Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. Have You Eaten? by Soko Fong Negash is the fifth in the series.
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A study of the languages of love between Chinese mothers/daughters and the things that may be lost (or gained) in translation.
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In Hong Kong Cantonese, “Have you eaten rice yet?” [sihk jó faahn meih a? 食咗飯未呀?] is a common greeting, the equivalent of “how are you?” in English.
It’s a question that can cut through tension or discomfort, no matter how big or small. It is simple, really: food is labour, and labour is love in practice. Any problem can be soothed, theoretically–or at least kept at bay–as bellies are full and fires cooled. A breather, if you will, from whatever hardships befall you.
All else can wait. Sit. Eat.
Have You Eaten? is an ongoing photo and audio series that explores languages of motherly love, pertaining to the relationship between mothers and daughters of Chinese descent. For this project, I connected with eight mother-and-daughter pairs and asked them about what love looks like in their relationships.
In an effort to complicate ideas around the archetype of the tiger mom and the concept that Chinese Mothers Don’t Say I Love You, this is an offer of both the tenderness of physical intimacy and the varying expressions of care.
For some, affection comes easy, bright and unmistakable. And for others, it takes time and a special sort of compromise.
From shoot-to-shoot, home-to-home, I found myself returning to the same place. What does it mean to be loved? How is love expressed and received? What becomes of what is lost in translation?
Take a listen.
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“I think she loves by making sure that I don’t suffer.”
Karen on her mother:
Theresa on her daughter:
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“As opposed to saying ‘I love you’, it’s, ‘eat your vegetables’”
Sihan on her mother:
Tea on her daughter:
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“…there was a fresh meal on the table, and I’m like, this woman does not live with me anymore, but she continues to take care of me by nourishing my body.”
Sahar on her mother:
Lin on her daughter:
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“She does things that I never would have done in my childhood and I’m really proud of her […] To me, she’s fearless.”
Emma on her mother:
Grace on her daughter:
Soko Fong Negash is a Toronto-born visual artist of Chinese-Eritrean descent. Her creativity is explored primarily through the realms of art, writing, documentary film production, and photography. She is inspired by the underbelly of a place, unspoken (mis)understandings, ancestral knowledge and trauma, and the messy parts of cultural identity.
Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. Healing Through Remembering by Eli Farinango is the fourth in the series.
I met Inguen when I started going to the Wachuman ceremonies. Her smile reminded me that I can be happy. She reassured me that the earth can help me heal and I can lead a life where I am at peace. This concept was getting lost the longer I stayed inside my head. I had forgotten how to live because anxiety and depression took a hold of me and mental health was something barely talked about in my community. The idea of seeing a therapist is reserved for those that have “lost it” and in that space, the only way I could heal was by coming to terms with all of the wounds I had covered up. As I acknowledged them, all the women in my life supported me with knowledge and personal stories that are often dismissed, undervalued, misunderstood, and judged. The women I call family, held space for me: they understood me, empowered me. Made sure I stayed alive. In each story, I found hope, strength, courage and for that I am grateful.
I asked Inguen: how did you learn about ceremonies and healing? “I didn’t learn,” she replied. “I’m simply remembering. All of this is already inside us, they just made us forget.”
I light a candle before sitting down to write this, because I need a moment to settle in and take in the fact that I am pouring out myself into these pages — letting the world read them and letting myself be seen. I had written the proposal for healing through remembering during a very difficult moment in my life, and it had been my way of expressing the need that I had for movement and change. I couldn’t find myself and that brought a lot of pain. For the longest time I had told myself the same narrative over and over again — that this is meant for someone else, that my voice doesn’t matter. Working on Healing Through Remembering has been empowering. It has been a challenge on many levels because it forced me to be vulnerable and honest with myself while also opening up space in my family to share our stories of survival.
When I thought of this project, I thought how amazing it would be to document alternative ways of healing by accessing my family’s memory and ancestral knowledge. I honestly didn’t think that this would be a painful process. I was sad, and I was broken most of the time because as it turns out, unravelling memory is not always a happy thing. The conversations I had with my grandmothers were painful as both of them recounted times in which family members had been abused, discriminated against, treated as less than because of who they are and those things had been silently tucked away into acceptance.
This past year, I spent time with my extended family in Ecuador, getting to know their stories and trying to find a place for myself within that space. Visiting every once in a while was exciting, but living there full-time was a different story. I had hoped to come out with a flowery recount of how romantically beautiful it is to return “home” but instead I was left with more questions, and lots more healing to be done. For me, making sense of my cultural identity has been a central part of my life. I was born into a Kichwa family from the Northern part of Ecuador. My earlier years were spent with my grandmother, tending to the land and the animals that lived with us.
My family and I moved to Canada when I was 9, my family and we started a new life away from everything and everyone I associated with connection and the idea of “home”, and although I am grateful that my parents made the decision to move to Canada moving here unrooted me and caused me years of anxiety. I never really found a place for myself here and when I went to visit Ecuador after years of living far away everyone treated me differently and I felt really uneasy about who I had become. I came back to the feeling that I didn’t belong to either place. I needed to be part of something, so I stubbornly held on to the idea that by permanently moving to Ecuador and “doing what I was supposed to do” I would somehow have that feeling of home and belonging. As a teenager, I remember looking out my window and imagining a time where I would have enough resources to go to and live in Ecuador. I travelled back and forth for a while until I finally stayed in 2017. I had been chasing the feeling of home for so long that I allowed myself to make a series of choices that I thought would assure I would be welcomed into this imagined community; I allowed my boundaries to be crossed many times over in the name of immersion and while being in the mountains, with my grandmother, with everything I had ever wanted, the feeling of not belonging never really went away.
I immersed myself in the life there as much as I could and I began to open myself up to new experiences. I had hoped that by being in this place and connecting with my culture, I would find peace, but instead the space began triggering wounds I had forgotten about. Ones I had purposely thrown dirt over started to open up and I realized remembering was not about learning about a distant past but it meant honouring my own experiences and giving them the validation they deserve. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and day after day her stories began to weave me into her world, I began to understand myself in the larger context and acknowledged the pain and struggles of my family. I realized that the stories my family was sharing with me were meant to be shared amongst us and with future generations so that we can somehow end hurtful cycles and play a part in collectively healing our family.
My grandmother who is 78 years old, grew up alone. Her mother had problems with alcohol and left her daughter to raise herself and her brother. My grandmother made an effort to go to school by using the money her madrina gave her to buy supplies, but eventually had to leave that dream when she was 9 years old to work in a mestizo (person of mixed spanish-indigenous ancestry) household – cooking and cleaning – to survive. Her experience with those families were tainted with abuse and hardship. I sat there listening and breaking at the same time. In her eyes the racist and abusive relationship between Indigenous people and mestizos is normalized as something that is just part of life. I struggled to understand her but after spending time in Ecuador I began to understand how one gets tired of fighting back all the time. Even while living in a predominantly Indigenous city, racist attitudes aren’t something of the past or limited to mestizos. I was made very aware that belonging to an indigenous society did not except us from having a multiplicity of problems, even within our own family, class lines exist, internalized oppression and machismo run deep. As painful as it was, it was so clarifying to see the romanticized version of Otavalo dissipate and get to a place where I could understand the roots of the intergenerational trauma we carry.
I wondered how my grandmother coped with all of this and I began to see her beyond her pain and focused my energy in seeing the resilience she embodies. She was widowed when she was 32 and her 7 children are scattered between Spain, Canada, the US and Ecuador; she prays for them every single day. Bringing each and every one of them back through prayer. Mamita Virginia taught me so much about spirituality as she lives a life in which ritual takes many forms – from caring for animals, to making food- ritual is in everything.
During my time in Ecuador I went to a lot of different ceremonies where I was hoping to find quick relief for anxiety, depression and answers to all the questions I had prepared. I participated in various organized ceremonies and realized healing didn’t have to come from consuming anything, or workshopping, or that it isn’t handed down from one particular person. But rather, as my grandmother does, my healing came in the form of acknowledging every experience I live, honoring myself enough to treat myself with respect and love during hard times and being in gratitude for giving myself the opportunity to heal.
I remember the day that I walked out of the Wachuman ceremony, feeling overjoyed by the fact that I was in Ecuador and starting this journey; asking my ancestors to send me knowledge and healing. They did, in the most powerful way. They sent me lessons through life experience; I was healing through connection and my memory was awakened. The wounds were exposed to the fresh air of the Taita Imbabura, asking to be healed with lots of care and patience. The plants, spirits and people I crossed paths with were the bursts of energy that pushed me out of my comfort zone to grow, and I began making my story, my medicine. Healing myself through my memory and my intuition, realizing that the things to make myself feel better are not random, but rather pieces of knowledge passed down from a place I’m still learning about. In my personal ceremony, I felt like I was getting closer to what I was looking for: I made sense, and by looking inward I found belonging.
Eli Farinango was born in Quito into an Kichwa Otavalo family, they migrated to Canada with her parents in 1996, she has been going back and forth between her family home in Canada and Ecuador for the past 5 years. Through her photography, she hopes to capture the joy she experiences when seeing the beauty of the Pachamama and its people. Her photography is deeply personal as she uses art to disentangle herself and heal old wounds.
As a Kichwa woman, she feels the responsibility to open space for indigenous voices and at the same time use photography as a way to challenge stereotypes and the misrepresentation of indigenous peoples. Her work is inspired by other indigenous photographers, activists, her family and the community of women who have supported her journey in finding herself, unlearning colonialistic practices, and honoring her art.
Her work has been featured in Remezcla, Telesur English, Waging Non Violence, Red Rising Magazine, St. Sucia Zine, Notimia (for the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples at the UN) @elifarinango
On September 27th, This is Worldtown unveiled the full work of seven emerging media-makers taking charge in telling new stories about migration, space, healing and love at our group show, Unbound: Stories from Behind the Dust.
The exhibit was the culmination of a year-long program that used creative workshops and mentorship to assist in the creation of six visual stories that unearthed the complexity of female labour, love, archiving, memory and representation.
The featured media-makers are Samah Ali, Aleia Robinson-Ada, Eli Farinango, Soko Fong Negash, Mashal Khan, Aniqa Rahman and Shazlin Rahman.
To kickoff the evening, TIWT’s founder and creative director Sana A. Malik led a panel discussion with the artists, where they shared their inspirations and process.
“I was looking to mainstream media for a reflection of myself, and every time I didn’t see myself being reflected, it eroded my self-esteem and my self-worth. [My grandmother] has been a source of strength for me. And through doing this work, and sharing it with other people, I discovered that a lot of other women of colour like myself are also dealing with the same questions.” – Shazlin Rahman
“What does it mean to wander free in a brown body, in the place that you grew up in? With this project, I wanted to add to the cultural imaginary of what it could look like of women just existing. I wanted the viewer to focus on the gaze of the women, and how strong they are, despite what they’ve gone through.” – Mashal Khan
“I feel like making pieces that are relatable for the audience I want to speak to that are these people that look like me is really important.” – Aleia Robinson-Ada
“The mark that I want to leave behind with my work is representation, but also acknowledging our land and taking care of it, as well as our relationships with our families.” – Eli Farinango
A complete video of the panel discussion can be viewed here:
Unbound: Stories from Behind the Dust will be on display next at Mississauga Civic Centre from October 23rd to November 7th. Entry is free and will open with a reception from 5-7pm at the Great Hall on Tuesday, October 23rd. RSVP here.
Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. Young Migrants by Aleia Robinson-Ada and Samah Ali is the third in the series.
In July 2017, an old friend, Samah Ali reached out to me about a creative idea she’d been playing around with, which she envisioned as a documentary photography project. Samah’s idea was to investigate the lives of diasporic people in Toronto who have established roots in Canada due to their family’s migration or they have their own arrival story to this country. All she needed from there was someone to help her execute the photography aspect of the project… and about 100 cups of chai later, our baby was born.
In early January, Samah and I sent out a call through our social media platforms asking for participants to volunteer and be a part of our journey in documenting and getting to know first- and second-generation immigrants in Toronto. The response was incredible. Emails flooded into our inboxes. So many people were interested and wanted to be a part of a project where they could share their stories of immigration with us!
The Young Migrants Project is a series of images that includes first- and second-generation people between the ages of 15 – 32 years old who live in the Greater Toronto Area. Our aim was to capture individuals of international migration and the stories of people affected by immigration. With each participant, we shot environmental portraits in a location that they felt describes a piece of their history or families’ history. This location would be of sentimental value or bring up a specific memory of their migration story. The places chosen ranged from a first apartment, a first job,to a local restaurant, to a city park where their family gathered and more. Along with the location, we shot each participant with a tangible item they own that symbolizes back home as well as the change and transition of migration. Our participants chose items that ranged from family photo albums, to a pair of shoes, to a briefcase, to a household item, or even a soup spoon made from a boat’s engine.
With each participant, we also conducted a short audio recorded interview. In their interviews, participants spoke about their stories of migration and how they ended up in the city of Toronto and why they have ultimately stayed. The audio is meant to give the audience greater context surrounding the location and item each individual chose and its meaning to them. We noticed how the stories are strangely similar and relatable no matter where in the world each participant migrated from.
This prompted us to ask: even though we all look different, are we?
Through this project, we had the opportunity to meet so many beautiful faces and get to know their intimate stories and family histories. We had the chance to capture the varying angles of the diaspora from countries like Vietnam, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ukraine, India, Nigeria, Lebanon, Kenya and many more! This is a testament to Toronto’s true diversity. It was an honour and we thank everyone who shared — for without them there would be no Young Migrants.
Sisterhood Media is a media production company and streaming platform made for and by people on the margins. Our platform aims to start discussions on identity, community, and self-actualization through audio and visual stories, whether made in-house or by incredible filmmakers working towards a shared vision. We’re going live this month, be the first to know.
Aleia Robinson Photography is led by Photographer, Visual Story Teller, Journalist, Media Maker and Soul Sister – Aleia Robinson-Ada. Aleia founded and created her company in the later half of her university career and has now stemmed into an artist traveling around the world inspired by people, their stories, and their spaces. Aleia has produced works of art such as Untitled: Portraits of Black Women, The Celebration Series and Micro/Macro Aggressions Against WOC, that document women of colour and create discourse within the community in their space and their words.
Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. awaara azad (wandering free) by Mashal Khan is the second in the series.
I traveled to Pakistan last summer with my friend to create a short film and conduct research on the restricted mobility of Pakistani women, trans and non-binary folks in various regions of Pakistan. We decided to research this topic because both of us spent our childhoods there and had visited often after immigrating to Canada. When I was younger, moving around my father’s village near Peshawar was less limiting compared to when I became a teenager. I remember when I was around nine years old and visiting Pakistan for the first time since we had immigrated, I was allowed to run to the small shop in the village that had the best of Pakistani candies and my favorite chewing gum Ding Dong. I then returned when I was sixteen years old and this time when I wanted to go to the same shop, I wasn’t allowed because it just wasn’t something girls my age did.
For me it wasn’t solely about getting what I wanted from the shop, it was about the journey that I would take to get there. The freedom to explore different paths, come across kids playing outside and elderly gentlemen who reminded me of my late grandfather as they rode their bikes through the green fields of the village. I didn’t understand what had changed but I was being asked to cover up more, makes sure I was wearing clothing that was modest and so on. This was the year that I began to become hyper aware of my body and the way it was seen in public spaces.
I was not only policed by others but began to police myself for the way I carried my body. During our research this summer, I met Mohiba, a student and member of the feminist group Women’s Collective in Lahore. She touched upon the idea of your body as a liability, which makes it so difficult to carry it confidently. When religion and/or culture are used to control the way women, trans and non-binary folks dress, behave and occupy public space, it only serves to uphold the patriarchal divide that is based on the social construction of gender as a binary.
For me awaara azad or ‘wandering free’ is something that is as natural as breathing. I often walk and explore wherever I want to feel like myself. The right to loiter, travel freely and occupy public space tends to be limited in Pakistan for most Pakistani women. Despite this, there continues to be women led resistance initiatives throughout the country that demand inclusion and an end to the various forms of oppression, such as Girls at Dhabas, Fearless Collective, Awami Worker’s Party, etc. With this set of photographs, I hope to add to the cultural imagery by showing Pakistani women traveling in Northern Pakistan, in order to subvert the orientalist white and male gaze that often silences or speaks on behalf of Pakistani women.
I have had a complicated relationship with Pakistan, the country I was born in. I spent six years of my childhood there. Soon after the tragic events of 9/11, I, along with my parents and younger brother, immigrated to Canada. Although I have spent more of my life in Canada as compared to Pakistan, I have never quite felt the sense of belonging here. Looking back, I have made a total of three trips alone to Pakistan. I took all three trips to find my place in the world again. As a diaspora kid, I often romanticized Pakistan, thinking that once I returned to the place I was born in, my problems, insecurities, and fears would instantly disappear. They never did. What did happen each time though was that I met some amazing women with whom I found a source of strength and resilience within. I don’t necessarily feel as connected to Pakistan as a country any longer. I have no connection to Pakistan based on nationalism or culture per se. What I do find a strong connection to – is the people I have met over the years, the majority of them being women who I continue to be inspired by. What I want to show through this collection of photographs is the power of women occupying the land.
When looking at my work, I want the viewer to feel a sense of “awaara azad” which translates into ‘wandering free.’ I do not want the viewers to solely focus on the beauty of the land but rather hone into the expressions on the woman in the frame. These photographs were not created to convince people of the beauty of Pakistan or to entice Western, often white foreign travelers to explore/discover this once colonized land. This body of work is to inspire Pakistani women themselves to travel their land; to get lost, to explore, to wander without purpose, without pressure, without tension, and to be in the present moment.
Mashal Khan is an emerging documentary filmmaker and photographer. She was born in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and along with her family immigrated to Canada in 2002. Mashal graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hon. Bachelor’s of Arts with distinction in equity studies, sociology and art. She values freedom, justice and equity and within her work she hopes to subvert the white and/or male gaze that has often spoken on behalf of marginalized women of colour. Whenever she creates work, Mashal keep this quote by Arundhati Roy in mind: “there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the sixth in the series.
Born and raised in Taiwan, Fong-Chia-Ho is a Toronto-based artist with an insatiable passion for documentary photography. I first met Fong at Centennial College where she was announced as one of the winners for 2018 CLIX Photo Competition at the Story Arts Campus. Fong has had an interest in photography since childhood, and before arriving to Canada she studied film at the Wenzao Ursuline University. She started as a photo assistant under photographer Jason Lee, who became her mentor. This apprenticeship helped her find her love of documentary photography and develop her storytelling eye.
“The initial purpose of taking this photo was that I friend asked me to photograph for her at the festival, but when I clicked, I saw there were something more than just an ordinary photo. I realised that the person who was in the frame was also photographing me.” — Fong H.
As a budding photographer, I couldn’t resist exploring her brilliant portfolio and was instantly drawn to her captures of street life. Her touch of black and white imagery with lurking shadows made her photos more dramatic.
“Although I love colour and black and white photos, most of my photos are in black and white because I like the gradience which gives the pictures more sense and power. However, I also love colour photo especially contrast, complementary colours because they make a photo more compelling and intriguing in a sense.” — Fong H.
What ultimately drew me to Fong’s work was her captures of the Taiwan’s marketplaces– in particular, of women taking ownership of the marketplace. This is a stark contrast to what I see back in my home country, Bangladesh, where I can’t recall seeing any women in charge of butcher shops. Street culture can speak a lot about how a community operates, the stereotypical roles that people are assigned to, and how we as individuals enable those views/behaviour.
Having said that, there is another looming disparity seen in Bangladesh’s malls and marketplaces: the division of socioeconomic classes. While marketplaces and bazaars are open to all, malls on the other hand, are targeted exclusively for middle to higher class consumers.
Mainstream malls, from what I see, are considered to be progressive spaces which sells as well as advertises the latest innovation and luxury goods, whereas marketplaces are viewed as one-stop shop for “low-quality”, traditional handmade or homemade goods. In Bangladesh, many marketplaces are associated with poverty and violence, female shoppers are prone to go missing or experience sexual violence in these spaces, which is why you will encounter fewer female business owners operating at these markets.
I asked Fong her reasoning behind photographing the street markets. He responded that she found these amenities to be unique. “I have travelled to many different countries, and whenever I look back at my home country, I realised how unique it is,” she explained Every vendor is approachable; every price can be bargained depending on the relationship between the seller and the buyer. Fong continued, “In addition to that, in a market, some vendors are an inheritance from generation to generation, and this is I rarely can see this from other countries, especially western countries.”
For Fong, her memories of growing up in her hometown and being surrounded by marketplaces are entrenched in her heart and in her mind. She believes that these places which were once buzzing with people, are now disappearing due to growing lifestyle changes and younger generations choosing to move to cities for work. Capturing images of street markets is what Fong believes will help preserve these memories. She hopes to share these photographs with her family and relatives to remember the tradition. These photographs can indeed serve as a greater narrative for folks who are also keen on learning the history of street life or culture in Taiwan. Fong hopes that viewers who see her documentary photographs are able to relate to the same feeling of adventure or beauty that she sees in the street markets.
Aniqa Rahman is a recent University of Toronto graduate, where she earned her Honours Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She owes much of her success in life to not only her family, friends, and mentors, but also to Community Arts which has been an integral part of her healing process as well as growth towards her individuality. Raised in a diverse neighbourhood in Scarborough, Aniqa has been immersed in the Arts since 2013. She has participated in ArtStarts’ Sew What?!, East Music and Project Management with Scarborough Arts, We are Lawrence Avenue with Cultural Hotspot, UforChange photography classes and Collecting Personal Archives by Truth & Dare Project.