Watching Paint Dry Has Never Been so Fun – VUSAQ’s Art Battle

Brushes fly across the canvas, water spills, paint splatters. There’s one more minute left in this round of the art battle, and each artist is trying their hardest to win. 

I had the pleasure to attend an Art Battle organized by the VUSAQ equity commission this week. The battle supported Sprott House, Toronto’s first transitional home for homeless LGBTQ2SA+ youth. Between the great art, awesome music, and super cool people, it was truly one of the best events I’ve been to this year.


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U of T’s Eric Arthur Gallery: 125th Anniversary Exhibition

As an Arts & Science student, I find myself restricted to the areas on campus reserved for classes and events specific to my faculty. I’ve made it a point to try and branch out by exploring the things other faculties have to offer. This includes visiting the Eric Arthur Gallery within what I’ve always assumed to be this totally nondescript building along College Street. (Branching out also includes teaching myself the ukulele in hopes that the Faculty of Music will acknowledge my hidden musical talent and accept me as their own.) 

The UofT building sign for the Daniels Faculty.

The Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design is located at 230 College Street, on the edge of Huron. (Photo courtesy of Michael Mousa, subject including yours truly)

Turns out that this building on College that I’ve passed by so many times the past three years is the John H. Daniels building for the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. Inside is the Eric Arthur Gallery, currently celebrating the 125th anniversary of the architecture program at U of T. The exhibit provides a retrospective look at the history of architecture and the evolution of its teaching tools within the scope of our university.

A large open space inside the Faculty of Architecture. The wall on the right provides a textual description of the exhibition. To the left is the start of the historical timeline, beginning in 1890.

Inside the Eric Arthur Gallery during the 125th Anniversary exhibition.

I was surprised that I’d never heard of this gallery before. While UTAC and the Justina M. Barnicke galleries are two (free) art galleries on campus (see Amie’s post from the archives about the UTAC!), the Eric Arthur is geared towards architectural exhibitions, which may be why I’d never heard of it until now. I loved the layout of the exhibition the second I walked in, just because anything that is organized cleanly makes me feel very satisfied.

The gallery overlooks College Street. Here we see a plaster replica of Michelangelo's Moses, created by past architecture students. Along the wall are negatives of glass slides used by architects from the school.

The gallery overlooks College Street. Here we see a plaster replica of Michelangelo’s Moses, created by past architecture students. Along the wall are negatives of glass slides used by architects from the school.

This exhibit celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Faculty of Architecture is primarily displayed as a timeline, starting from the inception of the program in 1890 and going up by five-year intervals to present day. The timeline is cleverly and meticulously organized; each interval showcases photographs of student life at the time, followed by administrative and professional developments within the faculty, course syllabi and assignments, newspaper clippings and photographs depicting important events in Canadian, architectural and world history respectively.

One part of the timeline along the wall divided into 5 shelves. The first shelf contains 3D letters that denote the year as 1935. Within the same shelf is a piece of paper from a course assignment during that time period. The next shelf underneath contains newspaper clippings. The shelf below that contains photos and captions denoting important events in Canadian history. Below that, pictures of important international architectural events. Below that, world events.

Some of the events related to architectural design and education occurring during 1935.

Piece of paper from a 1935 UofT Architecture Exam. The paper describes detailed instructions. Students must draw and design a room with the appropriate proportions and requirements demanded for in the instructions.

A close-up of a question on an architecture exam circa 1935. Always nice to see that the pain of writing a university exam is something that transcends temporal boundaries!!

There are also other features of the exhibition like old artifacts used by architecture students in particular time periods.

A table lined with geometry sets, rulers, compasses, and colour swatches used by past students.

Equipment used in the past by students in the Faculty, photo taken at a terrifying bad angle.

A table in the gallery with three really old, really large computers that contained graphics software that was used by design students.

Some of the first archaic forms of computer technology used by students in the Daniels Faculty studying design. These were used in the ’80s!

If you’re interested in architecture and/or the history of our school, this exhibit is a fantastic look at U of T’s legacy. There is so much information dropped on you at once that I was very content to spend a long amount of time wandering around the gallery during my break between classes. The gallery is free and this exhibit runs until October 2. I’d love to come back to see what other exhibits they plan on holding next!

A selfie I took with the plaster replica of Michelangelo's Moses statue with the caption "#art". I added sparkles to the photo to make it fabulous

Does art really exist if no one is there to appreciate it/take a selfie with it??

The St. George campus is so big that sometimes we glaze over buildings that turn out to be super interesting. What places have you discovered on campus that have surprised you? Let me know in the comments or Instagram a photo of it and tag us at @lifeatuoft!

My St. George Art Crawl

So last week, I was helping out with Orientation activities, putting away tables around the lawn behind the UTSU building and (I hate to admit this, but) struggling with one particularly cumbersome table. With gritted teeth, I dragged it up the slope of the lawn and backed right into one of the rods of some strange looking white contraption on the grass.



Rubbing my bruised back (which has now turned a brilliant shade of purple), I looked around for a plaque or an engraving or some sort of explanation but there was nothing and so slightly bemused, I went about my day and looked it up as soon as I got home (I may or may not have Googled ‘white sticks uoft utsu lawn meaning’).

Turns out, they’re actually an art piece by James Gillespie installed in 1984.

Yes- Art. I scoffed at the screen for a few seconds, but then read further and found out something interesting- so the artist actually positioned the tips of the structures so that if you stand in front of the shortest pole facing south and align all their tips together, you’ll see that they all point up towards the CN Tower.



Pretty cool.

I think what the artist was trying to convey by connecting the ‘contemporary CN Tower’ with the more ‘ancient’ pyramid-like structures was not only the university’s rich history but also how U of T is linked to the world beyond campus and how important it is to look up at the bigger picture. That’s what I got out of it, at least.

Gillespie’s ‘Sight Line'(s) are just one of many art pieces across campus-

Broken Bicycle, by Gu Xiu Hei, 1992

Location: UTSU Building

This piece is dedicated to the students who died during the 1989 student uprising in Tianamen Square in China.

sculpture of a broken bike

Ancient Greek god of Commerce, Hermes

Location: Hart House quad

statue of hermes on campus

Norman Bethune, by David Pelletier, 2014

Location: near entrance of MedSci

bronze statue of norman bethune

Bethune was a Canadian surgeon and politician, widely known in China for his contributions to wartime medicine. He spent the last years of his life treating soldiers on the battlefield in remote regions of China and brought modern medicine such as the mobile blood bank to chaotic field lines. It is said that because of how hard he worked during his time in China,  photographs of him at age 49 seem to depict a man in his 70s. Upon his death in 1939, he was personally paid tribute to by Mao Zhedong- and with multiple statues of him all over the country- remains one of the few Westerners of the time to be as widely celebrated in China.

John Graves Simcoe, by Walter Seymour Allward, 1903

Location: Southern side of Queen’s Park

One of many historical figures to be immortalized in statues around Queen’s Park, Simcoe was a British army officer and the first Lieutenant-Governor of Canada. He was first sent to America at the time of the War of Independence and known for his skill in the battlefield- but it was also in America that he wrote the first ever recorded Valentine’s Day letter- to an American girl called Sally Townsend. There’s more to that story, you can read about it here.

bronze statue of john graves simcoe

Hart House Mask, Evan Grant Penny, 1990

Location: Outside entrance to Justina M. Barnicke Gallery

if you view this piece from different angles, you’ll see the profile of a man’s face shifting and looking out in different perspectives- quite fascinatingimage



Businessman on a Horse, William McElcheran

Location: St. Michael’s College

statue of a portly businessman on a horse

This piece depicts a portly gentleman with a haughty expression and his nose in the air, strangely enough-seated on a horse- something usually reserved for wartime heroes.

In this satiric piece, I think McElcheran is trying to highlight the narcissistic, self-indulgent attitudes of some in the corporate world who believe they are heroes when in reality, they are riding unpredictable horses without saddles or reigns, lucky not to be thrown off- much like riding the unpredictable ups and downs of the economy.

Waves by Ted Beiler, 1967

Location: outside Medsci


Kell’s Nest by Bill Vazan, 1997

Location: St. Michael’s College


And bonus (just because I heard #moosecrushmonday is actually a thing and I’m writing this on a Monday- here’s

Mooseconstrue by Charles Pachter

Location: Intersection of St George and Harbord

moose sculpture

One book claims that the artist had hoped that the piece of art would become a meeting point for students, a ‘meet me at the moose’ kind of thing.

Sadly, that phrase has not yet found its way into U of T vocabulary….yet.

Walking around and discovering these pieces of art scattered around campus really made me realize that I ought to look up from my phone or my book once in a while and take in my surroundings. Art really does have fascinating stories to tell and some of these pieces (quite literally) left a mark on me.

I’m sure there are many more around campus and I’ll keep my eyes peeled. Until next time, U of T, enjoy wowing your friends with your knowledge of art history!

A Visit to Andy Warhol: Revisited

After writing my post on student discounts last week, a friend pointed out to me that there was an Andy Warhol exhibit taking place just north of campus, and that tickets were half price for students! I absolutely couldn’t refuse paying $5 to see the works of one of the world’s most famous artists up close and personal, so this past weekend I took a visit to Andy Warhol: Revisited.

wall covered with photos of andy warhol

Andy Warhol: Revisited is a pop up show running until the end of December. The exhibit is nestled in the core of Yorkville, a neighbourhood who’s ties to fashion and luxury pair perfectly with Warhol’s art.

three of Warhol's iconic Campbell's Soup Cans

It is rumoured that Warhol ate Campbell’s soup for lunch everyday, making this series not only one of his most famous, but also his most personal.


several art works of famous 20th century men with text reading "socialites" above them

I found it interesting how relevant Andy Warhol’s works still were, even if the bulk of them were created between the 1960s and the 1980s. I usually associate Warhol with Marilyn Monroe and soup cans, so getting a chance to look at his more political pieces was intriguing.

a portrait of Lenin, predominately coloured red

Warhol’s “Red Lenin” is a great view into the Cold War panic of the mid 20th century.


image of the author reflected on a painting

The show does allow cameras, something I didn’t find out until after I arrived. In order to beat the glare of the glass, take a real camera with you and position it perfectly parallel to the glass.

I’ve only ever seen Warhol pieces replicated online or as posters, so I never noticed just how much texture they had.

an image of mickey mouse from Warhol's "Myths" collection, accented with diamond dust

Many of the pieces have diamond dust featured throughout them, which was beautiful to examine up close. The show has no ropes, so you can really admire the detail of the pieces (just don’t touch!).

upclose image of the texture in a warhol piece

Andy Warhol: Revisited is on until December 31st at 77 Bloor St. West. Tickets are $5 with your TCard and can be purchased online or in person. For more information you can visit the exhibit’s website.

IMG_9685 copy


Winter break may be Over, but that doesn’t mean a cold slog until Spring.

It is week four of term and I am already missing the chocolate-consuming, snuggled in comfy clothing, social function-filled days of the winter break. Not to mention that I am frozen to my core. Yes I know, it was way worse last year, but a late start to the winter lulled me into a false sense of security and now I am finding my warm bed and cranked heat more attractive than ever.

There is so much to look forward to and do over the next few days and weeks though, and I’d love to impart it all to you so we can enjoy the fun and frivolity and embrace the winter chill together. Winterfest and Frost Week might be over, but that doesn’t put fun to an end.

Get Warm with Exercise

Did you know that the Varsity Center has free skating and pick-up hockey scheduled all term? You can even rent skates! If you’re into outdoor skating, try Nathan Phillips’s Square, where you can also rent skates and a helmet for $10 for two-hour use.

For indoor exercise, don’t forget the drop-In classes at Hart House or the Athletic Center (AC). Registered classes at Hart House and the AC began this week, but I think you can still sign up for them if you’re looking for things like dancing (of all sorts), Pilates, various martial arts, swimming, , or archery (though you might want to leave the Mockingjay pin at home).

Relaxation and Rejuvenation for your Mind and Body

After all that exercise, you might want a massage, and Hart House delivers free mini Shiatsu massages every Monday in the chapel from 12:00 to 3:00 PM.

There are also regular mindfulness opportunities throughout the week to help you get centered and re-energized.

Get Creative

For those of you who appreciate self-expression through the written word, try Write Now!, a weekly drop-in session run by peer mentors. It’s offered three times weekly: at The Multi-Faith Centre on Tuesdays, on Thursdays at Hart House (room locations change so check the link above for specifics), and the Koffler Student Services Centre on Fridays.

Get Crafty! at Hart House returns this term. You’ll have the opportunity to make everything from lip balms to buttons to aromatherapy sprays (among other cool things), so don’t miss it.

Hart House also hosts tons of creative classes, where you can learn everything from clowning to film-making. Why not learn a new skill this term?

Theatre, Art and Music

There are so many great shows this term! Free weekly jazz nights at Hart House, Jesus Christ Superstar and other great plays at Hart House Theatre, and free concerts galore from student groups – you can review the listing of all Hart House musical groups and their respective concert dates above. There are also a ton of events listed at UofTtix.

Feeling your inner performer needs to be unleashed? Hart House’s got you covered with monthly open mic nights.

Last but certainly not least, for those into visual art, there are several exhibitions open at the UofT Art Centre and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery.

But wait, there’s [probably] more

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should be enough to get you started towards beating the winter blahs. Have any other events to look forward to that you think everyone should know about? Let me know in the comments!

New Discoveries: U of T Art Centre

During Orientation week I participated in an ask-an-upper-year panel as part of Kickstart Orientation that was held in the University of Toronto Art Centre (UTAC).

This was the first time I had been in UTAC and I was totally blown away at how great a space it was. Admission to UTAC is free so the other day I went in while killing time before classes to take a longer look. There are currently 3 temporary exhibits and 1 permanent exhibit to check out: one consisting of the photographs of Allen Ginsberg, one of the photographs of Robert Giard, one of the works of AA Bronson, and one consisting of Byzantine and Post Byzantine Icons from the Malcove Collection.

My favourite exhibit was “We Are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death”: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg (1953-1996)”. The photographs were amazing and there were timelines around the exhibit that illustrated his life as well as a recording of him speaking playing throughout the room. I also loved the healing tent (shown below) that was part of “AA Bronson: Life and Work” and had to resist the urge to crawl inside with a book.

I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this place for the past two years and I will definitely be going back very soon! AA Bronson, Tent for Healing, 2013 in the AA Bronson exhibit

Allen Ginsberg Exhibit: wide shot of the ginsberg exhibit wide shot of the ginsberg exhibit   photographs from the Ginsberg Exhibit close up of papers and  in the Ginsberg exhibit

Robert Giard Exhibit:photographs from the Robert Giard exhibit

wide shot of the Robert Giard exhibit

Have you checked out the U of T Art Centre in the past? What has been your favourite exhibit? 

An Artsy Afternoon

Contemporary art and I have an interesting relationship. Sometimes we get along, like two dancers weaving to a rhythmic beat, and other times we tip-toe in each others’ spaces, like hesitant friends at an awkward dinner party.

So it was with a bit of a sense of the unknown that I made my way to the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery to check out the current exhibition, I Thought There Were Limits. As I stepped into the gallery, I reacted as I usually do when it comes to contemporary art exhibits. I wondered: where is the art, and why is there so much space? I like creating art, but my paintings and drawings are a mish-mash of colours and shapes, words and half-finished poems, swirls, strikes, dots, random pairings of patterns and symbols…absolutely nothing like the art that stood staring back at me, daring me to take a leap.

And so, I leapt.

According to the colourful program that I picked up, the exhibit brings together five artists who “engage with both the material and conceptual dimensions of space”. Ah, Space, that most elusive of things. The exhibit spans two rooms, with one room hosting most of the art pieces, and the other engulfed by Kika Thorne’s piece titled Singularity (pictured below). I won’t go into detail about each work of art. I want you, my friend, to go and take a look!

Singularity by Kika Thorne

However, one piece caught my eye. It took the shape of a giant shiny silver blanket of sorts, slightly crumpled and lying on the floor. Not surprisingly, the piece was called Space Blanket, by Josh Thorpe. Yet it was the sound recording that formed the backdrop for the blanket which got me thinking. At first I thought I was hearing noise from the subway cars (if you’re ever in a lecture at OISE, you know what I’m talking about). Then, as I listened more closely, I realized that what I was hearing was a succession of footsteps that got increasingly louder, and then simply fell away. Intertwined with the sound of footsteps was the sound of classical music.

It could have been my imagination (that afternoon sunlight can play tricks sometimes). but every time the footsteps grew louder, the silver blanket moved ever so slightly – just enough to make me believe that perhaps it was moving on its own.

All of which got me thinking about Space. I was the gallery’s only visitor. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me. It seemed as though time had stopped, and I was carried by whatever note the music played next. I opened my eyes and found myself in rather empty space filled with sound and a few works of art. I realized that the title for the exhibit – I Thought There Were Limits – fit really well. There are no limits, until you create them. The art that did have physical limits in that open space did not have limits in my mind. Now that, my friend, is profound.

Since I had thought all the deep thoughts I had inside me, it was time to go. I really enjoyed Josh Thorpe’s work, but I could only reflect for so long on potential interpretations. So, off I went, only to be bowled over in Hart House’s next corridor by the Hart House Camera Club’s annual exhibit.

According to their website, the exhibit ended on April 21. I managed to catch it, and you may have a chance as well in the next couple of days. I must have spent a good 20 minutes immersing myself in all of the photographs, and creating stories as I went along. The photographs are fantastic!

Aaron Tan’s Tension is a compelling piece:

Tension, by Aaron Tan

Art Chow’s work is also wonderful:

Observer, by Art Chow

I was pleasantly surprised by both Justina M. Barnicke’s current exhibit, and my spontaneous discovery of the Camera Club’s eye-opening exhibit (its 91st edition, I might add). Have a spare hour or so? Treat yourself to an afternoon of art at Hart House. You may just be inspired to create spaces and stories of your own!


For more information about Hart House’s Camera Club, check out their website.

The Art of Forgiving Yourself

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

We’ve all heard the expression “forgive and forget.”  For most people, it seems, that expression only applies to other people. We’re supposed to give loved ones, whether they be friends, family members, partners, or others, second chances. And that can be a struggle, especially when we have been wronged.  But I’ve learned that one of the hardest things to do is to forgive yourself for mistakes that you’ve made.

My first year was my worst.  Hands-down.  UofT intimidated me.  I can still remember walking into Con Hall and thinking “there are more students in this one class than in my entire high school.”  I lived in residence but homesickness took over within a few weeks. I struggled through my courses and felt a little lost on campus.  It wasn’t until the end of Year 1 that I decided to talk to someone.

I booked an appointment with my registrar’s office and walked my advisor through my issues.  I asked her to fix my situation. To make it right.  I wanted her to give me a step-by-step solution to all my troubles.  I wanted her to turn back time.

What she said to me completely through me off because it was so unexpected and seemed so irrelevant.  She looked me in the eye and asked me “If your best friend came to you with this issue, what would be the first thing that you say?”

I wasn’t really sure where this was going but I said “I’d tell her not to give up.”


“Well yeah. I’d tell her to cut herself some slack.  Everyone makes mistakes.  And she’s resourceful enough to recover from a setback.”

And then she said “So why can’t you say that to yourself?  Why doesn’t that apply to you?”

I think that was one of the first times I realized that it’s okay to make mistakes.  To not have everything figured out.  Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your actions (and yes, there will be consequences).  It just means that those consequences don’t have to include shame, guilt, or depression.

I remember asking my advisor “if I’m not hard on myself, won’t people think that I’m not taking my situation seriously?”

She pointed out “do you think that your loved ones want you to be moping around?  Or do you think they’d prefer it if you were resourceful and found a way to rectify your situation?”

“Maybe I should change my study habits.”

“And you will. But before you can do that, you need to move on.  And the only way to do that is to forgive yourself.”

I remember walking out of the registrar’s office with a sense of relief.  I didn’t have a step-by-step solution to my problem like I’d hoped.  But I figured out a way to re-channel my time and energy to improving my situation instead of beating myself up over it.

I think, in the midst of the expectations that others have for us and those that we have for ourselves, we forget that we are human. That we fail.  And that presents one of the biggest barriers to letting go of the past and moving on.  Reminding ourselves that we are worthy of forgiveness is half the battle.

Till next time,


Let’s make something amazing! #joyatuoft

So, last Monday at around 10 a.m. after a very late night and a very early morning, my restless pursuit of coffee through the Bahen Centre was met with this:

YES. It was like MY DREAMS HAD COME TRUE: my very own foot-piano! Delighted, I tapped out a little “Gin and Juice” before texting a very good friend and promising him I would serenade him in a way unlike any other if he would immediately make his way to Bahen Centre. This month – in the middle of winter, as Singles’ Awareness Day looms on February 14th – the office of student life is on a massive campaign to get students talking about how we find joy on campus. For me, joy is in the things like this; it’s something we can create.

As a result, my dear lifeatuoft readers, I propose a challenge: this month, make something. Make something cool. Make a piano you can play with your feet. Or whatever. Make something that no one’s going to mark you on but it doesn’t matter because it’s awesome. In high school, I used to paint and play in a garage band and build things in the tech wing of my school. Coming to university, many of us forget our old hobbies. So, I’ve compiled a list to get you started. Some of these are semester-long commitments, while (for the low commitment folks among us) some are only one-time workshops, and none of them are more than $10:

There’s a part of me, deep down inside, that wants nothing more than to be a documentary film-maker. As luck would have it, the U of T Film Festival is the perfect place to blaze my trail to cinematic glory. Submissions are due March 2 at 5pm, with screenings and awards on March 22.

They’re taking over. Make yourself their master before it’s too late. Check out the University of Toronto Robotics Association to make all kinds of ridiculously awesome robots, some of which have even been featured on the Discovery Channel.

Open mic night at Hart House.
Make some noise! Poetry, comedy, improv jazz – whatever you do, come do it at Hart House. The next event is at 7:30 pm on February 16th, and it’s free. Bring friends!

Poetry workshops.
Some of you may remember that I blogged about one of the workshops with our Poet-in-the-Community, Ronna Bloom, in first semester. It was amazing, and that woman can make a poet out of anyone. Her next workshop – literally, “Writing your way out of a paper bag” – will be on March 2 at 12pm in the Hart House East Common Room. Free.

A masterclass in low-budget animation, $10 on March 20 at 6pm, Hart House. “Understanding the Illusion of Life” is a beginners’ workshop where we’ll learn how to make an animated film from brainstorm to final cut. Excited.

A very active and amazing campus group, the Hart House Camera Club is currently accepting submissions of photography for their annual exhibition. If you’re still looking to develop your prints, they’re offering a “Darkroom Days” event thus Sunday (February 12) at 2pm.

If you like to grow food, you can get involved with Dig In! Campus Agriculture, who are an amazing student-led group committed to growing sustainable food on campus. They even do beekeeping! If you’d like to get busy in the kitchen, I suggest you check out Hot Yam, a student-led group where you can cook (or just eat!) healthy, delicious creations on Wednesdays at the Centre for International Experience. It’s okay if you just want to show up and eat their stuff and then run away. That’s what I do, and it’s delicious.

Every Thursday at 11am in the Hart House Reading Room, come get crafty, for free. Next week: friendship bracelets. Or, study group bracelets, should you feel so inclined.

Life drawing.
The Victoria College Life-Drawing club meets Tuesdays at 8:30pm in EM108. You can join them to draw, OR you can even get semi-naked for them and watch all kinds of student artists draw your luscious body. Your choice.

Overall, I’m excited for all of the opportunities this month. With graduation and my future looming in the approaching not-so-distant future, a friend and I were chatting about what I intend to study in grad school. I listed a few of my ideas but told her that I couldn’t seem to decide which one, and her advice was to go out and create something in each discipline, and see which one felt right. In academic life, it can be easy to forget to stop abstracting and start creating, but maybe doing so is a great way for all of us to rediscover ourselves and see our interests in a new light.

Any other suggestions? Feel free to add them in the comments below!

In the meantime, show your classmates what you’ve been up to! Post your adventures to the Joy at U of T blog!


Dances of hope and healing

I’m surrounded by strangers and TV cameras and bright lights as far as the eye can see. Somewhat unlike a typical lecture, there’s a certain energy about the people in the rows and rows of wooden chairs. The excited buzz of conversation around the room is gradually replaced by a rhythmic clapping; each of three parts of the room carrying a different syncopated beat. African drums are struck at the front of the room, and in call-and-response, we all begin to sing.

This isn’t the way I thought we’d communicate about a disease that currently affects millions of people every day. I expected an evening of solemn statistics and heavy hearts. What I found was a celebration of common humanity, when on Wednesday night I attended a World Aids Day event at Hart House, presented by the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

As many of you probably know, Stephen Lewis was, from 2001 to 2006, the United Nations Special Envoy to HIV/AIDS in Africa. I first learned of his incredible work in 2005 or 2006 when a high school teacher encouraged me to read Lewis’ Massey Lecture, Race Against Time. I was able to see Lewis speak during the following year at a public library, and was captivated by his passion to not lead from an office, but from the ground. In perfect contrast so many volun-tourists and 2-week-prophets that like to speak about Africa, Stephen Lewis exhibits an authentic commitment to reaching out and genuinely caring for other human beings without a hint of self-righteousness.

The event was opened by a stunning spoken word poetry performance by d’bi.young titled “Dear Mama,” telling the story of a Canadian daughter sharing news of her HIV diagnosis with her mother at home in Africa. Tears trickled down my face as she pleaded, “mama I want to come home / only you alone can love me / but ya have to promise / that ya won’t tell nobody / about my shame.” Through all of this – as one of the fortunate few to have a life and social circle untouched by HIV/AIDS – I was given a glimpse into the pain and hope of others. The speakers at the event emphasized that scientifically, we’re rapidly approaching new ways of preventing and reducing risks associated with the transmission and progression of HIV. They reminded us that medical treatments, however, are not enough. It takes the care of a cohesive community to create the psychosocial structure in which health-consciousness is established and the physical and emotional needs of infected individuals are met. A woman who had been a social worker in an HIV clinic for 23 years was sitting next to me and in our conversation, asked me why I was at the event. My simple response – “to listen” – felt trite and inadequate. I felt like it was wrong of me to be in this special, almost sacred place and to have nothing to give.

Maybe, though, there is instead something I can take, and keep, and nurture until it grows. As I listened to poems and stories and dramas and songs about this world so far from my own, I started to see connections. I worried about how the stigma attached to HIV treatments in Zambia inflicts a similar scale of suffering and violence that the stigma attached to mental illness does in Canada. I saw the way that dance and music helped children rise up and find reprieve from some of their suffering that resulted from personal or family experiences with HIV/AIDS. It made me think about how arts – music, dance, poetry – can become a valued, collective expression of the passions of a community, rather than something rehearsed, performed, and judged. I wondered what radical honesty might look like in the face of our suffering – to dance to the songs that move us, to write poetry about the weight that we each carry behind us, and to write and speak fearlessly and honestly about our feelings not merely toward our circumstances, but to the people who comprise our worlds.

I’m grateful for the health and community I’ve been granted, but to know how lucky I am makes me just feel like we all need to keep asking for more. More stories, more healing, more compassion, more dances, more love. As I sang out under the bright television lights, I felt, for a moment, less alone than I had in a very long time. This need to feel a part of a community is by no means exclusive to those suffering from life-threatening illnesses – it is a fundamental human essence. And so why do we deny this to one another? Where does our compassion hide when we’re not singing? And why do we ever stop?

I like to think of all of the ways we could care about each other with a love like that. Even if we aren’t doctors or researchers, I feel like these moments of open ears and minds and hearts are underappreciated ways in which to make life just a little softer for others, and almost certainly, for ourselves.

– Jennifer