by Sean Howard in Toronto
There is next to no public space in St James Town. The most densely populated community in all of Canada has no public land. So when Poonam Sharma and Community Matters wanted to create an art installation, they had to gain approval from the owner of the towers. No easy feat. But they persisted, first with a small trial project and then with another until, some years later, they have a number of art projects across the properties we call St James Town.
Poonam Sharma is hard to say no to. She has devoted her life and art to engaging local communities through the folk art and rich traditions that are to be found amongst Toronto’s highly diverse immigrant communities. For one of her latest installations, The Mosaic Project, she teamed up with the St James Town based organization Community Matters. Seven artists worked together to create an intricate mural on an exposed stairwell in St James Town.
Poonam designed the mural to represent eight different traditional folk arts, uniting them into one mural while keeping each distinct. She chose the eight, mostly South Asian folk arts, as they best represented the cultural heritages that make up the St James Town community. Having seven artists was a critical part of Poonam’s approach. It was about getting people in the community to be witness to the art and the artists.
Pressure on Folk Artists
Poonam sees many pressures on folk artists. Folk art is often a private or family endeavor kept behind closed doors. She wanted to bust through this and show that folk art is something to cherish and be proud of.
One of the artists was quite uncertain about participating and not used to working in public, let alone showing her art to the wider community. Poonam told her to just come for one day and see how she felt.
She came and stayed for all 25 days. She cried when the project was complete as she had nothing to work on now. Poonam grows animated as she recalls telling her collaborator, “Why not!? Apply for stuff!”
Poonam was not the only one to get excited. So many in the community expressed interest and even support for the art and artists involved. It forged new relationships and created something that the community now cherishes. Poonam takes this as a great example of the many benefits of projects like these.
It took over 25 days to complete the mural. At the beginning, people gathered on their balconies to watch. As the days progressed many came down to approach the artists or look at a side they couldn’t see from their apartment. One elderly couple even watched over the piece at night from a nearby balcony, calling out to the artists each morning as they resumed their work.
Poonam calls herself a contemporary folk artist. Her love of traditional arts has led her to learn much about the many disciplines of ancient folk arts, but she wants to use these skills in a new way – to bridge issues and bring communities together. It was a joy to spend some time with her and also to see some of her other pieces hidden around the densely packed towers lifting up into the sky on all sides of us.
Neighbourhood of Nations
One of the daunting things about St James Town is how to enter the place if you don’t live there. Most of the points of entry are private driveways clearly marked for resident use only.
At one of these private entrances is another large mural titled “Neighborhood of Nations.” It was created by Poonam Sharma, Catherine Tammaro and Michael Cavanaugh and tells the story of early Irish Immigrants, Native American culture and the current journey of immigrants arriving to Toronto.
Poonam yearns to see more art on every shared surface in St James Town that tells the story of this diverse and vibrant, but underserved, immigrant community.
This piece is part of a larger series called the "Intercity Project". Sean Howard describes it as a publication "for all the in-between spaces of Toronto — those communities lost to or ignored by politicians, developers and even city planners." He started by speaking to artists in these neighbourhoods, but is open to other voices as well. Find more of his work at medium.com/intercity-toronto.
By R. Paul Dhillon in Surrey
Last week turned out to be an unplanned Asian cinema watching binge, watching four Asian films – three Chinese and one Korean.
I love Asian films as some of them have action and special effects that are better than Hollywood even if they sometimes lack in the story-plot, but over all they are spectacular visual feasts.
First up was the Super hit special-effects laden Journey To The West - Demons Attack, an action packed road movie with four characters - a Monk, powerful monkey king, a pig man and a devilish looking beast. It had out of this world fights and action even if the story was a bit off.
Next up was Korean cop buddy picture Confidential Assignment with a terrific pairing of top Korean actors who play two very different North and South Korean cops, forcefully teamed to catch a rogue North Korean general who took off with valuable US currency printing plates. It was a fun ride of comedy and action and beautifully crafted with a tight story and characters easily identifiable and likeable.
Jackie Chan's Kung Fu Yoga, a silly action adventure with top of the line production design and chop-socky action which only Jackie can execute. Even at his 60 plus age, Jackie can kick ass like a young stud. Kung Fu Yoga also features Indian characters and storyline about lost treasures from the ancient civilisations of Indo-Chinese descents.
It features the beautiful Disha Patani playing an Indian Princess and Bollywood villain Sonu Sood as you guessed it as a villain seeking to inherit or steal the riches found by Jackie and his archaeological team. Not a lot of meaningful story-plot but a lot of fun and crazy action featuring car stunts, animals and of course the classic hand to hand Kung Fu speciality of the one and only Jackie Chan.
The fourth film in my Asian cinema foray was The Great Wall, which opened in North America recently after making more than $250 million in China and overseas. The film featuring Hollywood star Matt Damon and top Chinese stars is masterfully crafted by ace Chinese filmmaker Zhang Zimou. The alien sci-fi drama is an action film with good performances and dazzling special effects. For me it had the beautiful mix of western and Chinese big tent pole action film elements with a tight story and dramatic elements that lift it above average action sci-fi films.
The Great Wall was the best among the four Asian films I saw in my Asian Cinema Week and I'm glad it came at the end of my viewing odyssey as it will remain with me for a while.
R. Paul Dhillon is an award-winning journalist and editor of the South Asian LINK Newspaper and founder-publisher of Desibuzzbc. Dhillon is also a prominent filmmaker with feature film credits, including the latest The Fusion Generation.
Today, the Toronto-based Estonian Documentary Film Festival (EstDocs – October 15 - 20) announces this year’s lineup of films from Estonia, about Estonia, or featuring Estonian filmmakers and artists. All films are in English or in Estonian with English subtitles. With themes ranging from the re-invigoration of democracy in the Baltic States, to music and ballet, to how a group of refugees banded together after World War II and created their own university, this year’s festival offers a stimulating mix of history and art.
The Estonian Life
SURREY – Kultar’s Mime, a play about the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 in Delhi, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination is coming to Vancouver from Oct. 1-4. It uses the 1903 anti-Jewish pogrom in Kishinev as the point of departure to tell a universal story of suffering and compassion.
The play, which is in English, has been developed in Boston and has been performed 36 times already; it has garnered strong reviews all over the world and has been extremely effective in educating a new generation about the horrors of 1984 in a very constructive way.
The play is coming to the Metro Vancouver area from October 1st to October 4th with performances already scheduled at the Norman Rothstein Theatre in Vancouver, Matsqui Auditorium in Abbotsford and at the Surrey Arts Centre.
by Michelle Loughery (
@mlougherymurals) in Vernon, British Columbia
Thousands of Canadians originating from Eastern Europe were imprisoned within the barbed wire fences of internment camps across Canada between 1914 - 20. For decades, their stories have been buried under fear and shame.
As a testament to their strength and resilience, I decided to paint the Sunflower mural to honour First World War Canadian internees.
My first human rights mural depicts a Ukrainian immigrant standing next to a 150-foot sunflower and a twisted barbed wire fence. He was arrested and interned in Calgary and moved by cattle car to the Vernon camp. His crime? Being an unemployed immigrant looking for work.
Like many Eastern Europeans that came to Canada with the promise of opportunities, he had responded to an invitation by the Canadian government. At the man’s side in the mural is a woman who represents the women who were forced to enter internment camps with their children. “With this mural, I feel like generations of people are speaking through me,” she says. “I didn’t understand my Ukrainian heritage before. I didn’t understand why my Ukrainian grandparents were so harsh. Now I understand.”
I drew inspiration from my great-grandfather, Michael Sanyshyn, who was interned in the camps with his son, Stephen. When he finally returned from the camps, he was ill and couldn’t work, making it impossible to clear the land as promised to the government under its immigrant invitation.
As a descendant of internees, I heard stories of my grandfather spending his entire life looking for his brother who had been working in a camp and then disappeared. While researching a heritage mural in Vernon, I found a letter to my grandfather in response to his inquiry about the location of his brother.
The response was he was last seen in an immigrant construction camp in Vernon. My great uncle was finally found in a document, Roll Call, as POW#47 interned at Banff/Castle Mountain, Alberta: among the harshest of camps. It is not known what happened to him after he was sent there. And my grandfather never found him.
Social issue murals
This mural is the first of my series of social issue murals, which consists of a number of paintings across Canada that will draw on the same theme but will focus on injustices endured by all nationalities.
The murals, which will combine multi-media, traditional and digital art storytelling as well as historical photographs and personal video stories from the families directly affected, are slated to appear in the affected communities across Canada over the next several years.
My team plans to provide educational workshops in each community. These events, focused on information and story collection, will engage all generations and affected groups within the community. The goal of each workshop will be to share the cultural history of the people featured in the mural, and to create opportunities for societal healing and the turning of human wrongs into human rights.
All of my murals are created with help from youth artists who have encountered some form of barriers, in a unique skills and “Learn to Work” employment program that bridges youth and their communities together. Each mural will include the stories of the local people affected.
But my murals are more than just a painting on the wall -- they are an inclusive effort to heal the wounds of past and present injustices.
I have spent 25 years painting murals in communities, including mural healing work with First Nation families who have survived residential schools. The fact that my own family had been marginalized makes this project a personal journey to help educate future generations about the past failings on Canadian soil. As it is only in learning from the past, using art to equalize all nations, can we wear the wings to a better future.
This Community Art is only the start of a conversation. Through the Sunflower Project Murals, my charity is making efforts to bring Canada’s dark chapter in history into the school curriculum. The average Canadian and youth still know very little about immigrant internment in Canada’s history.
Our Canadian workforce is diverse in every way. Employees come from many backgrounds that cross ethnic, generational and economic differences. Community art projects provide opportunities for employees to become more familiar with their co-workers. Art is a tool to bring diversity and inclusion programs to communities, companies, and education and skills institutions.
While historic injustices are not a proud point in Canada’s history, I hope that through art people can learn about each other and through similar artistic journeys come together as a nation.
I hope to bring artists together to help Canada heal and bring all nations together in reconciliation, as Canada is a multicultural community and the combined strength of all nations are the first people of today. Let’s hope we can not only learn from past injustices, but also celebrate our cultural differences.
Michelle Loughery is an award winning international artist and art educator who has been creating large scale community art for 25 years.
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by Dan Rowe in Toronto
“There was a desire to be inclusive,” wrote Don Heider in the conclusion to his 2000 monograph White News: Why Local News Programs Don’t Cover People of Color, “but no way in which that desire was put into operation in day-to-day news practice. Hegemony is evident in the practice of news decision-making that continually reinforces values and norms held by White managers who have no stake in radical change.”
Heider was writing about TV stations he studied in Albuquerque and Honolulu before the turn of the century, but his observations reflect many people’s experience of media in this country 15 years later.
In a recent appearance on Jesse Brown’s Canadaland podcast, newly installed Walrus editor Jonathan Kay discussed with Brown the homogeneity of the people writing for that magazine (and other mainstream outlets) in the country. Most of the young writers he meets, Kay said, are “people who grew up in privileged households.” The typical pattern, he added, is that writing is something young people do on their way to law school.
Kay or anyone else in a management position who just throws up his hands when confronted with the diversity conundrum should come visit the Etobicoke college campus where I teach—or just about any other journalism school in the country.
Canada’s journalism schools, not to mention independent campus newspapers and radio stations, are filled with people from almost every imaginable background—people trying to enter a field where job opportunities seem to be dwindling and salaries are stagnating. This is not because they don’t understand the situation but because they are passionate about what journalism, at its best, can and should do.
There is no reliable data specific to Canada that I’m aware of to support or refute this—there doesn’t seem to be much after former Ryerson professor John Miller’s Diversity Watch project which hasn’t been updated in 10 years—but a perception exists that there is a disparity in who gets jobs. “Journalism schools are pumping out so many visible minorities and plenty of women, and they do not get jobs the way white kids do,” Hazlitt managing editor Scaachi Koul was quoted by J-Source as saying at a recent Massey College Press Club event in Toronto on the generational gap in Canadian journalism.
Meanwhile, Amber Gero, a radio reporter who was laid off from her job at CFRB 1010 last year, effectively made the same point in a mid-March interview on the Toronto Mike podcast. “I’d also like to see more Asian people, more native people, more Hispanic people. Where are they? They’re graduating every year from the media schools so don’t tell me they’re not there and ready to work,” Gero said. “It has to change from the top down.”
Koul and Gero are right. Change will require action on many levels, including journalism schools. Journalism educators need to spend more time ensuring that all students are better prepared for success with a clear-eyed understanding of the challenges they face when they enter the field. Journalism departments need to offer a more diverse faculty, guest speakers and even examples of good works of journalism discussed in class.
Faculty also need to continue to use our resources and job security to agitate for change and highlight the problem—particularly with empirical data and not just anecdotal accounts, such as this one. For decades, journalism professors in the U.S., led by David Weaver at Indiana University, have done extensive surveys of American journalists. Without anything comparable in scope in Canadian journalism, legitimate concerns about diversity in the workplace can be brushed aside with greater ease.
There needs to be more stories in this country like the one Ta-Nehisi Coates tells of David Carr. “In the February of 1996, I sent David Carr two poorly conceived college-newspaper articles and a chapbook of black-nationalist poetry,” Coates wrote of his time at the Washington City Paper in The Atlantic after Carr’s death earlier this year. “And David Carr hired me. I can’t even tell you what he saw.”
People in the position to hire and develop journalists need a more proactive approach than the one Kay exhibited in his interview with Brown, where he regretted the lack of diversity, but ultimately threw his hands up in the air. It was as though he—now the editor of a magazine and a longtime managing editor of the comment pages at a national newspaper prior to that—could not have played any greater role in opening up more opportunities for voices that are more reflective of Canada’s demographic makeup.
If Kay’s assertion that there are very few good essayists in the country is true, then why not use his position, resources and experience to develop new voices? Instead, when Brown asked Kay to name some people he would like to add to the Walrus’s roster, two of the three people he mentioned were Conrad Black and Rex Murphy—both of whom are exemplars of the status quo. (Not to mention bad writers.)
Kay’s comments are a perfect example of what Don Heider was writing about: someone who is not necessarily opposed to change but has no good reason, personally, professionally or politically, to act.
Dan Rowe is the bachelor of journalism program coordinator at Humber College in Toronto. He is also the book review editor of J-Source.
Re-published with permission from J-Source.ca
Do you have opinions on what Canada could be in 150 years?
If so, a new national conversation on this topic is scheduled to start on Feb. 2. Sparked by nine newly commissioned plays, Canadians’ hopes for our country’s future will be captured on video at 21 cities and shared onCanada300.ca.
Through innovative use of arts and technology, Canadians will be engaged in an evolving dialogue – both in-person and virtual.
The Caribbean Camera
DeliMax, Teatron Toronto Jewish Theatre’s current controversial play, is directed by Ari Weisberg. The drama written more than 30 years ago by playwright Harvey Ostroff seems to be ripped out of today’s explosive headlines of terrorism and anti-Semitism in France, even though this is France before World War II.
In 1983 Ostroff had walked into Snowdon Delicatessen, a Montreal landmark eatery. Ostroff, a former Montrealer, noticed the restaurant sign was changed to DeliSnowdon, and the menus were changed into farcical French-Yiddish hybrids such as poisson gefilte for gefilte fish and viande fumée for smoked meat.
The Jewish Tribune
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit