The idea behind this series was to curate stories and pieces that reclaim the love that isn’t always visible. The love that makes us question what defines heartbreak, what defines a connection, how we learn and unlearn, how we teach and feel love. These questions are brought to the surface through this collection of visual works, poetry and text created by women who’ve beautifully visualized all the love you can’t visibilize.
Post-Memory by Maya Bastian
Post‐memory is a term used to describe the inter-generational transmission of experience. Traumatic experiences are passed down to younger members of the family as one collective memory that is often recalled through imaginative investment, projection and creation.
My ancestors’ memories are saturated with the bloody civil war that ravaged my homeland for 30 years. As a first generation Canadian and a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, some of my first memories are of stories being told in hushed whispers, of people escaping terror and of those who could not get out. These stories have taken up residence in my psyche and create a visceral cognizance, a deeply empathic understanding of what my closest family members have endured. As such, I feel as though I am living two parallel lives and that I have another history, an unspoken one that inflects every action and though that occurs.
Maya Bastian is a Tamil-Canadian writer, filmmaker and artist based in Toronto. Her work focuses upon justice and conflict within the context of community and culture.
As a filmmaker she has exhibited her award-winning short films internationally, which run the gamut from narrative to documentary, to experimental. In 2009, she spent several years traveling the world as an investigative video journalist, documenting areas of conflict and post-conflict. She is a recent recipient of Regent Park Film Festival’s Home Made Visible grant, received the 2017 Al Magee Screenwriting Fellowship and was selected for Reelworld Film Festival’s Emerging 20 program in 2017 to develop her thriller feature film ‘Red Tide’. She has received widespread press for her 2017 short narrative film ‘Air Show’ about the effect of the military air shows on newcomer refugees.
Maya’s writing appears in online journals such as The Huffington Post, Her Magazine and Commonwealth Writers. Her video installations and mixed-media artwork is showcased around the world, most recently at Edinburgh Fringe 2017.
Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. The Layers They See by Aniqa Rahman is the final in the series.
A colleague of mine once confided in me that she did not like to be asked about her background or nationality. She explained to me that, given the current geopolitical climate, people tended to politicize her Middle Eastern identity; and those judgements made her feel uneasy. “The Layers They See” is a photography series that explores identities; and how we view ourselves, in comparison to how we are perceived by others.
Initially my project was focused on how traditional Indigenous beadwork/embroidery is used as a powerful storytelling medium. But, after conducting the interview, my focus shifted to intersectionalities and the complexity of identity-politics, as expressed through art.
Recruiting artists was a nearly impossible task, consequently getting this project off the ground was no easy feat. In fact, the underwhelming response to my call-outs nearly forced me to abandon this topic altogether. I quickly realized that when it came to sharing personal stories and artwork a lot of people were fearful of being taken out of context and therefore apprehensive about participating. Needless to say, I am humbled and grateful that I found someone willing to discuss such personal and sensitive subject matter.
I was fortunate enough to collaborate with Glamma Kimaiyo, an interdisciplinary Toronto-based artist of Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous ancestry. Glamma’s insistence on exploring every facet of her creativity, and not limiting herself, has made her fiercely talented in a multitude of mediums, including: audio engineering/production, singing /songwriting, deejaying, spoken word poetry, jewelry and clothing design/construction to name a few. Among all of Glamma’s artistic endeavours, the one which most connects her to her indigeneity is her beadwork; and I wanted to know more about her perspectives.
On Saturday May 19th, 2018, I met Glamma at a friend’s studio apartment. I remember being quite anxious at that time. I wasn’t sure how the interview would go. Nonetheless, Glamma’s entrance and her upbeat personality before and during the interview made the process fun and engaging.
In speaking with Glamma, I became increasingly aware of the pervasiveness of white supremacy, and the diverse ways it manifests within various ethnic groups. During our exchange, my eyes were opened to the ways that covert racism homogenizes melanated people and attempts to relegate them to oppressively generic categories.
One negative impact of this, that Glamma herself admitted to experiencing, is the conditioned behaviour of, ‘not going out of her way to mention her complete ancestry’. For when she does, the inquirer almost always professes that she absolutely, “doesn’t look Native!”
So in fact, Glamma plainly admits that societal ‘norms’ have conditioned her to offer the abridged version of her background; a coping mechanism developed in order to avoid being scrutinized, belittled or interrogated. Compared to her Indigenous and European multi-racial counterparts, who tend to be wholeheartedly and instantly accepted by the mainstream and Indigenous communities alike, race politics has made her assertion as a native woman a conundrum to those narrow minds that ask, ‘How can a Black woman be Indigenous?’
Following our conversation I realized that, to tell or not to tell becomes a double-edged sword. Glamma, for the most part, chooses to navigate her identity outside of the gaze.
Her private explorations of traditional crafts and teachings at beading circles learning from various ‘aunties’ over the years connects her to this part of her heritage.
Through her patient and meticulous construction, she believes that she honours the legacy of her ancestors and harnesses the healing properties of the metaphysical world. More important than people’s perceptions, she spreads “good medicine” through her beadwork.
The process was never an easy one — as an artist myself, I had to develop a piece which best describes my style and aesthetics of work while still maintaining the integrity of Glamma’s story. The practice that I never want to conform to as a media-maker is to generalize and take a narrative out of context — a practice that we continue to see in mainstream media.
I was able to break the story down through creative writing process on race and intersectional identities.
There are layers which people see.
Individuals which identify you based on your dominant racial features or appearance.
There are layers which people don’t see, but only oneself sees.
Individuals who are unaware of your ethnic background, and only you are aware of.
The layers which are hidden, and which only surfaces when called upon.
Individuals who question your ethnicity, when you disclose your identity.
After writing and reviewing this process, I chose to use long exposure photography and light painting technique to capture or symbolize the layers of Glamma’s identities. Even though some may think it is too literal, I felt this process best described my creativity and would do justice to the artwork. Like Glamma, I felt inspired by the darkness, by the colour scheme and craftsmanship, and had to exercise my patience when it came to capturing or recording these images. One major connection that I found between Glamma and I is that we both love utilizing traditional methods to practice our craft, hence why I recorded the images via camera as opposed to manipulating and putting all these images together in photoshop.
After interviewing Glamma, I realized how much the power of storytelling can enable people to create remarkable projects. Her stories serve as a great inspiration that have challenged me to further explore photography as a medium. Even though the story behind this project is not about myself per se; as an artist, I can empathize with and relate to many topics which she elaborated on, including how one perceives their own identity. I want people to know that as an artist, I want to bring certain stories to life and I intend to do so through visual narrative. There are stories that need to be told, there are conversations that need to happen, and there are more genuine artworks that need to be created.
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 participated in ArtStarts’ Sew What?!, East Music and Project Management with Scarborough Arts, We are Lawrence Avenue with Cultural Hotspot and UforChange photography classes.
It was at UforChange where she found her passion for photography and began developing her own style.; In the past few years Aniqa has managed to acquire notable clients, win Juror’s choice, and gain recognition from Toronto Star and UofT Magazine for her photographic Arts. She has a huge admiration for capturing multicultural festivals as well as Toronto’s fashion scene, and has gone on to shoot events such as African Fashion Week Toronto, St. Jamestown Festival, Multicultural Canada Day 2015, and Fashion Arts Toronto ( |FAT|). Her goal is to further develop her photography skills; she believes learning is for life and with that brings joy into her Art.
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.
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.”