By Kim Boucher Morin
Project Coordinator, TakingITGlobal
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017
On October 1st, students in Professor Kim Samuel’s McGill University course were invited to Gallery Mile End along with alumni from the Social Connectedness Fellowship Program and representatives of TakingITGlobal to explore the power of art in building belonging. With the Montreal Wish150 exhibit on display, the setting was perfect for open discussion, sharing and connecting with one another.
Exhibits like these are being showcased in every province and territory across Canada as part of TakingITGlobal’s Explore150 project. They feature local artists whose wishes for the next 150 years are expressed through visual art and performances. Guests are also invited to write their own wishes during exhibition events, which will be shared with the federal government and community organizations at the end of the year.
Guests at the October 1st event were greeted with acoustic music performed by Aidan Keeley and a delicious spread catered by Lola Rosa. Wentanoron of the Kanien’keha:ka territory of Akwesasne formally opened the evening by acknowledging that the gallery is situated on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange for Haudenosaunee Indigenous people. The young Mohawk leader eloquently explained that her “wish is to bring the colors and infinite possibilities of the universe back to our world. To have our worlds not so black and white but as colorful and imaginative as a child’s mind.” Her painting, entitled Through the Child’s Eyes, which entrancingly illustrates her wish, was displayed prominently behind her as she spoke.
Jennifer Corriero, Co-Founder and Executive Director of TakingITGlobal, then spoke briefly about the purpose of the event, which was to experience and participate in community-building through creative expression. Jessica Rae, a local multidisciplinary artist, followed with an entertaining tap dance number. She too expressed her belief in the power of art and how laughter can foster a sense of belonging. This was clearly evidenced by the warmth that filled the room as a result of her dazzling moves and comical use of her puppet co-star, Porkpie.
The audience was then captivated by a video monologue written and performed by Jedidah Nabwangu, a former student of Professor Kim Samuel and Social Connectedness Fellow 2017. In this introspective piece, entitled My Broken Canadian Privilege, Jedidah questions her own sense of belonging in Canada. “So, what is the problem? What is the matter with a little harmless joke or a lack of relatable and familiar faces on TV, a little historic prejudice here and there? But only nowadays and around here, masked as a compliment at the expense of someone’s identity.” Jedidah ends her monologue with a call to action: “Let’s make sure that everybody has the chance to grow up comfortable in their own skin and identity, that they are aware of how divine their individuality really is.”
A current student of Professor Samuel, Dean Velentzas, then performed some of his own spoken word pieces, entitled Lack Thereof, My Sick Phoenix, and A Robot’s Closing Apology. Touching on a wide variety of topics, his work vividly expressed emotion with lines such as, “I await the day we make light of heavy minds, and return to peace.”
Visual artist Aquil Virani, who created a piece for the Wish150 mosaic, expressed his wish to see a united and diverse community in the country he considers home. He also talked about identity and Islamophobia, what social justice means to him, and the need for action along with the formulation of our wishes.
The evening concluded with an activity led by members of the TakingITGlobal team in which guests were invited to formulate their own wishes by writing them on a Wish150 card. Standing in a circle, wish cards were then exchanged with the person standing opposite. Holding a thread of yarn, people read out the wish card they were handed one by one, simultaneously passing the ball of yarn across the circle. The result was a visual representation of the web of connectedness created by the exercise. Attendee Sonali Thomas remarked, “It was the perfect ending to an evening that facilitated connectedness beyond the classroom.”
Watch some highlights of the event below.