I was asked to take part in choosing the next Master Works, I was a bit nervous. I don’t consider myself an artist. Though many of you will disagree with that self assessment, I don’t do what I do for the sake of art, but rather for understanding and progress of topics that are very near and dear to me and my community. Something that may strike a familiar chord with our finalists here today. I am not a photographer capturing the nuance of aging and femininity. I am not a performance artist reclaiming culture with one one piece of black ash at time. I was not, at the time, a children’s book author carrying forward the legacy of her community. And though I write poetry, the clever and insightful layering of poetry and consequence plucked my well worn heartstrings in a new way.

All of works carry a sense of determination and unshakeable resilience in their own right.

In addition to choosing between incredible works of emotion and perception, was the intimidating process of sitting among other greats in their respective fields while trying not to feel like an enormous imposter. It was an honour to sit with fellow jurors, Sally Morgan, Derek Charke, and Susan Tooke, they themselves, dare I say, are Masters of their own craft.

The process was not as straightforward as one might expect.

Of debate, a few tears, of earned respect.
How does something become a Masterwork?
Does it accumulate the value of which it is worth?
Does it age and transform or is it one at its birth?
The arrogance that me plus three could decide,
Whether something is notable enough to imply Mastery.
I would never presume to be filled with such audacity.
And yet here we are.
We have those who chose to perform their scars.
Herding the audience through wild tiam bars.
Of a history designed to remove and replace what was always ours.
By those who were drunk on their own powers.
There was another whose love and gentle nature,
Showed vibrancy and hope for a community destroyed by hatred, nay, indifference.
To challenge the commuter’s irreverence for such a beautiful place.
A community displaced.
Like mine, is still here.
Made this juror shed more than a few tears.
No stranger to words and clever prose,
It’s always a treat to see those who excel far beyond you.
To demonstrate your well worn art so you see brand new.
The world may be everlasting but we are not.
Brings perspective to what “progress” cost.
We are fleeting on this tiny blue dot.
And what the Earth will gain, once we are lost.
Finally, embedded in the shadows is society’s apathy,
Believing that the value of women can atrophy.
A tragic monotony of gender and age.
The direct correlation between dignity and time’s unyielding pace.
These four pieces cannot not be quantified.
Cannot fill a series of checks and divides.
As though one is better than the rest.
And yet we’ve been tasked with choosing the best.
Something that feels a little more cursed and a little less blessed.
An unfortunate reality of a capitalist mindset.
So it is in this moment, I invite you all.
To celebrate the finalists, no matter how big or how small.
Because even though awards come with plaques, money, and perks.
Regardless of the outcome, you’ve all created true Masterworks