Evidence works with imagery and text found in the case and life of Clara Ford, a Black, Toronto-born woman accused in 1894 of murdering a wealthy white man who, along with a group of other men, assaulted her.
Evidence is a chorus performance of the legal history amounting to the entirety of the life we know of Clara Ford. It asks for an acknowledgment of the traditions of Black women, trans and queer folks who continuously carve out spaces of subversion and liberation in a world that would rather view the survival strategies of the Black body as something to be feared, forbidden, registered and rendered disposable.
Through the archival research in development of the performance and within the gestures and sounds of the performed chorus, we explore the questions: How have Black bodies created spaces of existence in a world that would rather destroy them? What Clara Ford offer us of our own means of survival? When it comes to the archives of Black Canada, blackness is primarily located in two places: the church and the court house. How can we use the story of a single Black Toronto woman to understand and further the complexities of Black life in this city?
Throughout Evidence, newspaper commentary and quotes are read and sung. A soundscape engulfs the performers, and Ford’s case is illuminated in relation to other similar cases from the mid-1800s to the present day. The chorus is part jury, part church choir, offering a recounting of events with the jury of peers that Ford had requested. Using the visual gestures and vocabulary from Ford’s lifelong work as a tailor, the performers draw, cut and sew together in a ritual of care and memory-making.
To have the space to toil through these legal texts and archives, to learn the story and life of a woman who was such an OG, provides another example of our agency even through an unjust system. How we understand what this history means now depends on who is doing the looking. Canadian legal history is as much about our present as it ever was.
Photography documentation by Fatin Chowdhury