Turning microaggressions into works of art

Zulu Alpha Kilo has turned last year’s Micropedia of Microagressions initiative into a travelling art exhibit to further raise awareness of the harmful effect that offhand remarks and questions can have on the people who are exposed to them on a regular basis.

The “Worn Down by Words” exhibit was Inspired by the fact that microaggressions are often referred to as being like death from a thousand paper cuts. It features four art pieces made from laser-cut silhouettes of people exposed to microaggressions like “Where are you really from?,” “That’s so gay,” “She’s such a bitch,” and “Shouldn’t all lives matter?”

Each shows how microaggressions can wear a person down over time, with a red layer at the centre of the piece showing how these remarks, questions, etc. can ultimately be internalized as thoughts like “I don’t belong here,” “I can’t be myself,” “I should stay silent,” and “I don’t matter.” The exhibit also features a QR code that directs people to the Micropedia of Microaggressions.

The goal from the outset has been to get the Micropedia of Microaggressions in front of as many people as possible, since anyone can experience, witness or cause a microaggression, said Stephanie Yung, head of design and executive creative director at Zulu Alpha Kilo.

“By visualizing the impact of microaggressions in a simple and focused way, we’re all able to become more self-aware and empathetic to individuals’ experiences and the power of our words with the ultimate goal of affecting behaviour change,” she said in a release.

Zulu Alpha Kilo developed the Micropedia of Microaggressions on behalf of some of the country’s leading DEI groups: The Black Business and Professional Association; the Canadian Congress on Inclusive Diversity & Workplace Equity; Pride at Work; and Toronto Metropolitan University’s Diversity Institute.

To date, it has been used in over 125 countries and incorporated into diversity, equity and inclusion programs across the public, private and non-profit sectors.

It is also being distributed to more than 1,500 organizations participating in the Government of Canada’s 50-30 challenge, an initiative that seeks to achieve two goals: Gender parity of 50% women and/or non-binary people on Canadian boards or senior management; and 30% representation on Canadian boards for members of equity-deserving groups such as visible minorities, LGBTQ+ and Aboriginal/Indigenous Peoples.

“The Micropedia project and the Worn Down by Words exhibit brings to life the damage of microaggressions, adds valuable new knowledge and builds on our extensive research with BBPA and others about the need to increase inclusion of equity-deserving groups within the workplace and within leadership,” said Wendy Cukier of the Diversity Institute, a lead organization supporting Canadian companies in the 50-30 Challenge.

The exhibit will be touring galleries, schools, workplaces and public spaces. To date, it has been displayed at Toronto’s Remote Gallery, Show Gallery, the Toronto Film School, and Humber College.

Chris Powell