My Way of Seeing

One of my favourite places on campus is the Image Centre (RIC). Without fail there is always a new exhibit I want to see and since it’s right on campus and free I have no reason not to. There are currently five exhibitions at the RIC all of different sizes and all providing a unique story and experience. Among them is the current rotation of From the Collection which is a rotating display highlighting works from the RIC’s permanent collection. The current display is photographs by Elaine Ling from her latest book Talking Stones: A Photographic Sojourn. Ling is a Toronto-based photographer who on her many far and wide travels has documented ancient stone formations, fragmented statuary figures, giant historic trees, abandoned architectural structures, and indigenous families and groups.

Half Man Stone #56 by Elaine Ling

Ling aims to capture the persistent dialogue between the past and present through her camera lens. Traveling through the deserts of Asia and Africa Ling encounters the remnants of forgotten cultures and the flourishing new beginnings of others. This display was of extreme interest to me as it shows the lives that came before us. My love of history takes over sometimes and distracts me from my studies for hours. Ling’s photographs show what ancient cultures built out of their environment; how they marked their existence and preserved their history which to us is a mystery. We can study ancient cultures and read what they left behind but we will never really understand or know them. I think that is what I find so fascinating about history. When do people change, how do we “forget” where we came from? History is like a giant puzzle that keeps getting new pieces added to it and one that we will never finish putting together. Ling’s photographs give us a look into the lives of ancient people, a couple of puzzle pieces we can admire and wonder about and allow ourselves to be mesmerized by. I believe that history talks to us, it unravels its yarn for those who give it a pull. The subjects of Ling’s photographs are telling us a story, their story, if only we could hear it. That’s the fun part of history, wondering what all those stories are, sweeping the sand away from a buried life to reveal its mystery.

Angkor Stones #8 by Elaine Ling

Another mystery that is perhaps even less tangible than history but just as distracting to humans is the sky. What lurks in the dark corners of our universe and beyond? The New Media Wall at the RIC explores our skies with a newly commissioned video by Canadian filmmaker Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof. The Relics of Lumen is a collection of images taken of our night skies by NASA and from Ryerson’s Black Star Collection weaved together with images of people in transit. Pruska-Oldenhof creates an immersive environment of mosaics and composite collages that explore the displacement of people to celestial passages through space. It is interesting to think about how something that surrounds us, that provides us with life, and controls everything in our environment is so far away and enigmatic. I wonder how our lives would be different if we had a total understanding of what’s beyond the clouds. Would it change us as humans to understand one of the biggest mysteries in our world?

Untitled by Unknown photographer, NASA Agency

Continuing with this exploration into the unknown is Canadian artist Spring Hurlbut’s Airborne. This is a video that examines mortality and the physical presence of death. This silent film captures the slow motion release of cremated remains entrusted to Hurlbut by the relatives of six deceased individuals, including Hurlbut’s father. This was an experience I have never had before and one that touched me in such a way that I had to return to the exhibit on a different day to watch it again. Sitting in a dark room watching the remains of different people who I have never met swirl and snake around the black backdrop as they disperse and diffuse into the air, returning to the dust we all come from, was very powerful. The hypnotic dance that each case of ashes presents allows you to reflect on what is left of us after death, what our existence consists of when our physical presence is just a pile of ashes. This piece explores the ideas of mourning, loss, the essence of being, and the relationship between the animate and inanimate. Airborne also offers a space for us to contemplate ourselves, the soft smoky loops and coils of the ashes mimic the twists and turns we take throughout life. We do not know where our dust will fall as we float through the air, immersing and dispersing into others and ourselves, being carried off by the wind. Each unique path the remains take as they drift into the atmosphere mirrors the inimitable paths our own lives take. We do not know where our paths will lead us or where we go once our physical existence is merely ashes in the wind but that’s the best part of life, the unknown.

Marie Baratte by Wendy Snyder Macneil

Moving to the largest exhibit currently at the RIC, The Light Inside, showcases the work of Wendy Snyder Macneil whose archive from as early as the 1970s is housed at the RIC. Macneil’s photographs and films spanning throughout her career from her beginnings with the Boston Haymarket to her transition from photography to film is the subject of this exhibit. Of particular interest is Macneil’s Hands series. Macneil captures the hands of individuals as portraits. Shifting away from conventional portraiture Macneil uses hands to reveal the lives, identities, and “face” of her subjects. Our hands are very intriguing, they reveal a lot about us and even show familial similarities. We can trace our life on our hands and watch growth and deterioration. Take a look at your hands, what do you see?

Andrew Ruvido and Robyn Wessner by Wendy Snyder Macneil

The final exhibit currently at the RIC is Ways of Seeing: Building the RIC Collection which chronicles the evolution of the RIC from its beginnings as a slide library to an internationally respected exhibition and research facility. Curated by second year masters students in the Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management Program at Ryerson this exhibit showcases objects in their acquisition order to exemplify how the RIC photography collection has grown and by extension how photography has evolved over the last 50 years. This exhibit digs into the past of photography and the vast array of subjects and styles that are exploited by one form of art. Though this is a small exhibit it can take quite long to walk through as there several striking images that grab you and don’t want to let go. This exhibit also provides a bit of a treat as the RIC’s collection of slides are available for taking. The massive slide collection has become obsolete so the RIC is giving them away, I scooped up a Cézanne and Monet and now I just need to find a slide projector.

Untitled by Stephen Livick

Leopard, Usti, Czechoslovakia by Volker Seding

Ways of Seeing: Building the RIC Collection

Untitled by Frantisek Drtikol

After spending two afternoons exploring the RIC and contemplating all the different art and life I was being exposed to I came to a conclusion I don’t think I have ever really considered before. It’s terrifying to be in the dark, not understanding or knowing your surroundings and having to guess your every move with a bit of fear in your step. However, if you give your eyes time to adjust your vision will return and you can make your way. Life really depends on our way of seeing. How we see ourselves, others, or the world. Our way of seeing influences what we see. How do you see?

#OscarsSoWhite – Black History Month

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In honour of February being Black History Month – a time where we celebrate Black culture, shed light on and stand in solidarity with the Black community on Black issues, and recognize the strength and resilience of the Black community and its history – I thought it would be prudent to talk about a recent issue on hand that is affecting the Black community.

#OscarsSoWhite

For those of you out of the loop with Hollywood-related issues, or simply for those of you who don’t know, there has been significant controversy surrounding the annual Academy Awards Ceremony. The Academy Awards (“Oscars”) has been a night of celebration and recognition of actors, actresses, directors, producers, and motion pictures. It has been an opportunity to acknowledge the success of such people and such projects and has been a way to encourage the film industry to continue producing quality creative content for its viewers.

I would like to say that this issue is recent but if we’re being quite honest, this has been an issue for several years. That issue being: There is a significant lack of diversity in Hollywood, especially, the Academy Awards. #OscarsSoWhite is a campaign initiated to urge the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be more inclusive in their acknowledgements and recognitions. It is a movement for diversification and equity – it is a movement to urge a very influential platform to facilitate an industry that accurately represents its target audience. This year – quite similar to last year – all 20 actors who have been nominated for lead and supporting acting categories are white. Significantly “Black” films are only recognized for a white actor within that film.

For example: Creed, whereby Michael B. Jordan (a black actor) was the lead role throughout the whole movie as he played Apollo Creed’s son, is only being recognized for Sylvestor Stallone (a white actor) and its screenwriters who also happen to be white, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. It seems quite ludicrous that a movie where a black actor is the clear lead throughout the entire movie is not being acknowledged, but his white co-star is being recognized, as well as the movie’s white screenwriters.

To give you even more context, in the last 88 years that the Academy Awards have been an established industry, only 14 black actors have actually won an Oscar, one of them being Lupita Nyong’o for her role in 12 Years a Slave. Only 5 Latina actors have one in the last 88 years as well and quite disappointingly, only one Indigenous acting winner (Ben Johnson for his role in The Last Picture Show in 1972). Furthermore, the Academu Awards Industry is made up of 94% white voters and 77% males.

It has always been clear that movies have misrepresented minorities for so many years. You have white actors playing black/Asian/Latino/Indigenous people. You have a predominantly white industry who is seemingly in charge of whether or not you get recognized for the hard work that you do, and will no doubt have a bias for their own kind. You have a completely un-diverse industry who is only willing to shed light on “white excellence” while Black excellence takes a back seat. It’s backwards, it’s completely un-progressive, and it’s disheartening to be misrepresented and unrecognized on such a public and popular platform.

Change has to start. This is such an influential platform and the more we emphasize visibility and diversification, the more society will mimic such ways and adopt such ideologies. We have to challenge white dominance and privilege, which seems such a strange thing to say in 2016, but don’t think for a second that we’ve overcome racism just because it’s not as apparent and “in your face” as it was in the 50s. We have come a long way but there is so much more work to do. I encourage you to look into the #OscarsSoWhite issue; get educated and be aware. Stand in solidarity with one another and fight for what’s right. This is so much more than movies at this point; this is about equity and unification as a global society.

Will you be boycotting the Oscars this year? #OscarsSoWhite

Resource: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2016/02/02/oscars-academy-award-nominations-diversity/79645542/

Want to Come Up to My Room?

Style & Profile by Chinedu Ukabam

Style & Profile by Chinedu Ukabam

Since 2004 the rooms at the Gladstone Hotel have played host to some of Canada’s leading artists in alternative design. Every year for a few days three floors of the Gladstone give up their space and are transformed into a place that engages our sense, our memories, and our perceptions of reality. Each room is given to an artist and they create a site-specific, immersive installation that stimulates the imagination and encourages discussion. For the 13th edition of Come Up to My Room (CUTMR) Ryerson’s School of Image Arts and the School of Interior Design both had installations that captured and filled the room.

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Ripple by Ryerson School of Image Arts

Ryerson Artspace is a student and faculty run gallery within the Gladstone Hotel that is curated and programmed by the School of Image Arts. Artspace has been a venue for contemporary Canadian film, photography, and digital arts for the last 24 years and this year the students created a ripple. As part of CUTMR the students at Artspace created an installation that looked at the notion of how we can achieve more together than alone, that we all create a ripple effect with our actions. The installation itself is a giant collective instrument that participants control with the tug of a light bulb, or raindrop, hanging from the ceiling. The darkened gallery was filled with light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling each one tied to its own individual sound, like the keys of a piano. Except this piano had many players who could work together to create a melody or let unique sounds morph into their own chaotic composition. What began as a prototype for the Digital Tools class as part of the Architectural Science program, Ripple, has become a real installation that encourages movement of the whole body and creates a collective harmony out of different lights, sounds, and movements.

RippleI came across Ripple late in the evening, it was actually as I was leaving the Love Design Party. I knew that it was showing but I couldn’t seem to find it and with all the other rooms to see I had a lot to go through (getting trapped in a line up for the Ferris Bueller room didn’t help). However, once I did find Ripple I realized how happy I was not to miss it. It was a very strange experience, flowing through the teardrops as brand new melodies and sounds constantly reverberate throughout the gallery and your body. With only the light from the teardrops I managed to make my way through the gallery, to pull on each one and listen for my own sound in the sea of music. I understood what the artists were portraying, how each of us has an effect, we can each add to the ripple by throwing our rock in the pond. However, what I also found was that sometimes our effect gets lost; the constant flow might wash out our ripple. We sometimes have to stop and listen, make sure that what we are doing is actually having the effect we want it to. If we can’t hear ourselves maybe we need to change our tune, take a different approach to have the effect we are after.

The School of Interior Design also had an installation, which was one of the first rooms I stumbled upon. Partnered with UUfie, an architecture and design practice based in Toronto, Catherine Farrell and Nisha Sewell of Ryerson created Breath, along with Katherine Porter from the Rhode Island School of Design. This installation explored the ideas of deception and limitlessness in its arrangement of tactile space. This installation was supposed to create a dialogue about making and designing, like time flowing in space, an instance of a breath. I think this project was a little over-my-head but the implementation worked which can be hard to manage in instances like these. Often artistic endeavors sound and look great on paper or in your mind, but creation is a difficult feat.

Untitled (Idolization Space) by Sara Nickelson and Studio WOOLF

Untitled (Idolization Space) by Sara Nickelson and Studio WOOLF

With over 20 artists showing and creating for CUTMR this year there is a lot to discuss, with that being said here are a few more rooms that caught my eye. Untitled (Idolization Space) looked at our obsession with visuals, which has been exacerbated by the Internet, allowing for little consideration for meaning over the immediacy of aesthetics. We crave stimulation and turn to social media for inspiration that provides an unending stream of imagery that has been removed from the text needed to interpret its meaning. The artist feels that since we are in a constant state of rapid input we reach an over-stimulation point that results in distraction and hyperactivity.

Life Moves Fast by The Racket Club

Life Moves Fast by The Racket Club

Life Moves Fast is a replication of Ferris Bueller’s bedroom from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The artists worked to replicate every detail from the film, the posters on the wall, the records on the bookshelf, and even the data on his computer screen, which was programmed to change the same way it did in the film. The artists loaned materials from museums and private individuals who still had some of the articles that appeared in this young man’s bedroom thirty years ago. This room immersed you into a familiar space that was at the same time foreign, it was distant in time and space but you could touch, feel, and hear the room and its fictional inhabitant. I think everyone relates to the title, life does move fast. The possessions in that room are relics of a time gone by just as this MacBook and I will be soon enough.

Equivalents by Susan Dobson and Simone Ferkul

Equivalents by Susan Dobson and Simone Ferkul

While I was walking between these rooms I got the sense that art and its meaning go unnoticed. Certainly not everyone was there to view these rooms for what they were, to understand what the artist wanted to say. It disappoints me because art can have so much power if you let it, to initiate change and shock your core values. But if you just walk by you are not allowing that art to inhabit your mind for a small period of time, to push you into a new room in your brain. Whatever the medium, art is something we cannot do without. Imagine not having any music, or not being able to tap your heels around your little apartment, or not being able to move and shape colour into new forms. Art is so immersed in our lives we don’t notice it; the clothes we wear, the buildings we live in, the music that constantly fills our background, and so many more ways. Take a minute to notice the art around you; even something with function is art. Don’t just walk on by.

Overworld by Taxa Work

Overworld by Taxa Work

I’m still in the dark but I’ve left the theatre…

I must start out by saying that I am neither a film student nor a film critic, I do enjoy films though (that counts, right?). I recently attended the premier of the film When the Ice Goes Out at Ryerson’s School of Image Arts. This is a film by Jeremy Leach and Wendy Snyder MacNeil, both accomplished artists in their fields in the United States. Leach is a freelance filmmaker and a directory of photography and has worked on several award winning television programs and documentaries. Leach is also the founder of the production company Lost City Pictures which produced this film and several other independent films and educational media. MacNeil began her career as a photographer before switching to film-making for which she has been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. MacNeil’s photos and films are also currently showing until April 10 as The Light Inside exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre in association with When the Ice Goes Out. The film stars Gore Abrams as the main character Jakob and Jazimina MacNeil as his childhood friend Cedar. Now to the film itself.

The premise of the film is of a young man’s journey alone back to his childhood imaginary sanctuary. His life has fallen away, he has no apparent relationships or interests, and all that remains is a desire for what he had as a child. We know nothing of Jeremy’s world, we know that he and Cedar live in the same rooming house and that she refuses to see him so he must watch her from a far and live with the pain of a life in alienation. The film documents Jakob’s trip back to where he came from and his search for a world that never existed. Jeremy must travel through harsh nature and face his ghosts to make it back to where he, at one time, was happy. There is no dialogue so the film relies on natural sounds and imagery to tell the story and move the plot, this is also where the name comes from. The thawing of ice makes a deep rumbling and crackling sound which permeates the film. Now what did I think?

I am not a lover of independent films or much of a viewer I must admit. However, as part of an initiative to include more arts and culture into my diet I chose to go to this film screening. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this film piqued my interest in independent films, in fact it may have killed it. I enjoy the use of symbolism and imagery to tell parts of a story but it is very difficult to sit through 80 minutes of dry and slow filming with no dialogue and no idea of any story. I felt the viewer was kept out of the story, kept out of Jakob’s life. We are not allowed to enter Jakob’s journey, we are only allowed to view it from a far. We have no idea where he is going, what he is thinking, what he is doing, or why he is doing it. This leaves us not knowing what to feel because we don’t know Jakob or understand his actions, he is not relatable; I felt nothing but pity for Jakob, perhaps that’s all I was supposed to feel. The film was stripped bare so we are left with sound and imagery and no real story, merely a peak into something that cannot be made sense of until the artist explains it. Leach stated that originally there was a lot of dialogue and a story was developed but it was taken out on purpose. Leach did not give much of an explanation as to why but I feel that perhaps this was done to reinforce the loneliness and isolation of Jakob, he’s even alienated by us. This is an issue I have with the film, why I am left to explain and create the story? This film was a collection of symbols that were strung together with no connectors but a vague framework that was so flimsy it could be knocked over with a feather. This film could have been about anything, we only know it was about a journey to return to childhood because we are told so by the director. The film cannot stand on its own, it needs the support of its creators to give it life and a reason for existence, to make sense of it.

I cannot say for sure why this film was created or what it was intended to do, it is also not my place to answer those questions. Perhaps there is no reason for the film. Art doesn’t need a reason to exist. I can say that it left me confused, disappointed, and wanting. I can also say the only entertainment I derived from watching this film was trying to figure out what was happening and why, which can be pretty fun when you are trapped in the dark both actually and figuratively. If I was forced to watch this film again I would probably fall asleep like the man down the aisle did and jump out of my seat and out the door during the credits as another viewer did. However, I won’t let this film stop me from seeing the Light Inside exhibit as MacNeil’s photographic talents and prowess are put to fantastic use in this film.

TedX Ryerson U 2015: Iconoclast

On Saturday, November 14th, TedX RyersonU held its annual conference. This year’s theme was “ICONOCLAST,” focusing on topics and ideas to change and enhance the future. There were numerous speakers – from current students at Ryerson, graduates of Ryerson, and established professionals – all who spoke of concepts surrounding creative and innovative ways of thinking, and the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. There were three sessions held throughout the day, each with the intention of inspiring Ryerson University students to make significant impacts for the future through their work, and how to go about making a change. It was a successful event, with approximately 400 students and community members in attendance, all eager to learn about what it means to be iconoclasts of today and tomorrow.

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Just as in other TED conferences, TedX Ryerson held three sessions throughout the day: one session for technology, one session for entertainment, and one session for design. Each session is meant to showcase a set of speakers involved in technology, entertainment, or design, as they speak about the given theme of the conference. With the theme being iconoclast, each speaker delivered powerful speeches about what it means to be innovators of the future, and how to challenge the status quo, in order to break barriers and create change. Each message delivered was captivating, inspiring, and challenged students to think critically about what it means to be iconoclastic.

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A session that resonated with me the most was the first session – the session of technology. The focus of this session was about the future and how to become innovators of the future. The speakers during this session spoke about how to think outside of the box and push boundaries to develop creative ways of thinking. They emphasized thinking through alternative perspectives apart from your own, and challenging traditional ways of thinking. The importance of interdisciplinary collaboration was also emphasized, as the speakers forced students to find ways to incorporate other disciplines in their work. Interdisciplinary collaboration has been found to offer new perspectives and alternative approaches that may not have been considered prior. It offers new opportunities of growth and maximizes learning.

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This session resonated with me the most as it exposed me to new methods of achieving personal and career goals. It allowed me to think about how to affect change and develop the future through creative and innovative approaches. It pushed me to think outside of the box and to step out of my comfort zone to learn something new and offer new perspectives. It also allowed me to see that interdisciplinary collaboration is essential for iconoclastic work. Working with people from a multitude of different disciplines means having a team with a variety of different sets of knowledge and skills. These different sets of knowledge and skills each offer something unique towards the development of a certain goal, and offer more opportunities for achieving this goal in unique and innovative ways. This session pushed me to embrace change and explore the unknown in order to find new ways, better ways, to create a better future. The discussion from this session really drove home what it means to be an iconoclast of today and tomorrow.
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Murder on Campus

W1siZiIsIjIwODc4MSJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcmVzaXplIDE0NDB4MTQ0MFx1MDAzRSJdXQA word of warning, if you don’t enjoy viewing photographs of gruesome murders then I suggest that you don’t poke your head into the new Weegee exhibition at the Image Centre. However, if you can stomach it I sincerely recommended a visit before December 13. Weegee, or Usher Felig (1899-1968) was the self-proclaimed photographer of murder in New York City between 1935 and 1946 and given what’s on exhibition he certainly paints a foreboding portrait of New York at night. Weegee made a living photographing murders for tabloids and giving New Yorkers the untainted eye of murder that went on every night in their city. With a click and a flash Weegee illuminated the blood and flesh that stained the streets of New York and he is recognized for changing the landscape of photojournalism and capturing emotion that still comes through his photos today.

W1siZiIsIjE3NjAiXSxbInAiLCJjb252ZXJ0IiwiLXJlc2l6ZSAxNDQweDE0NDBcdTAwM0UiXV0 W1siZiIsIjIxMTg5NCJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcmVzaXplIDUxMng1MTJcdTAwM0UiXV0Weegee immigrated to American from Austria in 1909 and was the son of a peddler. He, like many immigrants at that time, took strides to fashion himself into “someone” and to do so taught himself to be a photographer. Weegee had many jobs around photography, but in 1936 he became a freelance photographer and gained quick recognition for his crime scene photography. Weegee was profiled in many magazines and upon success began to expand his work outside of crime. Weegee photographed urban life and desired to show the chaos of cities. Beyond that, Weegee shot celebrities and became a celebrity in his own right, as it seems he had been yearning to be. Even Weegee’s signature presented this lust for fame, literally – Weegee the Famous was on the back of every photograph he took.

W1siZiIsIjIxMDI2OCJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcmVzaXplIDE0NDB4MTQ0MFx1MDAzRSJdXQWeegee’s work developed from what was considered the lowest form of journalism, tabloids, into art. While not considered high art, Weegee’s work does deserve the title of art. Weegee used photos for their mass communication purposes but he also made them into serious art pieces. Weegee’s work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the 1940’s, he published two books containing his photos, one of which, Naked City (1945), was a critical and financial success and is viewable at the Image Centre as part of the current exhibition. Weegee took the city at nighttime and captured it on film in such a way as to expose the raw subjects for who they were and what was really going on in the city. Weegee also worked during the day; there is a series of photos depicting Coney Island in summer in which he contrasts the harsh realities of Depression era New York and the utopia that is the beach in summer. In addition, Weegee experimented with photography by using trick lenses to distort and manipulate the images as well as infrared and flash. He used these tools in his celebrity photography to expose or exaggerate the imperfections of the subjects that were always presented as perfect.

138298_2501646Weegee’s photographs can make you cringe and they can make you cry. Seeing pain even through a photograph from over 70 years ago hurts. However, I believe we need to see these things; they give perspective and disillusionment, which is important in life. Life isn’t an ongoing bake sale, not for everyone anyway, and being able to understand that helps people grow. Beyond that, generating those feelings is what I feel transforms Weegee’s work into art. Photos on a basic level can communicate something to the viewer. Photos tell the story of whatever the subject is; our eyes consume the story and our brain fills in the blanks. A photo of a dead body can tell you the story of the victim but it can also illicit feelings of pain and grief that may not come depending on the photographer’s eye. Weegee used his eye to tell the story of New York City, whether it was murder, sex work, parties, poverty, fame, and everything that goes bump in the night. He also brought these themes to life, they weren’t just photographs, they were emotion and they were life. Weegee achieved his fame and in doing so exposed us all to a city at night, full of secretes and desires that are forever captured through the click of his shutter and exposed in the harsh artificial light of his flash.

Our Sisters in Spirit

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Every October 4th there is a vigil for the thousands of indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or are missing in Canada. Indigenous women and girls in Canada, who due to generations of systemic racism, discrimination, and sexualization, have become vulnerable and are having their lives taken away. In Canada, indigenous women are four times as likely to go missing or be murdered in comparison to non-indigenous women. These women are also twice as likely to be murdered by strangers compared to non-indigenous women and abused by close family. The indigenous people of Canada and their allies do not feel that these murders are being taken seriously by police or the government and we need to ask why are there so many cases and why are they going unsolved? Does no one care about these women; are they the children of a lesser God? This is a harsh reality within a country that likes to give an air of acceptance and a welcoming nature but can’t seem to love their own indigenous people.

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This past Sunday was the first vigil I attended with the Centre for Women and Trans People, a Ryerson equity service centre, and while the travesties faced by Canada’s indigenous population are not new to me, this was the first time I really felt them. It is one thing to acknowledge a problem and read about it in a book, it is an entirely different thing to listen to stories and see the heartbreak in someone’s eyes as they relive the pain of losing a part of their family to a violent death. For the first time I cried for these women and girls who every year disappear from Turtle Island and for the first time I smiled with the knowledge that these deaths are not going unnoticed. Indigenous women are loved and while the majority of these deaths and disappearances are unsolved they are not forgotten or accepted.

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Sunday’s vigil, organized by Sisters in Spirit, was held at Allen Gardens, which is home to many Indigenous people in Toronto. Handmade lanterns inscribed with colourful love symbols lit a path up to the doors of the conservatory where a circle of candles brought the diverse crowd of indigenous men and women and allies together. These lanterns are the guiding lights that will lead these missing girls home. Sounds of drums and jingling bells surrounded us as men and women danced and sang for health and safety. The setting of the sun was met with a moment of silence, prayer, and the burning of cleansing sage. As we washed ourselves in smoke and the pungent smell of sage filled our lungs the vigil began.

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Carolyn Bennett, the liberal MP for the St. Paul’s riding here in Toronto, came to the centre of the circle and spoke of the Walking With Our Sisters art exhibition. This is an ongoing exhibition of moccasin vamps (the top portion of the shoe) individually designed and sewn by artists and women. These vamps are intentionally not sewn into moccasins, instead they are left unfinished just like the lives of murdered indigenous women. One vamp (pictured below) in the exhibition that pulled at Bennett’s heart strings was designed by Theresa Burrows, it represents how the perpetrators of murder are often remembered and their victims forgotten. Part of the reason for this exhibition is to restore the individuality of these murdered women. The exhibition is currently in Ottawa and will tour Toronto next November. Bennett ended with a very grim conclusion of how this is not a women’s issue or an indigenous issue but a Canadian tragedy.

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Isadore Day, the Ontario Regional Chief, spoke of the Who Is She campaign which is focused on spreading awareness and finding answers to why Canada is only safe for some people. Who Is She is a First Nations driven campaign to end violence within their communities and bring safety to people. The main goal of the Who Is She campaign is to find where the violence against indigenous women is rooted, what can be done about it, and what they think will end it. Ultimately, Who Is She wants to find a solution that will result in safety, understanding, and respect for indigenous women. Additionally, Who Is She feels that there is a link between the residual effects of the residential school system on indigenous people and this crisis.

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Until November 15 the Mackenzie House in Toronto is displaying the Walking Together 2015 Art Exhibition. This exhibition displays the reactions indigenous high school students had when touring a residential school with survivors of the system. Each student created a mixed-media art piece to illustrate how they felt after walking through the Mohawk Institute, a former residential school in Ontario, and after viewing them you can feel the cold and pain that would have infested those schools. I had a chance to see these art pieces at the Mackenzie House and they are hard to look at – they force you to remember and to acknowledge the hurt that Canadians have caused. Reading through the stories behind each work of art is even harder to do- the abuse, neglect, and hate that inhabited these schools and broke these children breaks your heart. The psychological, physical, and emotional damage caused by the residential school system may have very easily propelled the issue of discrimination against indigenous people into the horrifying crisis Canada is faced with now. The Mackenzie House is open Tuesday to Friday, is located at Bond and Dundas streets, and is free to Ryerson students with a valid OneCard.

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Even closer to home, Ryerson now offers a certificate in Aboriginal Knowledges and Experiences. This certificate is an exploration, analysis, and reflection into the experiences of indigenous people in Canada and their relationships with the government and non-indigenous people. The certificate is open to anyone and would be specifically useful for students who wish to work in occupations that address indigenous concerns. Ryerson also offers support for indigenous students by way of the Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services (RASS) department, located in Kerr Hall West 389. They offer financial planning assistance, peer support, orientation, tutor assistance, admission advocacy, as well as bursary and scholarship options.

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As the vigil came to a close there was one final rendition of a traveling song, which prays for safe travel and return. This reminded me of a woman who spoke at the beginning of the vigil, Denise Aquash, who told the story of her missing niece. As Denise spoke, a small girl ran through the crowd and into the centre of our circle. This child was distracted by the flickering candles and had no idea what was going on in the discussion above her ears. I couldn’t help but wonder if this little girl reminded Denise of her own niece. As she lost her breath and the cold air blew across our faces I could feel Denise’s story; no longer just words but an ache that resonated through my sore body and back down to the frigid earth. The innocence of this little girl running through what in her mind might be a big party was a reminder of the stolen innocence of our indigenous women and girls. Her laughter echoed generations of girls who were silenced by murder and abuse; calling the lost girls as the candles light their dim path home. We need to speak for these women who have lost their voice, they deserve to be remembered, they deserve to be loved, they deserve to live a safe life, and they deserve life.

Here are some links to learn more about this crisis:

Native Women’s Association of Canada

Who Is She

Mackenzie House

Ryerson Aboriginal Certificate

Walking with Our Sisters

Ryerson Centre for Women and Trans People

Some thoughts on graduating

a photograph of graduation caps against a blue sky

I am a little sad, a little happy and a lot groggy. I finished my degree.

In the Disability Studies program students complete a year long research project and they present it to their cohort and faculty. Our cohort’s presentations took place recently. There were really insightful moments, topics and so many heartfelt presentations demonstrating that the personal truly is political.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be finished. The build up to the presentations, the nervousness, the anticipation, then an eighteen minute presentation and it’s over.

I recently watched a documentary on the large number of graduates from university programs in Canada who are currently working in dead-end service positions. The documentary claimed there were several factors contributing to this phenomenon. One, baby boomers are not retiring and there are less positions opening up, or new grads are competing against them for the same position. Two, recent graduates are given little to no training in university to prepare them for resume writing or job interviewing and there are no co-op experiences. Three, Canada does not have an education ministry which means there are no statistics kept on what types of degrees universities are producing versus the types of skills that the labour market actually needs.

One women in the documentary who graduated with a history degree said that she felt she would be working in an office wearing heels and a power suit by now. For those of us in the Disability Studies program we have somewhat of an advantage. We are all working in our chosen field. However, I also have an earlier degree that didn’t translate into a job. I have a religious studies degree. You may well question what the hell I was thinking. How would religious studies translate into a job? Well, I wasn’t thinking about a job. I thought about what I wanted to know, what interested me, what I was passionate about. I was privileged to have been able to work my way through that degree with very little debt.

Sign reads Education is a right

Two degrees later, and about to enter my masters in the fall I think the overwhelming factor contributing to graduates working dead end jobs is not the boomers, or the lack of training or the lack of an education ministry. (Although, we do need one! I mean, seriously Ontario how many teachers can we produce?) What we need is free education. The woman in the documentary wasn’t working in a dead-end service because she liked it, rather because she was thousands of dollars in debt from her education. We are stifling the creativity of graduates because they are in hock. If we stop people from learning what they are passionate about and future generations focus on employment, what does that mean for the arts, for culture, for philosophy, for music?

Free education will not create generations of entitled citizens. Take a look at the Nordic countries. Education is free, their economies are booming and they consistently rank high in the happiest countries in which to live. Take a lesson, Canada.

Great End of Semester Reads

A photograph of a woman sitting under a tree reading a book

 

Now that the semester is over and exams are almost done, you might be searching for a great book to read. If you are like me, you find it difficult to read for pleasure while reading for assignments and papers. So now it’s time to race to the library and start on a summer reading list. Here’s are some suggestions to get you started.

Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

For those of you who don’t know Kenny Werner, he is a brilliant jazz musician and this book explains his method for freeing himself from creative barriers and gaining a deeper, more spiritual understanding of jazz. While he may have written it for musicians, this book transcends art forms. It is more than a musicians manual this book expands new ways of thinking, new understandings of failure with an almost Buddhist sensibility. This is a great read for everyone.

Creation by Gore Vidal

So I should say upfront that I love Gore Vidal. I have read almost everything he has ever written. He is a brilliant story teller. I also love historical fiction. Creation is a great example of historical fiction. His novel spans the fifth century BCE. Love, philosophy, war, adventure, this novel has all of the elements of great fiction. I have read this work several times and writing about it now makes me want to pick it up and start it again.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft

You may not have heard of H.P Lovecraft. He was an early horror writer who leaves the horror up to your imagination. There is something frightening about not knowing all of the details. Unlike writers like Stephen King who spells out the horrifying details, Lovecraft sets the scene and leaves the rest up to your imagination. This novel tells the story of Charles Dexter Ward who driven to the edge and beyond by dark forces.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

This tells the story of a rare Hebrew manuscript, known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, through five centuries. The main character, Hanna Heath an Australian manuscript conservator examines the book and finds traces of the people who have worked to save the text throughout the years. Brooks, a Pulitzer prize winner flashes back through time to reveal the history of the book and the people who became part of its history. I sometimes find that I am unable to read after hours of reading articles for school and I got this book as an audiobook with the library’s overdrive app. I was really impressed with the narration done by Edwina Wren. Not all narrators can do accents which don’t sound fake but this book was expertly written and read.

Reviving Spirits with Blithe Spirit

a photograph of Angela Lansbury playing the role of Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit

It’s been a long winter. A long, cold winter. A long, cold, dark winter. The kind of winter which makes you want to stock up on supplies, have a collection of hot water bottles and never leave the house again till spring. With that being said, I needed a little pick me up. Blithe Spirit was just the thing.

My mother and I have had a standing late winter weekend date. This year we were lucky enough to have it coincide with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. I knew very little about this play. I only knew that Angela Lansbury was playing the role of medium, Madame Arcati. That alone was enough to get us out in the snow and heading to the Princess of Wales Theatre. Despite being almost ninety, Ms. Lansbury was energetic and spry on stage. You could see how much she loved the role.

I can’t recommend this play enough. It was fabulously hilariously, so engrossing that an hour and a half passed without even noticing it. There was an audible sigh of sadness when the play ended. You could feel the collective wish for it to continue. The play had every element you could want; brilliant acting, stellar comedic timing, great set and costume design, witty writing, and the tiny details which make you feel like you are actually in Kent on a chilly summer night.

The play, written in the 1940s, features Mr. and Mrs. Condomine who invite a medium (a hilariously eccentric character), Madame Arcati to dinner to provide Mr. Condomine with material for his next novel. Madame Arcati, falls into a trance and accidentally summons Mr. Condomine’s dead first wife, Elvira. Mr. Condomine is the only one able to see or hear her. You can imagine how having two wives, one being a rather petulant invisible spirit, can lead to farcical situations and interactions. I won’t give away the ending, suffice to say that it was not what I had expected to happen.

Even if you don’t manage to catch this play with Angela Lansbury, the next time it comes to town, it is absolutely worth going to see.