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FBI Family

Combining 1950s family photos with my mother’s FBI files, my series FBI Family, speaks to historic and contemporary issues around state surveillance. While the family photos seem ordinary and representative of domestic photography of the period, the layering injects a counter-narrative of classification, suspicion and control. These FBI files were the constant wallpaper of my life as a red diaper baby growing up in New York. Both of my parents were members of the Communist Party and dinner conversation always included a large helping of political discussion and passing mention of phones being tapped and calls from the FBI . However, once the conversation moved on to the street, it became hushed. I learned fast that the U.S. government reviled my parents and all dissidents who imagined and worked for a just society. I grew up with a heightened fear for my parent’s safety, engaging in various rituals that would help to “save” them. Every night from the age of nine I placed a chair by my bedroom door so that I could hit that FBI agent over the head before he could take my parents away. These days my fears are for the ongoing power of the state to classify, control and demonize dissent. Post 9/11 surveillance and harassment of Muslims and Arabs and the heavy hand of the state at the recent G20 protests are reflections of a modern state that seeks to restrict democratic rights based on dissenting beliefs and/or culture of origin. A recent revelation of a secret, 1950s RCMP plan to lock up members of the Communist Party of Canada is further proof of how Canadian governments have historically labeled, reviled and controlled all those whom it saw as a threat to their power. FBI Family speaks to the personal and political textures of surveillance and security. These images ask the viewer to think about the power of the “security state” and dominant notions of “public safety” and their impact on democracy. Many heartfelt thanks to friends and family who nurtured me through this work, especially Diana Meredith and Maureen FitzGerald who gave me space and critical guidance, and helped me believe in this project.