EMMA Talks: Carmen Aguirre and Melanie Matining

With five phenomenal events since its inception, EMMA Talks continues to bring powerful messages and stories from women identified speakers to the stage at SFU. The most recent talk on November 16, 2016 featured queer pinay activist and community organizer, Melanie Matining, and award­-winning theatre artist and author, Carmen Aguirre.

EMMA Talks creates space for women identified speakers to share stories and speak on issues that matter to them, and just one week after the U.S. presidential election, it was invigorating to hear from two women of colour on the very relevant topics of creating space and systemic racism.

Matining’s talk, “To Place & To Hold: Stories of Social Spaces and Solidarity Building,” drew on her experience as a settler on the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, working towards building solidarity through a wide range of community projects and engagements. She discussed the importance of physical spaces in social movements and the importance of relationship-building to strengthen such movements, providing examples of projects she has been part of: a kitchen table, narrative-building movement called the Kamayan Series hosted by radical members of Filipino communities; the Heartwood Community Café, a social space focused on community and solidarity building; and a queer sweaty dance party centred on community determined access and celebration called Denim Vest.

Before delving into the examples, Matining remarked, “It’s a very strange thing to live in a society where building connections is seen as a radical act and where the freedom to gather and associate is seen as dangerous resistance.” She challenged the audience to take a few minutes to “encourage that sweet resistance” by getting to know a few of the individuals sitting near them by sharing their gender pronoun, the story behind their name, and something that inspires them to create change.

Matining reflected on re-occupation of space as an integral part of decolonizing and healing, and emphasized building meaningful connections and making space for marginalized communities as radical actions. Towards the end of her talk, she reminded everyone that solidarity is not perfect, and that it is important to depoliticize love and to strengthen our relationships beyond “crisis solidarity.” Matining’s portion of the funds raised were donated to the Unist’ot’en Camp.

Aguirre’s talk, “Shame On Me,” was a hard-hitting critique of systemic racism in theatre, and in all sectors of society. According to Aguirre, in order to counter racism, it is essential to have conversations critical of the systems that uphold racism and xenophobia in very public forums and spaces. She also provided an analysis of identity politics, and made recommendations for how audiences and allies can help break down the oppressive systems that exist in the theatre and in our society. You can watch the full talk below, and on emmatalks.org!


Aguirre’s portion of the funds raised on November 16 were donated to No One Is Illegal – Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories. The folks from Pulpfiction Books were on site, selling some of Aguirre’s books, which she autographed after the talks.

Tin Can Studio‘s Jenny Lee Craig and Caroline Ballhorn were also in the house, providing guests with the opportunity to partake in a community-engaged art experiment that involved weaving a protest banner with pieces of tarp. They were also accepting submissions for the message that will appear on the banner once it is complete. This project will be continued at the next EMMA Talks.

On February 28, 2017 EMMA will feature talks by writer, music critic, and author Andrea Warmer and genre-defying artist Kinnie Starr. Read more about both artists on the event page, and keep an eye out for registration details in the New Year.

EMMA Talks’ first podcast features writer, activist and professor in First Nations and Indigenous Studies and the Department of Geography at UBC, Sarah Hunt. Listen to Hunt’s talk, “Decolonizing the Roots of Rape Culture: reflections on consent sexual violence and university campuses,” and watch other past talks here.