Recomposing Music and Identity: An MFA Student's Journey Through Art and Activism

Charlie Star | MFA Candidate

As an artist with a vibrant practice, Charlie Star expresses her Afro-Caribbean heritage through innovative media and reshaping existing materials. Her work is centered on the influence of music on socio-political injustices, using astrology as a tool for analysis and her personal heritage as the framework. As a bi-racial woman living at the intersection of two cultures, French-Canadian and West Indian, she draws upon her unique experiences and perspectives to inform her work. Working primarily with audio and visual collages, Charlie's diverse pieces explore the themes of colonial and imperial resistance found within reggae, ska, rocksteady, dub, and dancehall. 

"I look for instances where music has been expressed as - and instigated - social movements. Highlighting expressions from the past can give perspective on our present circumstances," Charlie says, elaborating on the driving force behind her work.

Born on the island of St. Martin in the Caribbean, Charlie moved to southwestern Ontario as a child, where she had limited exposure to Caribbean culture. Upon returning to her birthplace in 2013, Charlie decided to incorporate more of her Caribbean roots into her daily life, leading to a DJ project that focused on female-fronted reggae acts. This experience sparked Charlie's interest in recomposing music, which has now become a central part of her research and art.

A multi-disciplinary artist, Charlie's work extends beyond the traditional confines of an art studio as she combines astrology, history, and culture in her art. In everything she does, Charlie considers her positionality - which she defines as where she comes from, and the privileges and obstacles she encounters in society. The complexities of her own bi-racial experience, moving between different cultural spaces, deeply inform this perspective. As an academic and researcher, Charlie says that she reflects on her lived experience to inform her motivations and to remain integral to ethical and equitable exchanges in her communities. 

Charlie pushing open the curtains to her studio

Circular collage featuring photos and astrological inscriptions

Though there is a tendency in Black history to focus on disparities and injustices, Charlie's work highlights Black innovation, resiliency, and joy. Through her work, she aims to illuminate how music can serve as more than mere entertainment and hopes her pieces will inspire others while drawing attention to important issues.

"Everyone might interpret my work differently, depending on their positionality and how they process information. Moreover, I think people’s bias of how Black life is expressed could also lead to misconceptions of my work, because the way I engage with and express my Black culture doesn’t fit mainstream stereotypes," she shares. Each piece she creates is raw and vulnerable, and may be interpreted differently by each person depending on their experiences, biases, and worldview.

Charlie Star
Explaining why she chose to pursue graduate studies, Charlie says, "I wanted to expand and elevate my practice to open more opportunities in the sector that I love working in, while building my capacity to address racism, violence, systemic bias and other acts of intolerance in my communities, through a creative, arts-based lens." At the University of Waterloo, Charlie found an environment that perfectly complements her love for teaching, making art, and creating connections across disciplines. "There are lots of opportunities to connect with people and courses outside of my department and that contributes to my value for intellectual diversity," she says.

One of the reasons Charlie chose to do her MFA at Waterloo was the Keith and Win Shantz International Research Scholarship. This program gives students the opportunity to travel internationally to intern with established artists, offering insight into the business side of being a working artist and gaining valuable hands-on experience. This summer, Charlie will be working in New York City at a not-for-profit digital media art centre called Harvestworks where she will be assisting exhibiting artists with performance production. "I'm really looking forward to expanding my perspective and seeing how other artists work with digital and electronic media," she adds.

Looking ahead, Charlie aspires to teach art-based studio courses at the post-secondary level with the MFA program at Waterloo provides the perfect steppingstone, offering a rich blend of practical teaching experience, advanced research opportunities, and the invaluable experience of an artist internship. With a deep passion for her work and a commitment to intellectual diversity, Charlie Star is undoubtedly poised to make significant contributions to the art world and academia, fostering an understanding of Black life that transcends mainstream stereotypes.

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