James first participated in the Queer Views program in 1997, then the super 8 program in 1998 and then participated in a program in 2000
James Diamond has returned to Montreal, the city of his birth, where he continues to work as a multidisciplinary artist while studying part-time in Inter Media Cyber Arts at Concordia University. His films continue to be screened internationally. His artistic endeavors explore themes of mental health, life and death, gendered sexuality, and transsexual identity. He is currently performing his most recent theater piece with his sister, Johanna Nutter, “My Playwright Sister”, a sequel to Nutter’s critically acclaimed play based on her experiences with James. Hirethisartist@gmail.com for more information.
James Diamond Interview with Peter Wanyenya in August 2014 conducted over the phone.
P: What is AMES to you, and what AMES programs did you participate in?
J: I did the Queer youth program in 1997, and one for youth in the sex trade in 2000. And one in 1998 in which I made a super 8 film in the Downtown Eastside.
Essentially it is intensive workshops, for many communities, where people are bonded together… it was inspiring and nurturing.
P: Has AMES impacted you personally?
J: Ya, for sure. The 5 minute film I did in 1998 is still being screened. It’s being shown in Norway right now [August, 2014] So, it has impacted me personally.
P: It sounds like the piece that you did has taken a life of its own…
J: Yeah, I’m using it in a play that I’m doing right now. My sister wrote a play about me and then we wrote one about her, and we ended up using the movie in the play. The play is going to the Yukon and we’ll probably travel some more with it
P: Are you hoping to tour soon or is it something in production?
J: [My sister’s] been approached by some producers who wanna make [the play] into a film.
P: Did you ever think in 97, that your few days with AMES and that intensive work you did with them would lead to this personal journey for yourself and your sister?
J: I grew up around a lot of artists, so, I kinda always knew that I’d be doing something in the arts. But AMES definitely helped put it into form significantly and literally get me off the streets.
…I was definitely under housed at the time. And I saw an ad looking for queer youth to take the workshop. I thought, “there’d be food there and a place to sleep. Maybe I’m queer and I don’t even know, but I’ll find out when I go there”.(laughter)
P: Has engagement in AMES projects influenced your current personal or professional activities in any way?
J: I think it got me to be able to see a place where art and activism could co-exist without overriding each other.
P: You mentioned the overlap between art and activism. Could you maybe elaborate a little on that?
J: For me personally I had been alone a lot, so I always worked alone. So, collaborating was a big part of it. Just having the opportunity and the incentives to collaborate with like minded but very unique people.
P: What do you believe was the thing that you took from AMES experience that has stuck with you?
J: I was raised to be socially conscious and I was raised to be an artist. I just didn’t really have access and organizational skills to put it all together. They sorta just pointed me in the right direction.
P: Could you maybe help me understand how you define the idea of organization a bit more?
J: Well, having having a deadline, and mentors, just realizing that it’s possible, you know, to grow up and be who you wanna be. And “organization” in that quote unquote classical sense of helping ensure that you are prepared, and well equipped, and getting the time and space and encouragement.
P: I’m interested to hear about more about what you’re doing now personally, creatively, and/or professionally, and what are you passionate about?
J: The way that the media affects people, and wanting to be part of what affects the media. …it’s not just that you’re passively accepting what the media is telling you, but also that you’re shaping it. Affecting what is affecting me kinda thing; like representation of my experience on screen. You know, if the media’s not gonna do it, I’m gonna do it myself. It’s not necessarily that I have the urge to represent myself, but just the fact that I’m not being represented encourages me to represent myself.
P: Has your involvement with AMES projects influenced your ongoing engagement or understanding of key social issues and concerns?
J: I don’t think it’s changed my key values, core values, I just think it helped me elaborate on them, Intensify them.
P: What are some of these core values that you speak of?
J: Um, I think if I’m with 5 people, I’m concerned that all 5 of them are having equal representation in the conversation. To some degree, it’s not so much about what they’re talking about or whatever, but that they feel comfortable. I’m concerned with equality in all forms. Most different issues of marginalization make you feel like you’re alone, so to be in a program where you can have that realization that you’re not alone, and that you have merit… to be yourself, and part of some type of community…
P: Do you think there’s value in media production programs for youth?
J: Youth are often targeted by media and also exploited by media, so media programs for youth makes them feel less hopeless in the whole system.
P: Thank you for that, and to move back to AMES specifically. Um, what are some of the things you’d like to see AMES accomplish in the future?
J: Um, I guess teaching about intersectionality like, you know maybe you just don’t have one but you maybe have two things in common, that different dynamic. I don’t know if they’ve done anything specifically but for transgendered and intersex youth, street youth of colour or whatever.
P: Thank you for taking your precious time to do this interview, and share your insights, perspectives, and experiences.
J No. problem.
P Take care.