New Canadian Media
Saturday, 13 May 2017 20:30

To Understand a Culture, Read the Women

by Tazeen Inam in Brampton

Canadian woman authors believe that our society tends to equate femininity with a sense of flawlessness. Women have to be impossibly perfect in so many different ways that it’s just another way of imposing oppression on them.

“I really want to show about my characters that it’s not a bad thing to fail, it’s not a bad thing to make mistakes,” says Sarah Raughley, author of the "Fate of Flames".

Raughley longed to work with characters who have the courage to pick themselves up when they fall, in contrast with setting up ideals for women that are very difficult to live up to.

Striking a balance between strength and frailty 

Her characters are not everyday superheroes. Four teenage girls are the only people who can save the world from the massive beasts who are terrorizing the world. One girl stands for each element: fire, wind, air, and water.

“But they don’t have those masks on their faces, everyone knows who they are," Raughley explains.

Her characters are criticized for being too whiny and annoying because they make mistakes, they fight too much, they are weak and make many mistakes.  

“So I was thinking that what are the expectations for women? Especially since these are teen girls, they haven’t figure out themselves, let alone having to carry this huge destiny to fight giant monsters,” she added.  

At the Festival of Literary Diversity, in Brampton, ON, the panel of “Wonder Women” featured authors of young adult literature. They spoke about the protagonists from their stories, stressing that strength is not the same as perfection. But rather that it is in the courage to rise up from devastation and defy all odds by reaching your destination.

Shoilee Khan, the panel moderator, opened the discussion introducing the protagonists of the selected books as women of the present, who everyone aspires to be or would like to befriend.  

“They are fierce, they are stoic, but they are tender and they have this enigmatic aura of cool about them,” she says.

She said that there is a dichotomy of softness and strength exhibited by the characters, that can be translated into real life situations women face everyday.  

“They rise up against obstacles not with complete fearlessness but with a magnetic combination of illation and frailty, first for themselves and then through that self-respect, serve their communities in profound and integral ways,” Khan added.

Seeking protection with intimacy 

The panel then discussed a character with an arsenal of dangerous and desirable skills: Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liar: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir.

Thom is a writer, performer and psychotherapist. 

Thom’s unnamed protagonist is a martial arts expert who runs away from her abusive parents’ house. Raised in a city called "Gloom", she escapes to the glamorous and dangerous "City of Smoke and Lights" where she is forced into oppressive factory work governed by a racist system of castes. However she is able to find herself as a trans-Asian femme and finds a community with other trans-femmes. 

Thom suggested that for transgenders there is something about femininity that’s degrading all the time, that they are weak and hyper-sensitive. But her book starts with this really intense physical strength as opposed to a trans-woman that is helpless and constantly subjected to violence. 

The protagonist loves using her strength, power and speed, until she encounters Kimaya. A mother figure whose nurturing personality is unable to mask her fierce power, Kimaya serves as a mentor figure that helps her realize that there are different kinds of strength. 

She discovers a desire for safety and a longing for closeness but struggles to have intimacy that is also safe. 

“That’s the journey that my character takes and I found out in my life too,” says Thom. 

"Manning up"

Another panelist, M-E Girard in her debut novel, sought a balance in her character when she puts them together with a combination of femininity and masculinity. 

M-E Girard is a YA fiction writer and a proud feminist, her debut novel is "GIRL MANS UP". Her lesbian character, Pen, wrestles with the external pressures societal norms bestow upon her when she exhibits both masculine and feminine qualities.

Although she is a strong protagonist and her choice of clothing and friends makes her imperfect and independent, all Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. Pen realizes that respect and loyalty are hollow words, and in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to "man up".

“My character is tender in some ways and she is also fierce and strong in her own way. Some of it [is] modeled after her masculine ideal and some of it is modeled [after] her feminine ideal. So it’s kind of a big mess,” says Girard. 

Celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary this year, founder and creative director of FOLD, Jael Richardson, says that she was inspired by the famous indigenous writer, Lee Maracle’s quote “if you want to understand the heart of the culture, read the women”. Richardson observed that at every session or panel, the audience was touched by something they weren’t expecting to hear.

“They are always surprised by the wealth of stories, writers and ideas they encounter, and it’s really powerful because that’s when real change happens,” she added.

The second annual FOLD festival was held from May 4 - 7 and hopes to bring change by highlighting the voices of women authors who offer a different perspective.

Published in Arts & Culture

In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.

Stephane Mukunzi, PACE Magazine

“It all comes back to the idea of bringing communities together. The spoken word collectives, the singers, the artists, the painters… they are all present in Ottawa. We just don’t have centralized spaces where people can go to see Ottawa artists and critical thinkers. And that’s what we are trying to achieve with PACE”.

As a twenty-three year-old videographer and photographer, Stephane Mukunzi was fed up with receiving the same old rejection letter after submitting work. After realizing there was no community of young artists in Ottawa’s art scene, Stephane decided to create one himself. He gathered together a group of young creatives and they developed PACE Magazine, a place where young artists and critically minded people could express themselves. Inspired by London’s DIY magazine culture, Mukunzi and his team wanted to maintain the classic element of print media while combining it with innovation and online presence. PACE aims to dismantle the hierarchical nature of art and ensure the representation of indigenous artists, black artists, artists of colour, women artists, immigrant artists, and anyone who may have turned away by the fine arts community.

The PACE team decided to give voice to those who haven’t had a chance to speak to Ottawa, and within the first year of launching, it is clear they have found voices that Ottawa is eager to hear. The magazine has published two print editions, created a website for creative content, and held two successful launch events that featured local photography, spoken word, and art pieces. After this continued foray into Ottawa culture, Stephane fully rejects the idea of Ottawa as a boring city and believes that the many creative scenes, are there to fill cultural needs if you are ready to integrate yourself into them. Looking for that first step? Check out the latest issue of PACE at http://www.pacemagazine.ca/

Khoebe Magsaysay, Artist/Filmmaker/Animator

“It’s really important to embrace and accept your disappointments and failures because they make a strong foundation for your future endeavours.”

Filipino-born Khoebe Magsaysay immigrated to Ontario when she was ten years old. After high school, she enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Animation program at Sheridan College, and began a time of huge personal growth. At university, she learned to persevere through challenging times, cultivate her talent, and refine her skills as a filmmaker, animator, and artist.

Khoebe landed an internship in New York City for the summer between years three and four of her undergrad at Gameloft, a notable gaming company. Following her internship, Khoebe produced a short film, and the process of making it was very stressful and complex. The film, titled “NIHIL”, is about Adina, a character who is the epitome of perfection. Through a series of events, she comes to question her reality. The success of the film won Khoebe the Via Rail Award for Best Canadian Student Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF), which is considered one of the most prestigious international animation film festivals in the world. Khoebe has continued to excel in her field, working in Toronto at ToonBox Entertainment.


The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!

Published in Arts & Culture

The Art Gallery of Ontario’s latest exhibition is a tribute to one of the most celebrated English painters, J.M.W. Turner. Snip: “Featuring more than 50 paintings and works on paper on loan from Tate Britain, J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free is the first major exhibition to focus on the final and most experimental phase of the […] 

Brits in Toronto

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Published in Arts & Culture
Saturday, 03 October 2015 14:53

Art Exhibit Explores Loss and Language

by Deanna Cheng in Vancouver

Hidden behind red solid pillars in a tranquil space nestled on the edge Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a new exhibition at the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver explores how artists move past the voids in life to produce artwork full of vitality. 

The exhibition, "Realm of Possibilities,” features the work of painters Wai Yee Chiu and Synn Kune Loh as well as photographer Hailien Tam. 

For Chiu and Tam, their artwork was inspired by their connections with nature and their experiences with the cycle of life. Loh takes his inspiration from the Chinese language, exploring what is found in the "empty space between conversations.”

Finding beauty in loss

Chiu began painting her series, "Gone Winter, Come Spring,” about six months after her husband's death in 2008. The Hong Kong-based artist was morose and sick at the time and spent most days watching the sun set and rise.

The artist said her doctor suggested she use her art to help with her sickness, and from that advice the series was born. "After watching [sunsets and sunrises] so many times, I became one with nature. I felt the rhythm and became more peaceful,” Chiu explained.

One piece of the artwork consists of four resin-coated painted circles representing the life cycle of a lotus plant: the leaf, the flower, the seed and the root. Brushstrokes show the outline of each part. It also correlates to the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter.

Chiu was not the only artist featured in this exhibit who has experienced profound loss. Tam lost her best friend two years ago. They were the same age — 31 years old — and her friend’s death hit her especially hard. "It was sudden. Overnight,” Tam said.

Chiu began painting her series, "Gone Winter, Come Spring,” about six months after her husband's death in 2008.

Every time Tam felt any negative emotions, she channeled those feelings into her art and took her camera outside. "I looked for beauty,” she said.

Earlier in her life, Tam had worked as a lawyer in Hong Kong where she provided "legal advice in black and white, within strict rules and precedents, trying to find order in chaos.” Photography became her emotional and artistic release.

Tam moved to Vancouver in 1996 and now spends most of her free time hiking and photographing what she finds.

Chiu encouraged Tam to use photography to create art instead of documenting daily life; each moment was an opportunity to look beyond the superficiality of an image and explore it as a piece of art. As Tam put it, "The possibilities are endless.”

In her still life photography, Tam positions the light to stroke the curve of an indigo sun tomato or the crevices of a dried shiitake. The organic shapes are treasured and cushioned by the space around each item.

Tam said she uses these methods and more to make "life" be visible through her work. It can be seen in her series, as the photographs in warm hues emit a quiet beauty while the cooler shots carry a greater sense of liveliness and movement. 

Bringing words to life

In his section of the exhibit, Loh, a visual artist and international speaker on the evolution of consciousness, examines how words are born in the silence between conversations.

The pieces are hand-painted with beautiful, traditional calligraphy — not the simplified versions that China's education system uses today. Some of the pieces depict specific, single words while others recite passages from classical Chinese literature.

Each artwork has tiny white dots, which Loh says were intended to give the pieces a spiritual feeling of cohesion. "I wanted to use the molecular form to create art," he said.

Loh explained that the square and rectangle shapes imply a man-made form, reflecting how language itself is man-made.

One of the pieces, ”Unbidden Memories Had Surfaced” (pictured right), takes inspiration from the Chinese character for promise or vow, which is represented in the centre of the canvas. The word itself means "origin" and "paper" put together, which are also depicted in their own panels on either side of the painting.

"Simplified, [it] takes away the spirit of the culture.”

The piece comes from one of Loh’s many musings. He describes it as an exploration of the words themselves as pieces of separate entities and how they can possibly join together to become something.

Another piece, titled "What's Next," incorporates characters from the classical Chinese tale "Yellow Emperor," a story about the origins of Chinese civilization. Loh said the two tiny stick figures standing on the Chinese character "mountain" alludes to this story.

Loh likes the traditional characters because they have a history or story of evolution behind them. "Simplified, [it] takes away the spirit of the culture,” he said. 

"Realm of Possibilities” is currently on display from September 19 until October 24 at the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver at 555 Columbia Street.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 14:24

Understanding My Ukrainian Grandparents

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.”

“With this mural, I feel like generations of people are speaking through me... I didn’t understand my Ukrainian heritage before. I didn’t understand why my Ukrainian grandparents were so harsh. Now I understand.”

Drawing inspiration

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.

Inclusive healing

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.

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.

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.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in History

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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