Nuit Blanche: A Night of Giving

Written by: Vivian Li (Original post on Life@UofT Blog)

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of gratitude and reflection, this week, instead of reviewing a workshop on facilitation strategies, I wanted to share a cool experience I had with Art Starts on Nuit Blanche (October 5, 2019) that culminated in engaging the public with flash mobs to raise awareness for mental health. Art Starts is a non-profit organization committed to offering inclusive and supportive spaces for youth in marginalized communities to self-explore and to create.

This summer (and leading into the fall), I was part of an Art Starts program managed by Julian Carvajal called “The Colour Wheel Project,” which strove to use colourful dresses symbolizing different emotions (for instance, Sorrow had a blue motif in her clothing, while Joy was wreathed in yellow) in a flash mob with other youth artists, volunteers, dancers, and the Samba Squad to raise awareness for mental health.

 

Part I (August 7 – 27, 2019):

The first part of the project was us youth artists sewing and creating the dresses for the dancers. Actually, I was rather nervous going into these sessions as up until then I’d never touched a sewing machine and I had no idea how to hand-sew either. But I have interests in fashion and I often have ideas about how to design dresses, so I wanted to see if I could learn something from the project.

Our mentors, the wonderful designers Diseiye and Ayodele, were so kind and helped me through the problems I had with the machine, and gave me plenty of advice as to how to make make lines that didn’t snag or catch onto other parts of the fabric. I’m very happy with my results, but I couldn’t have done it without them or the other youth artists.

Vivian holding a green dress                                                                          YAY FOR GREEN!

Part II (August 20- October 5, 2019):

Learning the dance and the first rehearsal! After many hours of hard work in a cold room, it was amazing to see our dresses being tried on for the first time by the dancers! We were told we’d also dance in the flash mob, and we watched the dancers rehearse for the first time.

A post-card detailing the reasons behind the flash mob and the Colour Wheel Project                           THE POSTCARD WE GAVE OUT DURING NUIT BLANCHE!

Part III (October 5, 2019):

Nuit Blanche! The day of the flash mob! We had different structures and the youth artists were engaged in different ways depending on where we went. For City Hall and Scarborough Civic Centre, the volunteers, youth artists, and the Samba Squad were arranged in a rectangular fashion, where the dancers had the space within to express the haunting, moving, and fierce choreography. Then at Bloor-Yonge and Kennedy Station, the dancers had a routine similar to what I saw during the first rehearsal.

Picture of a white mask with beads glued to it         WHAT THE YOUTH ARTISTS AND VOLUNTEERS WORE DURING NUIT BLANCHE! SO                            COLOURFUL! BUT ALSO SCARY!

What the youth artists had to do during the night was hold onto the dancer’s cellphones and carry around a white bag containing flyers, glowsticks, Gatorade, snacks, and flashlights to light the way for the rest of the group, as well as to engage with the public when the gong sounded. Basically, when after the first few drums, we would mingle with the crowd and pass around glowsticks/ flyers to let people know what we were doing. Then, we would return to our places and shine our flashlights at the dancers (mostly The Queen) until Julian gave the signal and we all started to dance our routine.

It was very loud but thankfully there were extra earplugs provided. It was also hard to see at times as my mask kept falling down and I had to hold it in place with one hand while waving my other hand to keep up with the dance. And I definitely accidentally swallowed a bead at one point, when I hit my hand against the mask and opened my mouth for more air. Thankfully it didn’t get caught in my throat, and I’m glad it wasn’t a fly!

Picture of the dancers at Yonge Subway Station                                       IT WAS A FROSTY BUT VIBRANT NIGHT!

There was so much I learned during this whole experience, one of which was definitely the precision and patience required to sew, as well as realizing that there’s always more to explore and discover. It’s always an honour to be part of projects that engage with communities, and the personal experiences people have when encountering art is a gift I never want to stop giving.

Facilitation For Leaders Workshop: A Reminder of Identity, Memory, and Goal-setting

Written by: Vivian Li

Now that the first month has passed by, I wanted to revisit my earlier goals for this work-study term. One skill I really wanted to develop was the ability to facilitate workshops and meetings. I have a quiet voice, so I’m always a little afraid that others may not understand what I’m saying. However, after attending the Facilitation for Leaders Workshop, hosted by Student Life’s Clubs & Leadership Development, I feel prepared to speak and host meetings after a little more practice!

Picture of a table with booklets for the facilitation workshop arranged in a circular fashion                                                                                 BOOKLETS!

We covered different facets of good facilitation practices and strategies in the workshop, but I wanted to focus on three important moments.

We started the session with land acknowledgements. One of the co-facilitators, Roy, challenged us to write our own version of the acknowledgement whenever we facilitated a meeting or event. It made sense to me because these words are often read but their reason and meaning become more dissolved and lost with every repetition. However, by relating to and genuinely acknowledging the injustices endured by Indigenous people, land acknowledgments can then become “something we remember and live by.”

Picture of the UC Quad areaNATURE IS BEAUTIFUL, BUT I ALSO WANT TO REMEMBER THE HISTORY OF THIS LAND

Moreover, during the ice-breaker session, we were asked to tell the story behind our names, such as how we received them or their hidden meanings. In terms of my English name, “Vivian,” my mother chose it from a dictionary of names in a dusty green book with pages falling out of it. I think she thought it sounded nice, and I was too young to care much about a name back then. However, my Chinese name was carefully thought of by my late grandmother, and she was the one who wanted to include “Hiu” and “Mun” (Cantonese pronunciation). The former character refers to the dawn, as I was born in the early hours of the morning, and also means “knowledge,” while “Mun” means “multicolored clouds,” as well, the lower half of the character is also related to “understanding” and “learning.” As one of my names is in English and one of them is in Chinese, I’m still trying to understand how to reconcile both names and both identities.

Picture of a sunset  WALKING THROUGH THE SUNSET WAS A BEAUTIFUL MEMORY…

We also talked about different facilitation styles, and I have a whole list that I’d like to go through and try out one day. I think I have a more Directive (or factual) approach but I’d like to try to be more Evaluative and Sharing. However, when we were asked to facilitate a conversation or an activity about a card on the table, I completely blanked. I tend to overthink things, so I started to naturally think about different activities we could do that could begin a discussion about “start[ing] a conversation that matters.” I took a deep breath and tried my best. I asked a question about conversations: “How do you know when you’re in a conversation that doesn’t feel right? For instance, what would you do if you’re having a conversation and it turns out that you’re not in the right head space for it?” I was surprised and relieved by my success at the end of the session, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off.

Text of quote: "Be Brave enouh to start conversations that matter."   WE FACILITATED A CONVERSATION BASED ON THIS QUOTE! 🙂

I had to rush to my next class, so I couldn’t complete the reflection period with everyone, but I’d definitely like to practise my communication skills in the future and discover more workshops about facilitation. I’m looking forward to the session next week on Navigating Group Dynamics!

The Word on The Street: A Reflection on Writing and Community

Written by: Vivian Li

The Word on the Street (WOTS), Toronto’s Book and Magazine Festival, is an annual fall event showcasing authors, publishers, and performers at Harbourfront Centre. This year, the marketplace tents were set up for Sunday September 22, from 10 am to 5 pm. I attended a cool panel and had the honor of tabling (for the first time!) for Augur magazine, a speculative online and print magazine. I originally thought it was going to be a glamorous experience (since people were eager to answer my questions whenever I stopped by booths in other festivals), but I was surprised by how hot it was even underneath the white tents and I became very sleepy. Still, I had a great time and met so many cool people!

During my break, I also attended a discussion session about Empire of the Wild, a novel with elements of the traditional Métis story of the Rogarou, by Cherie Dimaline. I really enjoyed the panel (it was really engaging and I laughed a lot!) and I was especially drawn to one of the points she made. She said that some stories are repeated word for word because they represent one’s history and map one’s culture, but other stories can be told with changes and incorporate other tales to show that one has learned its moral or understood its themes.

Picture of a notebook ONE OF MY FAVORITE NOTEBOOK COVERS WITH MY PEN OF CHOICE!

Showing up to literary events like WOTS made me realize the numerous reasons and ways people decide to put their pen to the page. Sometimes it could be a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings [with] emotions recollected in tranquility” (Wordsworth) but other times it can begin with an interest in the sound of words. For now, my writing impetus involves facing the darkness and also gives me time to become “friends” (or at least acquaintances) with some of the spiraling thoughts within me.

Toronto is really an amazing space with literary events happening every week, and I’m often overwhelmed with the number of choices. This year, I want to try attending every large event, starting with the International Festival of Authors! I’m also planning to go to events with friends (to make it slightly less scary and to keep me accountable).

Writing can often be an isolating and solitary experience, so it’s always great to get out there and meet people who care so much about sharing and preserving stories! It’s definitely hard to find time to attend literary events, especially with my academic and extracurricular commitments, but I feel re-energized after speaking to people and the energy in the room often sparks my imagination, propelling my desire to write.

Reflecting on the Future: Alternative Reading Week Project Leader Training

Written by: Vivian Li

I really loved my experience with Alternative Reading Week (ARW) last year, so I decided to get more involved with ARW by becoming a project leader. In preparation for the three-day volunteer event in November, I attended an orientation session on Saturday. We talked about equity, privilege, and allyship, as well as how we can help students in our team feel like they belong. The training was very hands-on and it was interesting to see ARW from behind-the-scenes, as well, it also gave me a lot of ideas about how I can approach future event planning initiatives!

Project leader presentation                                                      EQUALITY, EQUITY, AND LIBERATION

One of the most interesting moments of the training was when we got into groups and drew the traits of an ideal project leader. For my team, we thought that listening (represented by large ears) encouragement (we gave our imaginary project leader a thumbs up on her shirt), positivity (a large smile), and juggling multiple things was important for a project leader (we considered drawing multiple arms but decided against it). Some other groups talked about having being caring (a large heart), observant (dark, peering eyes), and prepared (with a fanny pack).

Project leader orientation presentation                                         TRAITS OF GOOD PROJECT LEADERS

We also looked over different projects, wrote down our top three choices, and made a skit based on what we’ll be doing in the future! For example, one of the teams demonstrated the worst situation possible, which left the project leader all alone, while the other team represented the worst and best situations when contacting community partners. Some take-aways for me is that it’s really important to ensure that everyone participating knows what they’ll be doing beforehand, that the students are comfortable with each other, and that (more practically), emailing community partners during the evening will make sure your message comes up first for them the next morning.

Project Leader presentation on next steps                   WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT STEPS WITH COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT?

However, for me, one of the most important moments was when it was time to reflect. We were given small notebooks to write a letter from ourselves in the present to us in the future about what we want to learn by next February, but my letter somehow became one from a far-away future directed towards who I wish to be in February. I’ve always been a sensitive person and I’ve been having trouble handling my emotions, schoolwork, and family relationships recently. I’m also struggling to learn how to care for and love myself unconditionally (even on my worst days). So it was very important for me to talk about the future having a future, and including everything that I love to do in it when I’m in a stable state. I signed it, “Warmest wishes and with LOTS of love, Vivian :).” I hope that by taking little steps like these, I’ll be able to shift something within me.

Sketching the Stories of Planets: Community Action Projects (CAPs) Orientation

Written by: Vivian Li

On September 13, 2019, I attended the Community Action Projects (CAPs) Orientation for Story Planet, an organization that combines literacy, art, and drama to engage children as well as youth in under-resourced schools. CAPs are opportunities for students to volunteer at and learn from non-profit organizations as well as to explore new communities, potential career paths, and to develop communication skills. Although I came in wanting to meet new people and to understand Story Planet’s goals, I ended up leaving with an interesting model, a cool new icebreaker idea, and more insight on reflection!

We started off the orientation with a quick game of “Human Bingo,” a way to get to know each other through statements (ex. “I love Samoyeds”), which were laid out as squares on a 4×5 grid. Afterwards, we discussed what community engaged learning was, talked about the difference between equity and equality, and chatted with a representative from Story Planet.

Two girls reading a book                        READING ABOUT CRAZY ADVENTURES IN STORY PLANET

By the way, if you’re interested in checking out more CAPs opportunities, including the SciHigh program at Mount Sinai Hospital and the City Adult Learning Centre with the Toronto District School Board, you can register on the CCP website (the next session is October 25, 5 – 7 p.m)!

I learned a lot in the two hours, but here are my top three takeaways from the experience:

  • The importance of asset-based community development when interacting with organizations. For instance, challenging us (the outsiders) to view a community in terms of its strengths rather than its weaknesses.
Community Engaged Learning: Preparation, Engagement, and Reflection                                  STEPS TO LEARNING AND ENGAGING WITH COMMUNITIES
  • The Derpy Dog exercise! The goal of the activity was to promote a growth mindset, to push past any innate resistance, and essentially draw a derpy dog in 30 seconds. After we finished, we passed our papers to a student to our left and drew another dog. Then, we passed the papers again and drew a human owner. It was a little stressful as the facilitator started counting down and had a timer! I definitely had trouble drawing the body of my dogs but it was fun to make a narrative for the pets and the owner. I named them Boopy, Choopy, and Jimmy respectively. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos as they’re quite shy!
Powerpoint presentation of Reciprocal Model    CHALLENGING ASSUMPTIONS, WORKING OUT A WIN-WIN SITUATION FOR BOTH PARTIES
  • From the reflection portion, this quote from John Dewey really struck me: “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” It prompted me to reflect on the reason I was taking my courses, as well as to think about why I wish to become a writer and musician. Other questions started to come up: how can what I’m doing right now help get me where I want to go? And what skills do I want to learn from this experience and from my extracurriculars?

My goals this year as a potential volunteer at Story Planet are to become more verbally communicative, practice my artistic abilities, and learn to be more patient. As well, I wish to try facilitating (small!) workshops and engage with drama and playwriting. In essence, I’m really looking forward to my next steps with Story Planet and to future collaborations with the community!

Community Engagement at U of T and Beyond

Written by: Vivian Li

Hi everyone! My name is Vivian and I’m the new Centre of Community Partnerships (CCP) blogger this year. In this post, I’ll be writing about why/ how I got involved with CCP and why I wanted to be a blogger for the centre.

As an English and Philosophy Major, many of my courses are very intriguing but at the same time are mainly theoretical. While I improved in writing essays and conveying my thoughts on paper, I felt that I withheld the same amount of attention to my verbal communication, especially in front of groups. Last year, I really wanted to develop as an orator as well as to connect more to the community. Participating in Alternative Reading Week was a bit scary at first, but I really loved my team and had a lot of fun creating a podcast! It was really inspiring to see the team work together and research, script, and record everything within a few days. After my experience there, I realized I really wanted to be more engaged with CCP and connect to more people who cared about social justice.

When I saw the CCP Blogger and Social Media Assistant work study posting, I felt that I’d be able to develop some skills I already have and also get to know other projects happening in U of T and other communities. I also wanted to challenge myself to write for a different audience, as I’m often writing academic essays or stories and poems. At the same time, I knew that I wanted to build communities in the future and connect to people through art. This summer I was assisting an artist who led a series of workshops on African Vegan Art at a community centre servicing new immigrants and refugees. Over a period of two months, I got to know the people who came regularly to our program, and the room became a safe space for sharing languages and culture, especially music. I’m interested in combining my passion for the arts with community engagement, and I’m looking forward to the orientation for one of the Community Action Projects (CAPs) called Story Planet! Community Action Projects (CAPs) are long-term volunteer opportunities with local non-profit and public sector organizations in the City of Toronto. Story Planet engages youth and children with creativity, art, and literacy in an inclusive environment.

It’s my last year at U of T, and one of my goals this year is to leave behind positive changes. As such, I look forward to learning from other people, improving my writing, and helping people create more spaces that are safe and service others.

CEI Grant: Find Your Path

Written by Tuli Chowdhury

Almost 1 in 4 black students in Toronto drop out of high school. In 2011, Dr Karen Robson at the University of McMaster studied five years of data on race and academic achievement from the Toronto District school board. Results showed that black students had the lowest grades compared to any racial group and were disproportionately represented in applied and special education programs. Only 49% of black students were placed in the academic stream compared to 77% of white students – this means that more than half of the black students in Toronto could never apply to university, even if they wanted to (Verma 2018).

In order to help address the low graduation rates and post-secondary matriculation rates among Black students, we created Find Your Path in 2019 while in high school. Find Your Path is a student-run non-profit organization that aims to help marginalized youth reach their academic potential through the coordination of engaging, restorative educational programing and a scholarship fund. Thanks to funding from the University of Toronto, the Yale University Afro-American Cultural Centre and Eyitayo F. Dada Law, this year we were able to embark on our fourth year of embracing ethnic diversity to help bridge gaps in student achievement as part of the movement for black educational empowerment in Toronto. Our Afrocentric Summer Mentorship & Enrichment Program ran for four weeks at the Rexdale Community Hub during August 2019 serving a total of 28 youth and delivering 2 scholarships. The goal of the program was to increase participant self-confidence and academic engagement so that they are more likely to act in accordance with high academic and professional goals.

The youth participated in weekly experiential learning modules, that drew on African-centred sources of knowledge, covering the four disciplines of: entrepreneurship, medicine, history and civics. For each theme, a successful black professional/expert who was well-versed on the often-neglected African contributions in their discipline, spoke to the youth about their journey. Students were paired with mentors of colour who were current university (undergraduate and PhD), college, medical and law school students. Mentors walked students through fun, thought-provoking Afrocentric academic activities in each of the disciplines in addition to leading discussions on growth mindsets, goal-setting and overcoming barriers.

Our 2019 scholarship winners were Anita Anning and Faizo Mayow, graduating students who will be attending York University and George Brown College in the fall, respectively. They stood out among the applications we received because of their academic excellence and commitment to supporting their communities. We were so happy to award them each with $350 to support them in their exciting and inspirational educational journey as the first in their families to receive a post-secondary education. Both were also able to benefit from the mentoring discussions and insightful speeches in the final day of the enrichment program.

The program began with the theme of entrepreneurship which included an insightful workshop from Chris ‘Mr. Inspired’ Duff, a local entrepreneur and owner of Inspired Initiatives: an innovative consulting firm on a mission to build solutions that level the playing field for marginalized communities and help people in need, which offers a range of services including helping young people monetize their passions. Participants also had the opportunity to compete in an entrepreneurship cup where they designed their own business plans. Mentors led participants in discussions on growth and fixed mindsets.

The theme of the second day was medicine, where the vice-president of the Black Physicians of Ontario, Dr. Andrew Thomas, spoke to the students about his educational and professional journey including attending medical school at a HBCU.  Students participated in a family medicine workshop where they were taught the importance of primary care, explored the implications of the shortage of black male doctors and tried their hand at diagnosing patients through testing reflexes, checking blood pressures and using an otoscope. A lucky few also got the chance to practice suturing on a banana! Mentor pods discussed strategies for overcoming fears and challenges using Maya Angelou’s poetry.

The third day centered on history and included our very first field trip. We partnered with the amazingly talented Jacqueline Scott- a historian and PhD student, who led participants on a black history tour of downtown Toronto focusing on murals, monuments and spaces pertaining to Black influences on the city and country. Mentors also took the time to discuss how they have learnt from their mistakes and how the students can too.

Our fourth and final day began with our keynote speaker, Yale alum and New Haven Alderman, Albert Lucas, who joined us virtually and shared his words of wisdom on civics and giving back to the community. We then showcased local talent through a spoken word performance on how art can lead to self-growth followed by a poetry-writing workshop led by guest Brian Osei-Boateng.  Participants then walked through a series of academic goal-setting activities looking to our mentors as models for setting and achieving high goals. We concluded by giving participants certificates of achievement with unique superlative awards. Finally, we had closing remarks delivered by our long-standing cheerleader and supporter, Eyitayo Dada.

If you would like to learn more or support our work through volunteering or donating, please check us out here: www.fypcanada.com

 

References Cited
Verma, Sonia. “Black Students Still Face Major Hurdles Getting into University.” Brighter  World, 1 May, 2018, https://brighterworld.mcmaster.ca/articles/black-students-still-face-major-hurdles-getting-into-university/

CEI Grant: LAMP Community Health Centre

Written by Rachael Gustave

Members of the South Etobicoke/Lakeshore community have been active in their affordable housing advocacy efforts after seeing increasing barriers to accessing housing. Recent patterns of gentrification and urban renewal in this mixed income community has left long time residents priced out of the current rental market in South Etobicoke. Within the last year, recent trends in Toronto’s rental housing market had amplified impacts on vulnerable groups such as low income residents, newcomers and youth, who have sought support from local service provider agencies to address the impacts of reno-evictions, skyrottening rental prices, and harassment from landlords.

In response to growing community concern, LAMP Community Health Centre became a safe space for residents to voice their concerns and priorities for housing in the neighbourhood. This collective concern had materialized into a neighbourhood housing advocacy and action group that meets monthly to address a local housing strategy.

While a collective vision for affordable housing had been blooming through the community’s recent housing initiatives, input from local youth–those of whom make up a significant part of South Etobicoke/Lakeshore–was largely absent from the conversation. This is where my volunteer involvement with LAMP CHC kicks into gear, as we sought to find avenues to mobilize youth for the ongoing affordable housing initiative.

The 2019 Lakeshore Affordable Housing Youth Round Table was a youth led community initiative aimed to develop a network of local youth who are dedicated to community development and achieving solutions to the affordable housing crisis that includes the needs of all members. Working with a small team of local youth, we were determined to find out how the diverse group of students from the nearby college our impacted by the community’s housing plans.

Through this event, residents had the opportunity to share their experiences with housing in Toronto, gain insights from the most recent statistics and facts about housing, and begin to identify sustainable strategies that will fill the housing demand. The evening featured young professionals involved with advocacy and housing services sharing their experiences about the current rental climate in South Etobicoke. Our keynote speaker from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) broke down important info about Toronto’s current housing market and options for individuals seeking housing. Local youth discussed their experiences accessing housing and changes they would like to see within their community. Through this dialogue, we found that these local residents want the following in their community:

  1. housing affordability: affordable rents through equitable housing programs such as subsidized housing and maintained rent controls
  2. housing accessibility: housing that is livable for people regardless of their health circumstances
  3. anti-racist & non-discriminatory rental practices: a community of landowners and residents that understand, respect, and value diversity
  4. inclusionary zoning: affordable units available in all new housing developments
  5. collaborative planning: collaborative planning that supports the needs of citizens and other stakeholders
  6. shelter spaces: emergency, short term and long term shelters with adequate support resources
  7. supportive housing models: assisted living support for people with personal and care needs
  8. livable conditions & environmental sustainabilty: housing developments that are well-maintained and safe for the community
  9. diverse housing models: living arrangements that support both traditional and nontraditional households
  10. effective avenues to home ownership: supports for individuals and groups wanting to purchase a home. e.g. co-ownership and rent-to-own programs

It’s important that every person’s voice be heard and included in decisions that will affect their lives. The 2019 Lakeshore Affordable Housing Youth Round Table was an effort to inspire youth towards a vision for an affordable, livable community, where all community members have equitable access to public goods including housing, education and social services. This should be our standard for progress in society.

CEI Grant: Salam from Niagara Falls

Iranian and Afghan artists participating were asked to share and digitally manipulate photographs from their personal archives at Niagara Falls alongside family and chosen family. All works are mixed media, using digital manipulations to complicate relationships with “home” and the nostalgia associated with Niagara Falls as a place for affirming our (Iranian and Afghan migrant/refugee) belonging in Canada. Zahra Rajabi is a product designer fascinated by what constitutes belonging in the digital world. Rajabi pairs images of popular Canadian landmarks alongside family photographs in Afghanistan to think through the ways that “home is (re)created through art”. Ferozan Nasiri is an Afghan community organizer and educator interested in the ways that members of the Afghan diaspora use different modes and mediums to theorize, articulate, and represent their lived experiences locally and globally – especially through storytelling. Nasiri uses Afghan textiles as the backdrop of her work to evoke a feeling of familiarity for Afghan audiences engaging with her work. Through her artist statement Nasiri pays tribute to complicated relationships to belonging which are “as complex and non-linear as our distinct experiences with migration.” Melika Hashemi is a multidisciplinary artist whose projects are informed by her social and pedagogical concerns regarding marginality and resistance (and grounded by her hyphenated experiences with Iran and Canada). Through works such as Ayeneh Kari (2019), Hashemi transforms her family photographs at Niagara Falls into (digital) traditional Persian mirror handiwork. Swarm is an anonymous street artist based inTiohtià:ke (Montreal) and whose primary medium is wheatpaste and graffiti. Swarm’s artistic contribution included a digital manipulation of the Canadian flag, hung upside down to signal the distress and urgency surrounding Canada’s contribution toclimate change via settler colonialist resource extraction that has been ongoing since the first waves of colonization.

The collaboration between Afghan and Iranian artists grew organically as we already shared space in our movements against islamphobia, against sexism, against racism, and against other structural conditions which shape our lives and the lives of those we love. More specifically, we shared space in our movements against sanctions (which are mostly discussed in relation to the flow of Iranian products but) which restrict the mobility and livelihoods of people first and foremost including for Afghan people. While cultural and linguistic commonalities acted as a starting point for our collaborative project, we attempted to ensure that we centred our own entry points rather than flattening or conflating Afghan and Iranian experiences especially because we all held different relationships to migration, class, faith, and shadeism. The significance of Niagara Falls for new immigrant and migrant communities is not limited to Afghan and Iranian diasporas however we centred what we know to strengthen our work and ensure we were only speaking from lived experiences.

Note: this question is hard to answer without placing blame/shame on community members who are often doing their best in the face of overt racism, microagressions, delayed visa/immigration applications, etc. but anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeniety, and attachments to neoliberal notions of productivity (rooted in racial capitalism and property rights facilitated through theft of Indigenous land) continue to be prevalent in our respective diasporas. A lot of artistic practice also continues to think through the “٣rd space” that first and second generation Iranian and Afghan people navigate without asking: “what are the limits of making claims for belonging on stolen land?” We are invested in questioning how diasporic claims for static and grounded relationships to place are harmful in reproducing notions of time as linear and more broadly, assimilating into the white settler state which isn’t broken but rather built to operate at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and racialized people. In producing her works, Ferozan Nasiri notes that she thought about an imaginary thread between her family photographs and ijaza (consent) in relation to the land. She insists that consent is a part of a dialogue that should have a place in the collective consciousness of the Afghan diaspora, especially as “we navigate, recreate, and speak on different spaces of belonging here.” While we are concerned about the lack of discussions around settler colonialism and anti-Blackness in Iranian and Afghan communities, we are indebted to the mobilizing happening across Turtle Island by platforms including (but most definitely not limited to) Canadian Roots ExchangeDiaspora Express, and LAL .

Melika Hashemi draws from The Audre Lorde Questionnaire to Oneself (1980) to grapple with the limits of language and feelings of unbelonging which we do not always yet have the words for. Diaspora Express makes conversations on home-making and settler colonialism accessible by asking its members “what brought us to this land and what can we do in solidarity with rightful owners of this land?” While many Iranian politicians stand by a Prime Minister who has continuously failed to seek Indigenous peoples consultation and who upholds a history of land grabbing by the Canadian nation-state (including through pipeline expansions and tar sands extraction), we look towards futurities beyond surface level representation and towards honouring treaties and enacting different ways of inhabiting and most importantly, sharing space for ourselves and the generations to come.

In short, the most concrete piece which inspired this exhibit is the photographs that each of us have at Niagara Falls and the complicated relationship to home that we continue to think through/carve out.

Student Profile: Iris Deng – Student, Artist, and Leader

Meet Iris Deng, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto and good friend of the Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP). Her involvement at the CCP has been an integrated part of her University of Toronto life; from volunteering to writing and graphic design, Iris has been involved with the CCP in various roles and perspectives. Iris’ involvement began during her first year of study for February 2017’s Alternative Reading Week, and she has since pursued other volunteer and work-study positions.

It was my first year. I was living in res, and I saw the poster. It said: ‘What are you doing during reading week? Consider Alternative Reading Week!’ I was intrigued,” says Iris.

Alternative Reading Week is an annual volunteering experience organized by the Centre for Community Partnerships in which students spend three days working on various projects with local community organizations. Iris spent her first Alternative Reading Week with the Innovation Hub. “The Innovation Hub is a student-led initiative that collaborates with partners in the university community to research and ideate innovative strategies for improving the campus experience” (Innovation Hub).

The following year, Iris was inspired to rejoin Alternative Reading Week as a project leader, collaborating with students on a mural for ArtHeart at Daniels Spectrum. “A community cultural hub, Daniel’s Spectrum is home to several art-based communities such as ArtHeart, whose mission is to build self-esteem and self-reliance for children, youth, adults, and families in the Regent Park community” (ArtHeart Community Art Centre). In addition to her interest in psychology and economics, her two majors, Iris also has a passion for visual arts and design: “I draw portraits, photo-realistic drawings, and in recent years, comics and graphics too”. Along with her contributions as a project leader for Alternative Reading Week at ArtHeart, Iris has also applied her technical art skills through comics for the University of Toronto’s “The Varsity” and her work-study positions at the CCP. During her second and third years at the University of Toronto, Iris worked in the CCP work-study position of Communications and Promotions.

(Left) Iris (5th from the right) and her teammates in front of the 2018 ArtHeart Mural created during Alternative Reading Week. (Right) A sketch of Iris’ ‘lovely squad’ during the 2018 Alternative Reading Week.

During her second year of study (and first work-study period), Iris also worked for Student Life’s blog, representing the CCP and writing alongside other U of T divisions. She proposed formatting her blog posts as comics with blurbs, making the comics the emphasis of her posts: “I got to incorporate my artistic skills. I got tired of writing so I asked: “Can I draw instead?”

Comics from Iris’ Student Life blog.

Henceforth blogging for Student Life through comics, Iris blogged in a personal and unique style. For her CCP position, she undertook numerous projects that allowed her to apply her graphic design and illustration skills, including poster and t-shirt designs. For one such project, she illustrated for the CCP’s children book “Bloom’s Community Garden”, of which 70 copies were printed.

“It was hard balancing everything. I was working at the CCP, and that made me want to be more involved in the events that they held. I had to attend them and blog about my experiences for my Student Life blogger position, which I really enjoyed. I was glad to incorporate my artistic skills.”

Illustrations by Iris from “Bloom’s Community Garden”.

During her third year, Iris was a photographer for Alternative Reading Week and delivered a public speech during its orientation. She also continued in her role as Communications and Promotions Assistant at the CCP. Through the variety of roles she has assumed at the CCP, Iris has gained skills from digital art to writing, blogging, and even public speaking. “In a work-study position, you aren’t limited. Your skills come up and that’s what you can bring to the table. I guess I brought artistic skills. From there you learn even more. Being involved has helped me grow in many ways. …  I made some opportunities happen and some just happened to me! CCP was a starting point and I jumped to different places, like Student Life and University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), but I always came back because there’s always more I can learn.”.

Now in her fourth year of study, Iris continues to be involved with the CCP. She plans to finish her Bachelor’s degree in 2020 and pursue a career in communications, design, or marketing. “I don’t want to limit myself to these fields though”, says Iris. Additionally, she plans to further pursue her visual arts skills through formal training and practice. “I’d love to have a stall at an art exhibition or show, or sell my art.” Check out her Instagram page to see more of her amazing work, or click here to see her illustrations for the Varsity!

Iris D. (@shh.who.draws) • Instagram photos and videos

See Instagram photos and videos from Iris D. (@shh.who.draws)

www.instagram.com

Drawings from Iris’ Instagram page.

Works Cited

“ArtHeart Community Art Centre.” Daniels Spectrum, danielsspectrum.ca/tenants/artheart-community-centre/.

“Our Work.” The Innovation Hub, blogs.studentlife.utoronto.ca/innovationhub/our-work/.