Courtney Surmanek


Resistance Mapping

Instigator, Facilitator

Resistance Mapping is an interactive exercise designed to lead to conversations about gentrification and displacement, safety and perception, and bias. I work with participants to create maps that document what, whom, or where they avoid in their cities or neighborhoods, whether the avoidance is real or imaginary, and what the consequences might be of successfully avoiding that person, place, or thing—or not.

While some of the responses and points of view appear, on the surface, emotional or fear-based, having the geography on which to imprint those experiences makes them harder to dismiss or ignore. The exercise often lead to conversations about belonging in a city, who gets to claim space, who can’t, and why.

Working in small groups, we then shift the conversation toward a reflection on how participants can move their maps from avoidance to resistance, reflecting on the following prompts and questions:

- Are there issues or constraints your group is experiencing in common?
- Is there something you can do as a group to collectively shift your maps?

The hope is that the maps might encourage participants to move differently in association with one another and in the environments they walk through daily. In doing so, we might enact a radical imaginary which allows us to re-­make our city landscapes, and rethink community. Participants walk away from the session with a physical map they can return to while on their neighborhood routes.

Taking inspiration from Janice M. Irvine's affective mapping framework, the resulting maps may also “chart how and where feelings are evoked, how emotions change, fade, and under what circumstances they might reemerge (2016)“, charting an emotional georgraphy. 

I developed Resistance Mapping as an artist-in-residence at MacEwan University in Alberta, located on ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ, Amiskwacîwâskahikan, Treaty 6 Territory, Canada in August 2018. The workshop was led for and with transgender and gender non-conforming people at the Pride Centre of Edmonton's Trans Camp, and for a general audience at the Mitchell Art Gallery. I am excited to adapt this work specifically with people who benefit from white priviledge, providing a creative method for moving beyond confessional narratives and engaging in dialogue with the "willingness to be disturbed (Margaret Wheatley, 2002)", believing that disturbances are productive places from which we can more clearly articulate and act from our commitments to racial justice.