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Representation and the production of space : aboriginal women in Downtown Eastside, Vancouver England, Jennifer

Abstract

In the context of aboriginal women living in Downtown Eastside, Vancouver, I explore the relationship between power, representation, and the body and consider: how do discursive productions of visual culture inscribe and discipline subjectivity and space; and how do aboriginal women negotiate and resist the material consequences of those representations? Addressing these questions I use mixed feminist methods, including in-depth interviews, participant observation, and popular education workshops. I first explore aboriginal women's conflicting perceptions and experiences of the Downtown Eastside 'community'. Through a consideration of gender, race, class, sexuality and nation, I argue that a unified or cohesive aboriginal women's experience of community is disrupted. Given this complexity I examine how photography exhibits, a poster, and documentary film essentialize subjectivity and space. I argue that the exhibit Heroines: Portraits of Women in the Downtown Eastside reaffirms criminalized identities by portraying women as drug addicts and prostitutes. Against these representations, I analyze a community public arts project She Counts. Committed to the politics of selfrepresentation, this photography exhibit offers a more nuanced understanding of women living in the Downtown Eastside by offering a complex cultural reading of aboriginal culture and actively confronts aboriginal women's experiences of discrimination and racism. It also destabilizes the tight borders of the inner city by portraying women's flexible use of urban space. Produced by the Vancouver Police Department, the Missing Women's Reward Poster and the documentary film, Through a Blue Lens, in contrast, map tight boundaries of the inner city community, inscribing it as a homogenous space of deviance. However, unlike the poster, Through a Blue Lens provides a nuanced reading of subjectivity on the Downtown Eastside, by humanizing its residents. Drawing upon critical theorists of representation, I argue that representations are not totalizing and therefore provide an "excess" of meaning through which resistant readings are possible. Finally, I explore the ways aboriginal women negotiate essentialized representations of their bodies by exploring the ways they are rendered visible and invisible by police officers. My research suggests that although they may be marked in similar ways (due to their gender, race, and class) women experience discrimination and racism differently, revealing that both visibility and invisibility are representational and embodied strategies of resistance.

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