“I bring people together in the name of art and creative expression,” says spoken-word poet and community leader Nasra Adem. At only 23, Adem has an impressive portfolio of work: she’s the founder of Sister 2 Sister, a Edmonton-based arts collective that facilitates the development of work by women and femmes of colour, and Black Girl Magic, an arts troupe that showcases the work of eight femmes of colour. Adem is an organizer of people, making space for them to learn and grow, and express themselves artistically. She helps people of colour bloom.
My phone call with Adem is punctuated by unfettered laughter and unapologetic tears. The conversation alone is a representation of who she is: a whirlwind of excitement, raw feelings and break-neck pace.
Born in Calgary but currently settled in Edmonton, Adem is an important part of the social justice and arts communities in the city—a city that is finally starting to embrace her as she is: black, femme, queer, Muslim and neurodivergent. As the former Youth Poet Laureate of Edmonton, Adem has been bringing her unique positionality and art to events around the city since 2015, but has steadily picked up her pace in 2017.
In January, Adem was a speaker at Edmonton’s Women’s March where she performed poetry and captured the attention of over 4,500 people at the Alberta Legislature Grounds. Her collective, Sister 2 Sister, also gained momentum this year, as she received funding from the Edmonton Arts Council and partnered up with a local coffee shop to host regular meet-ups for members. The group’s vision is centered around making spaces for femmes of colour to discuss, learn and express a creative magic that no one else can name but them, a magic that demands to be shared with everyone. To Adem, Sister 2 Sister is also a therapeutic space where people can really connect with themselves and each other through critical discussions of their work and programming like self-care Sundays.
“I believe in being intersectional in all the ways you can be. We are all a jumble of nonsense and I am using these spaces to break down the classifications we have for one another,” she says.
In February, Adem curated the city’s first people of colour arts festival, Black Arts Matter. The festival, in the words of Adem herself, centred on being “all Black, all day.” Forty Black artists were celebrated in a mix of performance showcases with different themes, and there was a full day of workshops focused on professional development and salon discussions.
It’s hard to believe that Adem pulled off the entire festival single-handedly, but she did. And, of course, she didn’t stop there. One of the showcase’s themes was Black girl magic, which has since evolved into a collective of the same name. Black Girl Magic is now part of the McLuhan House artistic residency program, and the recipients of an Inspirit Foundation grant. The space to create and the funding to facilitate has led to multiple shows, as well as the development of curatorial skills among the collective’s members. Their forthcoming artistic salon series called, The Gathering, will expand the creative conversation to include stories of Indigenous women.
When I ask Adem about plans for 2018 after such an incredible year, she laughs, “There are some big things coming. Big is the only way I can do things.”
That might just be the understatement of the year.
Nakita Valerio is an Edmonton-based writer, academic, advocate and Muslim.
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