If there is a more wide-ranging artist than Vivek Shraya in Canada today, it’s hard to imagine how. In the past year, the Edmonton-born, Toronto-based artist has released an acclaimed graphic novel, a stripped-down reworking of her 2018 album Angry, and a photo series for Toronto’s Contact festival. Not to mention prepping a production for next month’s High Performance Rodeo, readying her second novel for an April 2020 release, running her publishing company VS. Books, and funding emerging musicians through her VS. Arts Grants.
On top of all that, she’s also directed an animated short as part of the National Film Board’s Five @ 50 Series: An Intimate Look at Contemporary LGBTQ2+ Lives and Identities. A neon-coloured tribute (conflicted as it may be) to a long-shuttered Edmonton gay bar, it is every bit as thoughtful, personal and provocative as you’d expect, and a worthy addition to her ever-growing artistic catalogue.
Like Midknife Films’ Midnight at the Continental, Reviving the Roost is a film about place, the way spaces shape communities. Unlike Midknife’s more academic histories, though, Roost has an autobiographical core, with Shraya seeing echoes of her own experiences and with bullying and discrimination in the divides that existed within Edmonton’s queer community at the time. It’s a complicated portrait, recognizing the strain of cramming members of too many conflicting subcultures into a single room, while also reflecting on the drawbacks that come when everyone has a venue for their ever-more-narrowly-defined identities.
Reviving the Roost doesn’t have room for easy answers or tidy nostalgia. It’s a messy portrait and all the more meaningful for it. In creating a record of a space that has been physically erased, and connecting that space with the confused emotions of someone taking their first steps into embracing their identity, it acts as a powerful reminder. The places we go have a profound effect on the people we become, and the communities we perceive.