Arts Arts and Culture

Three Artists Speak on Intimacy, Identity, and Introspection

Concordia’s VAV Gallery in Sir George Williams campus’ VA building recently hosted an intimate conversation with three artists who participated in their summer residency program as they prepare for their upcoming vernissage. Inka Kennepohl, Spencer Magnan and Emem Etti shared how their distinct studio practices all converge on themes of identity, introspection and material exploration. 

 All three artists emphasize the value of a process that demands focus and concentration, one that generates a contemplative state of mind as they are at work. This method opens up an introspective space for the artist to dwell in as they engage in a very physical, repetitive process. Every knot and stitch is infused with the care and patience of the maker’s hand—they inevitably speak to a deep connection between the material and the body. 

Nigerian-Canadian artist Emem Etti’s practice blends the disciplines of film and fibres to create dynamic installations of video projection that animate their handmade rugs. Their work at VAV was largely an effort to orient their energy inward, to reach an ambitious state of mindfulness achieved through the consistent, rhythmic motions of handcrafting. 

During the panel discussion, Etti noted the deliberate choice to use a punch-needle to craft their rugs rather than the more efficient needle gun, for using the gun was a “violent” experience—the tool is difficult to control. While it works faster than going stitch-by-stitch, it tends to be a chaotic creative process rather than the steady, intentional method the artist prefers. Etti remarks: “I think there is something really beautiful about the meticulous.” This decision speaks to Etti’s concern with the relationship between the artist and their materials. There is an intimacy there, as the artwork is an extension of the artist. The care and time the artist spends engaging with the material is tantamount to tenderly caring for their own body. The final product, the rug, is a symbol of connection, of being radically present with the self.  

In progress work, Courtesy of Emem Etti

In a similar fashion, Spencer Magnan draws from personal experience as a queer artist to inform his theatrical, oversized wearable pieces. During his time at VAV, Magnanhand-sewed a giant suit jacket made entirely of unstretched canvas. The work serves as a commentary on the inherently masculine-coded garment and playfully reinterprets it as a dramatic costume, hinting at the performative nature of gender expression. Magnan chose this material to add another layer of gender identity to the piece. “I feel like in 2023, it’s still a very masculine thing to make a painting,” Magnan says, pointing to the persistently male-dominated discipline that continues to root itself in rigidly exclusionary and eurocentric traditions. 

The artist consciously left the canvas unpainted and allowed the qualities of the raw material—the rough texture, the loose-hanging threads, the sandy colour, and the visible hand-stitching—to constitute the character of the jacket. This decision undermines the expectations of what a proper, masculine suit jacket is expected to be—polished, tailored, and luxurious. It reinterprets the garment through a queer sensibility that refuses to conform to an established, heteronormative standard and rather celebrates imperfection, individuality, and drama. 

Meanwhile, Inka Kennepohl engages with textiles differently. Moving away from the commercial practice of creating luxury commodities out of textiles, they use the techniques as a means of object repair. Their work during their residency at VAV combined macramé, a knotting technique, and furniture design to assemble pieces that exist somewhere between the functional and the conceptual. Kennepohl spoke of the ways sustainability informs their sculptural practice and emphasized the urgency of rebuilding and repurposing materials through acquired skill rather than discarding them and perpetuating a cycle of consumption and waste. 

Courtesy of Inka Kennepohl

Their work sparked conversations regarding the relationship between labour and art, and raised important questions concerning the boundaries an artist should draw between the integrity of their vision and the very real need to maintain a marketable production capacity in order to make a living. The discussion addressed pressing questions that seem to permeate this emerging generation of young artists. How can they honour the slow and steady process of handcrafting a work of art in such a fast-paced consumer culture? How should they tread the fine line between supporting ourselves and refusing to concede to commercialization?

The cumulative bodies of work produced by Etti, Magnan and Kennepohl during their summer residency will be featured in the VAV Gallery space this fall, and the vernissage will be held Monday, September 11, 2023. 


“Where are you from?” is a bad question

How growing up with an international background altered my perspective on identity

Growing up internationally is hard. Although there is no place I could call home apart from physical places, like my room in my apartment or my parent’s house, growing up internationally changed my life forever. It completely altered my perception of the world, exposed me to multiple cultures and provided me with the open-mindedness I have today. 

So why does a simple question like “Where are you from?” have such a negative impact on me? 

Like many others, I was born in a different country than the one on my Canadian passport. I was born in Belgium, and moved to two different cities in Switzerland before experiencing the culture shock that was New York City and Boston. Growing up, I found myself adjusting to a new country or community so frequently that it became part of a rhythm in my life. 

Sometimes it was pretty rough to adjust, like when I moved from a small town in Switzerland to NYC. I had to adjust to the number of people around me, a new language, new habits, and the NYC subway. I felt so overwhelmed at first, with the amount of people everywhere all the time, and words people used that I had never learned in my English classes before. 

The plus side of moving was that I always gained the same things: familiarity to new cultural elements, and being exposed to new people and languages, all of which has helped shape who I am today. 

Transitioning between schools and cities in different countries frequently made me feel as though I was a stranger, always the “new kid.” 

“Where are you from?” reinforced the feelings of not belonging I have felt each time I moved. 

When I finally arrived in Canada nine months ago for university, saying I was Canadian became easier, it meant more than just a document I held. But imposter syndrome was still very much present. How could I be more Canadian after living in other countries for years? It’s simply not possible. 

Humans crave validation and in turn crave to belong. I sometimes also wish I had a set nationality that I could be so proud of. 

Often I look at my Balkan father and the way he talks about his country, the people, the food, and the culture. I admire the way he can always scope out a community of Bosnians and feel pride in his country. I know, however, that I will never feel so attached to one country. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one. Maybe you, too, feel like you don’t fit in where you were born, or where your family comes from. Maybe you feel like you’re not “enough” to truly be accepted. 

We should change the meaning behind the term “home” and the idea that we should fiercely represent one country or culture, or consider our home to be the country printed on our documents. We should be able to argue that our home is in multiple places without turning heads. 

In a way, having an answer when asked about our nationality takes weight off our shoulders and allows us to belong to a “club” or a community — a cheat code to having a particular identity. 

The catch is, in the midst of globalization, I believe there is no way to identify with only one place, or belong in only one community. In fact, I strongly believe that seeing yourself as coming from one definite place immensely restricts your experiences and potential future connections. After all, you’re the sum of the many segments of your life. 

Should we not be more concerned about where we could go than with where we have been in the past? Should we not focus on how we could shape who we are by learning from others and exploring new faces in this world we live in? 

In a world where we are so interconnected, a question like “Where are you from?” should never hold as much weight as it does today, nor should the answer ever contribute to who we are. 

Features News

Nunavimmiut Scholars: Testimonies of purpose

Students from Quebec’s northernmost region go through thick and thin to have post-secondary education. Four of them shared how they surmounted these challenges and what the future holds for them.

On decisive days, ambitious Inuit students board Canadian North or Air Inuit-tagged planes with most of their belongings, saying goodbye to their families and hometowns. 

Watching from their porthole, the lakes, rocky meadows and forests slowly dissolve into houses, highways, buildings and towers. 

Between 1,100 to 1,900 kilometres separate Nunavik communities and Montreal. A select few decide to tackle this challenge in the pursuit of post-secondary studies.

Nunavik is Quebec’s northernmost region. It has 14 Inuit communities, Kuujjuaq being the most populous with around 3,000 inhabitants. Students from these communities must leave the region to access post-secondary studies. 

Four students shared their stories with The Concordian.

The system in place

Before diving into the student’s stories, we need to summarise the system that is in place for them. Nunavik students wishing to pursue post-secondary education in the south must first apply for a sponsorship at the Post-Secondary Student Services department of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, which translates as ‘school board in English’. 

The institution provides financial, social, and academic support for students when moving to wherever they want to study. 

However, even with all the support provided by Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, profound challenges remain.

The Kativik School Board estimates that “three per cent of Inuit have a diploma of college studies, compared with 37.4 per cent for Quebec as a whole. The rate for a certificate, diploma or university degree is two per cent compared to 30.9 per cent for Quebec overall.”

In 2018, Quebec’s Ombudsman reported that, “Despite promising initiatives, access to postsecondary studies remains difficult” in Nunavik.

As a previous post-secondary director, Annahatak admits that seeing these statistics can be “quite disheartening.” 

From his understanding, part of the problem is that “the few students who graduate high school are like superstars” in their communities. “They were the big fish in a small pond,” he said. “When they come here, they become a very small fish in a huge ocean, and that’s a big hit to the ego.”

Another problem is the lack of support post-secondary students have at the community level. 

Annahatak said that students “do not get a lot of support for coming to school in general.” Having been a director, he mentioned, “I knew there were some students who were actively discouraged from going to college.”

Because of this, Annahatak said that “there are no role models” for post-secondary students to look up to. He points out that the few graduates who are engineers or lawyers were raised and educated in the south, putting them into a separate category altogether.  

Michelle Smith, Métis Cinema-Communications teacher at Dawson College and principal investigator for the First Peoples’ Post-secondary Storytelling Exchange research project (FPPSE), interviewed dozens of Indigenous students studying away from their home communities. A few of them were from Nunavik.

Smith provided another perspective on the situation. 

“On the one hand, [students] are trying to navigate the western system of learning to acquire skills that they did not build in high school,” she explained. “On the other hand, they are in this place of deep questioning about who they are and who they want to be.” 

She said that these two factors alone can be overwhelming for students.

This western system of learning was a prominent aspect in Smith’s research. She said that “post-secondary systems are still modelled on a certain type of learning where reading and writing are really important qualities to have.”

“I see so many brilliant, young minds who are able to talk at length about deep knowledge and understanding of their culture,” she said. However, “writing this knowledge down in a formal structured essay with all the rules and expectations is not always going to happen, and it doesn’t mean that the person is not capable.”

Both Smith’s FPPSE project and the report made by Quebec’s Ombudsman concluded that there are many problems Kativik Ilisarniliriniq should resolve for better education in Nunavik.

There are no science or math prerequisite courses in Nunavik, preventing students from partaking in science programs. Both reports suggest additional support for students to transition from high school to college and university. There should also be more post-secondary options offered in Nunavik. 

With this appropriate context laid out, we can now turn to the stories provided by our students from Nunavik; looking at how their journeys started, the various challenges faced, and how they surmounted them.

The birth of purpose

From Kuujjuaq is Ayagutak May, a political science and First Peoples studies student at Concordia. Fellow Kuujjuamiut (an Inuktitut word meaning “from Kuujjuaq”) is psychology and First Peoples studies student Ulayu Sequaluk. From Kuujjuaraapik is graphic design student Daphne Tooktoo. Last but not least is Jason Annahatak from Kangirsuk. He has two master’s degrees; one in psychological counselling and the other in business. He was also the director for post-secondary services in Nunavik for four and a half years.

All of their stories began with a purpose. 

May’s purpose first showed itself during her last two years of high school. Her Inuktitut teacher encouraged the school to add Inuit history as part of the educational curriculum, and it was then that she was first exposed to the realities her ancestors faced through residential schools.

Ayagutak May. CEDRIC GALLANT/The Concordian

“I was not fully aware of what happened to my community, especially to my community,” she said. “Knowing that my family went through a lot of hardships and trauma back in the day… that’s what motivated me into doing something more.”

“Discovering more about my heritage and colonization gave me ambition to help my community by pursuing a university degree.”

Even though Sequaluk lived in Montreal for years, she said that her purpose came when she returned home to Kuujjuaq after studying Global Makeup at Vancouver’s Blanche Macdonald Centre. She started working part time at the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services’ suicide prevention initiative. 

Ulayu Suqualuk. CEDRIC GALLANT/The Concordian

“The work I was doing there was just more fulfilling. And given the very high suicide rate in Nunavik, I just got really tired of seeing all my friends die… so I wanted to do something about it, and I did.”

Tooktoo said that she started post-secondary studies long after graduating high school and raising her family. In 2014, she made the leap and enrolled in CEGEP. She first went to John Abbott College in the Graphic and Web Design program. Afterwards, she attended University of Victoria’s Visual Arts program in British Columbia. Now, she is continuing her degree at Concordia. 

She said that “there are a lot of graphic designs on the web that are not translated into Inuktitut,” and she aims to create a larger Inuit and Indigenous presence on the web.

Annahatak’s story started with a desire for adventure. He said that he “wanted to experience something beyond high school, to live in a city and try something outside of a small town.” There are around 600 people in his hometown of Kangirsuk.

He admitted that his journey was “a bit of a winding path.” He wanted to study business, but he felt his math skills were not up to par. “I got discouraged, and went into social sciences, from there I started studying psychology.” 

The pitfalls

“It was very hard to be in class with so many people and adapt to the structure of how they teach,” May shared. “Homework was very new to me; it was like a pile of things that I had no idea what to do with.”

Daphne Tooktoo in her hometown of Kuujjuaraapik. CEDRIC GALLANT/The Concordian

Tooktoo said that language was her toughest hurdle. “The most challenging part was my English, because it’s my fourth language,” she said. “I grew up learning Inuit and listening to Cree people. I went to a French elementary school and then I did CEGEP in English.” During class, she often had to check her dictionary to know what everything meant.

Another core difficulty was homesickness. May said that moving out “is a very emotional moment for us because we get homesick, we miss eating our country food and going camping.” Since the city is anything but a natural environment, both of these needs cannot be fulfilled.

Sequaluk added to this point by saying, “you go from 3,000 people in your hometown to a school of over 3,000 kids in a big city, the culture shock is huge.” She added that “a lot of people quit school, not because they can’t handle it. They quit because they’re homesick.”

Annahatak faced culture shock, homesickness, and a new system of learning at the age of 16. He lived in Montreal with his parents for a year. He couldn’t wait until the year was over so that he could go back to his community. 

He explained that the western system “felt sort of loud” to him. “To some extent, there is a lot of emphasis put on talking,” he said. “You have to produce, you have to be out there and make space so you can be heard.” In the Inuit world, he said “there is more emphasis put on listening, being quiet and paying attention to your environment.”

When Annahatak enrolled in CEGEP, it was a totally different story. Having been to high-school in Montreal, it gave him a head start, and he knew what he was getting himself into. However, he understood quickly that post-secondary education was also academically challenging. “It’s like going from the minor leagues to the major leagues in terms of what you need to produce and the quality of writing.”

However, in the end, all four managed to find their own strategies to make their university experiences enjoyable.

Strategies to surmount

May’s adapting process is still ongoing. But she found comfort in bringing her country food here to relieve her homesickness. Things like Tuktuk (caribou), Puijiviniq (seal meat), Iqaluk (fish), Mattak (beluga), among others, are her meals of choice.  

She also added that having a child grounded her, even with all the responsibilities that come with motherhood. “Ever since I had my daughter, I am more focused on what I want to do, I am more ambitious, and she makes me feel so much better when I am down south.”

Sequaluk said, “I make a real effort to practice my Inuktitut and do cultural things while I am here, just so I don’t forget that part of my identity.” She followed by saying, “I think it’s just a balance, and I do realize not everyone handles being in the city all that well, and I don’t judge them when they go back up north.”

Ulayu Sequaluk at Concordia’s Loyola campus. CEDRIC GALLANT/The Concordian

For Tooktoo, she doubled down on learning English. Now, she can attend school and understand university-level language without the need of a dictionary.

What helped Annahatak was his friend group. He was surrounded by fellow Inuit students who were going through similar difficulties, although he admitted that he “did not try hard enough to make friends with non-Inuit people” in CEGEP. In university, he changed that for the better.  

He advised all Nunavik post-secondary students to “have a sense of exploration. Even if the homework is unpleasant, it is part of the package of socializing, having fun and learning about life,” which makes the overall experience more enjoyable.

He kept this mentality when he travelled all over the world, from South Africa to Hong Kong. That sense of exploration helped him rekindle his Inuk identity. “Once I started travelling, my identity became a source of intrigue and interest,” he shared. Some people would ask where his family name came from, and he said that “sometimes it started a really nice conversation where I got the chance to talk about Inuit people.” This made him take pride in who he was.

What’s to come

With time, the purpose that guided our storytellers through their hardships helped them form clear objectives.

Ayagutak May at the Otsenhákta Student Centre in the Hall Building. CEDRIC GALLANT/The Concordian

May has a distinct inspiration that helps guide her on her path: her aunt Mary Simon, Canada’s governor general.

For her, Simon is a beacon of inspiration, driving her to make a change in her home community.

That change consists of joining Nunavik’s political sphere. May said, “my biggest goal would be for Nunavik to become functionally self-governing in a way that fits Inuit concepts and ways of knowing. To give a positive and thriving environment for Nunavimmiut where trauma, substance abuse, and suicide could be decreased.”

Sequaluk’s goals are about reshaping the field of psychology. If she gets a doctorate, she will create “Inuit-led and Inuit safe practices, because there is a lot of distrust within the healthcare system, especially for mental health.”

That strategy is about intertwining cultural practices with mental healing. It is called “on-the-land healing.” She followed this by saying that her method “would be to integrate on-the-land healing with psychological approaches [she] has learned in school.”

After the doctorate, she wishes to lead her own field of research and break new boundaries. However, she is aware that “a lot of academics do not regard Indigenous research as being serious. So, there is that hurdle to go over in the future.”

For Tooktoo, it’s about increasing Indigenous and Inuit presence online. She knows that by herself, it is a task that would take many lifetimes. “I want to teach at my local school,” she said. “A computer class that I will be teaching in my own language.”

While she currently makes websites and designs in Inuktitut, she wants to bring her knowledge to a new generation of young web designers to increase the online representation of Indigenous languages and art styles. 

Years after graduating, Annahatak still seeks out new experiences. During his time as post-secondary director, he started his second master’s degree in business. He now works in the economical development department of the Makivik Corporation, an Indigenous organization that helps develop businesses in Nunavik.

In terms of systemic issues, Annahatak remains hopeful. He points out a couple of initiatives that have the potential to solve a few problems for post-secondary students.

He talked about Montreal’s Nunavik Sivunitsavut, a one-year bridging program that teaches skills rooted in Inuit culture. He said that it “serves as a nice incubator where students build their self-esteem and collective pride.”

He also mentioned JUMP Math Canada, an online platform that helps educate students at home. In an article for Nunatsiaq News, reporter Elaine Anselmi wrote that “It was conceived as a resource for educators to find lessons shaped by the Inuit worldview,” supporting teachers and families alike. For Annahatak, these programs are steps in the right direction.

He acknowledged that sometimes, he feels there are no improvements. “Some days, I think we are regressing.” However, he admitted that “there is very incremental progress.” Between laughs, he added, “progress that is going at a glacier’s speed!” 

Photos by Cedric Gallant

Third culture kid: My identity crisis as a multicultural person

Stop asking me where I’m really from because it’s none of your business

I was 10 years old when my parents told me to pack my suitcase and said, “We’re moving to Canada.”

As a kid, everything happened so fast, and I didn’t really understand where we were moving. Within a blink of an eye, I said goodbye to my friends, family, teachers, and left my home in Italy.

Growing up with my multicultural background in Montreal, I often got asked what culture I identified with the most.

That’s a hard question to answer. As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve been unable to fully relate to any of the three cultures I grew up with: Italian, Filipino, and Canadian.

Who am I? Where do I belong? What defines my identity? These are questions that many TCKs ask themselves.

The TCK term was coined by an American sociologist Ruth Useem in the 1950s. A TCK is a child who grows up in a culture different from the one their parents grew up in. According to Merriam-Webster, “The ‘third culture’ to which the term refers is the mixed identity that a child assumes, influenced both by their parents’ culture and the culture in which they are raised.”

When I moved to Montreal, I was amazed by the multiculturalism. It was refreshing to see so many different cultures existing side-by-side. However,  I was shocked to find out how unwelcoming some people in the city were at times, despite the melting pot of cultures around them. Though, I didn’t understand at that time.

One of my first encounters with racism was in my elementary school here in Montreal. I vividly remember my classmates asking me where I was really from. Initially, I didn’t understand what they meant.

Until I heard them say, “Well, you look Asian, how come you’re Italian?” Ouch, I thought. Why would they ask me such a thing?

To me, it was normal. So, I explained. My parents are originally from the Philippines, but they moved to Italy, met in Rome and lived in Italy for more than 20 years. The kids insisted that I wasn’t Italian because I didn’t have citizenship.

They didn’t know that those born in Italy are not automatically citizens unless a parent is an Italian citizen. However, those who are born in Italy to foreign parents can become Italian at 18.

In my case, my parents did not want to give up their Filipino citizenship to get the Italian one. I was born and raised in Italy, but I’m not a citizen, because I left at the age of 10.

After a few years of living in Montreal, I realized that every time someone asked me where I was really from, it was a microaggression. Their question implied that I couldn’t be from Italy because I’m not white.

Why was it so hard for people to understand and accept that I considered myself Italian because of the culture I grew up in?

The first language I learned was Italian. Not once did I conversate in Tagalog (the spoken language in the Philippines), nor did I grow up eating Filipino food. It felt strange to identify as a Filipino because I had never associated with its culture.

Within my first year in Montreal, I had to curate the perfect answer for this question to avoid further probing and undesired comments.

This was only the beginning of my identity crisis. 

Why did I let friends and strangers define my identity? Why couldn’t I consider myself Italian regardless of what my papers said? It was easier to let others label me and define my identity to fit their expectations without constantly explaining myself.

Whenever I identified myself as an Italian, I had to explain my whole life story and always got mixed reactions. This was uncomfortable.

As the years went by, I let myself assimilate to Quebec culture. I learned how to speak French and English. I mastered the perfect Montreal accent just to fit in.

I abandoned my Italian culture and gave up on telling people that I considered myself Italian. 

Forgetting I was born in Italy and spent my childhood there was a small price to pay if it meant I could finally fit in somewhere.

Today, I rarely get asked where I’m from, partially because I no longer have a thick Italian accent when speaking in English and try to avoid the conversation before it can even begin.

This summer, I had the opportunity of going back to Italy after 11 years of being in Montreal. I got to see my family and my childhood friends. We visited my old house and my old neighbours.

As a 10-year-old, relocation to another country didn’t affect me. When I finally revisited my old home for the first time since we left, I was able to reconnect with my Italian “roots” that I had abandoned. I was reminded of my childhood in Italy and the life I had before moving to Montreal.

It was easier to block out my childhood memories in Italy and pretend that I had always lived in Canada in order to fit in.

After returning from my trip to Italy, I finally processed all the emotions that I couldn’t feel as a child. I grieved the life I lost and the citizenship I could have had if I stayed eight more years. I cried for my 10-year-old self, who packed up her life, left her friends and relatives, and flew across the world only to lose her culture and identity.

I now understand what it means to be a TCK, and I accept all my cultures as part of my identity. As a TCK, it’s impossible for me to identify with one culture without raising questions. I’m Italian, Filipino and Canadian, regardless of what my papers say. My citizenship doesn’t define my identity.


Feature graphic by Maio


How it feels to be a Cuban-Canadian right now

Greater governments have fallen, but this one has its heels dug deep

Perpetual struggle. This is the most accurate way to describe the life of an average person in Cuba. As the child of immigrants, it was a slap in the face to hear non-Cubans rave about their vacations in Cuba and how beautiful the country was. To this day, there are still crumbling buildings, starving families, and a continually declining economy — all of which has become exacerbated by the pandemic.

After 62 years under the same government, this past July, Cubans took to the streets in protest. They were chanting for “libertad” (freedom) and “patria y vida,” (homeland and life). To understand this is to go back to the days when Fidel Castro held power, a time when nationalist propaganda read as, “patria o muerte,” (homeland or death). The slogan was spray-painted all over Cuba, and emblazoned on our coins. However, pride has since fallen away, and “patria y vida” is now being used as a play on archaic propaganda. While it hasn’t found its way onto the coins yet, the phrase is now a token of rebellion and an anthem for the right to liberty.

In response to this, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel called a division into Cuban society by declaring that the streets of Cuba belonged to the revolutionaries (people who support the current government). Through this, he has created a more visible polarization between Cubans, something I have observed in my own life. Arguments of right and wrong have taken shape between family and friends — and at the end of the day there is one truth: the struggle continues for those on the island.

For most Cubans and expatriates, it is clear that the time has come for the communist regime to come to an end. People are tired of having to scrape by for basic necessities through illicit dealings in the black market, or as we like to say, “por la izquierda.” Moreover, they are tired of not being able to say anything critical about it. This is what the protests have been about at their core: the right to speak up about what citizens are unhappy with, the right to affiliate with a party that represents their values, and most importantly, the right to life.

The fight for change is like sledding uphill. Leaders of organizations in favour of democracy and overthrowing the current government have been detained, leading to some trials, but often ending in sentences. Cuban police have been walking through neighbourhoods in plainclothes, actively stalking, assaulting, and detaining anyone they hold in suspicion of conspiring to organize opposition. As a result, there are countless Cubans in jail for expressing their right to protest as outlined in the Cuban constitution.

Growing up in Canada, most of what I was told about Cuba came in the shape of horror stories — empty stomachs, silenced opinions, and tales of friends and family who fled to Miami on rafts. All of this manifested itself in my parents sitting me down prior to a visit to Cuba and telling me that I was not to repeat any of the anti-Fidel talk that I was hearing in our house. I didn’t get it then, but as the years went on I grew to understand the sentiment. Cubans live under an unspoken gag order — if they speak out against the communist establishment, they will be dragged to prison for treason.

In recent news, the Cuban government has imposed new censorship laws to prohibit stories of what is occurring on the island finding their way into western media. This policy aims to prevent expression of dissent through social media, marking these acts as cyberterrorism. It is because of this gag order and the censorship laws that expats have spurred such passionate outcries for the liberation of Cubans. Countless people in the Cuban-Canadian community have taken to platforms like Facebook and Instagram to voice their support for the fall of the current government in favour of one that repeals decades and decades of suffering and starvation.

When I decided to enter the field of journalism, the core of the decision was based on giving a voice to those who have theirs stifled, like Cubans. The article you’re reading is no more than a general picture of something that is ugly at its heart. There are many people who I could have reached out to, but I did not want to put them on the record speaking out about Cuba because they may not be able to return to Cuba, or worse. By no means is this how every Cuban feels. Those who have benefitted under the 62-year regime may feel outraged that a change is no longer a matter of “if,” but “when.”

The fact is that even the Roman empire collapsed. The present organization of Cuban society is one day going to fall, and the freedom of expression, of press, and the people as a whole will one day run through Cuba.


Graphic by James Fay


THIS IS WHAT COMPELS ME TO COMPEL THEM: Sharing experience, history, and identity

Tiohtia:ke/Montreal-based Black artists come together in Le Livart’s newest exhibition

This is an exhibition that no one should miss. THIS IS WHAT COMPELS ME TO COMPEL THEM introduces the works of 11 Black Montreal-based artists. Each artist shares a space with one another, challenging viewers with artworks that portray ideas of self-identity and integral experiences.

THIS IS WHAT COMPELS ME TO COMPEL THEM  was curated by Joséphine Denis, a curator and a writer, originally from Port-au-Prince, whose work focuses on Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. The exhibition, which features the works of Esther Calixte-Bea, Clovis-Alexandre Desarieux, Eddy F., Stanley Février, Gloria François, Anick Jasmin, Mallory Lowe, Schaël Marcéus, Oski, Stefani Saintonge and Michaëlle Sergile, was created to bring together the work of Black artists in a space where they can share “inherited experiences of dislocation and displacement to form affinities,” explained Denis.

The gallery shares the same layout as a house, where each room is attributed to one artist or more. For instance, the canvases are displayed in the larger room of the exhibition whereas the photo collections and the sculptures have their own space. Every artwork sheds light on the personal narratives and experiences of each artist.

Entering each room is like being in the presence of a family member telling a story. 

In one of the rooms, Mallory Lowe, a photographer, art director, and Photography student at Concordia, presents her newest photo collection taken on 120mm film. Named What is this home that is home that is not home, the body of work explores her Cameroonian roots.

One of Lowe’s photographs depicts red clay dripping on a man’s back who is resting his head on a woman’s shoulder.

“The red clay is a reference to my father’s land, which is West Cameroon,” said Lowe, who is half Belgian and half Cameroonian.

The series of pictures helped Lowe question her own identity. She wonders what it means for her to live in Canada, a colonized land with parents of different origins. Lowe has heard problematic statements from her Belgian family, which made her reject that side of herself many times.

I came to understand that I need to explore and accept my white side and as a mixed person I have the privilege to choose the good aspects of each culture,” she said.

Next to Lowe’s photo collection, a small, long room displays the work of Stanley Février. On one side of the room, there is a long mirror with a colourless American flag carved in it, and on the other side, is a molded body of a man displayed on his back, both of his hands crossed. Made with white wax, the molded sculpture can be seen in the mirror, which seems to represent the violence against Black people in the United States.

“[Février] is very straightforward in his work,” Lowe explained.

The group exhibition also presents a series of pictures by photographer and cinematographer Schaël Marcéus that depicts images from his last visit to his native country, Haiti. Visitors can also observe the works of Gloria François depicting small photographs of family members and collages with archival pictures from the Centre International de Documentation et d’Information Haïtienne, Caribéenne Afro-Canadienne, located in the Old Port.

The title of the exhibition is in reference to an interview with Nina Simone from the 60s where she speaks frankly about the importance of Black identity and her responsibility to make Black people curious about themselves and connect with their roots, a theme explored in Denis’ exhibition.

“These works offer spaces to imbue ourselves with the visual, material, and cultural codes that establish commonalities between Black social experiences,” said Denis.

THIS IS WHAT COMPELS ME TO COMPEL THEM will be open at Le Livart at 3980 St. Denis St. until Sept. 27.

Photo by Christine Beaudoin.


Spotlight on Tyra Maria Trono

Tyra Maria Trono, 3rd year Photography

Tyra Maria Trono is a filipina artist based in Montreal. Her work deals with personal themes such as individual identity and her direct social communities. It’s connected in a system of meaning that deals with the idea of the revival of childhood and the continual discovery of personal identity which encompasses the notion of her culture heritage. Themes of nostalgia, autobiography, and identity are often explored in her photography.

Tyra Maria Trono is currently a third-year photography student at Concordia University. She has previously exhibited work at several galleries around Montreal, most notably Le Livart (3980 St Denis) in 2018. She has also co-curated the first edition of Festival du Nouveau Cinema: Spotlight on Concordia University Fine Arts.

In 2017, she founded a photo collective called “For the Sake of Analog” alongside Edson Niebla Rogil and John Mendoza. Their mandate is to exhibit the richness and diversity represented by emerging POC artists through the medium of analog photography. Last year, the collective was part of the programming for the Mural Festival. Currently, they are working on their first photo book coming out in April 2020.


Outside her artistic practice, Trono has photographed for projects and events for Boiler Room, Moonshine, Lez Spread The Word, Éklectik Média, The Woman Power and Never Was Your Average.

Trono is also involved with the Filipino Organization of Concordia Students. After a hiatus of over 10 years, the club returned in 2019. The club’s mandate is to connect students, celebrate Filipino identity, and challenge issues that touch Filipino youth. Currently, she is working on a variety show and art exhibition, titled Show Pao, which will feature local Filipino artists.

Trono will also be facilitating an exhibition for the 20th anniversary of Art Matters. The exhibition, As to be Told investigates the ways in which stories can be articulated through artworks and how we translate personal or collective notions through narrative forms.

As to be Told will be open at Galerie Luz (372 Ste. Catherine St. W, suite 41) from March 17 to 21, with a vernissage on March 18, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For more information visit .


Àbadakone: Global Indigenous artists at the National Gallery of Canada

Concordia students attend the annual art history bus trip to Ottawa 

On Nov. 9, Concordia students who attended the art history bus trip to Ottawa had the opportunity to visit the new exhibition Àbadakone / Continuous Fire / Feu continuel, currently on at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC).

In an enclosed room off to the side of the main gallery space at the NGC, visitors observe a video of an Indigenous woman washing a white woman in a metal bathtub. Both are silent; all that is heard is the loud sound of dripping water as the Indigenous woman gently washes the white woman’s face, hands, arms, legs and feet with a white cloth. The process is slow and methodical, each movement is careful and tender. It is not until the Indigenous woman begins to cry that visitors are removed from their comfortable state of observation and subsequently inserted into a place of pain and profound suffering.

Touch Me (2013), a video produced by Métis, Cree, Tsimshian and Gitksan artist Skeena Reece speaks of Indigenous trauma and centers on the connecting processes of healing between settlers and Indigenous women. This soothing act with water serves in releasing painful memories and ensues a silent restorative experience shared between the two women.

Reece is one of more than 70 contemporary global Indigenous artists taking part in the exhibition Àbadakone / Continuous Fire / Feu continuel  presently on at the NGC. Àbadakone, Algonquin for “continuous fire,” is the second exhibition to be held at the NGC that features Indigenous artists from around the world; the first being Sakahàn, Algonquin for “to light a fire,” which was held in 2013.

The works cover all mediums, including photography, beadwork, drawing, painting, digital installations and sculpture, and span across almost a dozen rooms. Àbadakone presents the works of Indigenous contemporary artists from countries such as Canada, the United States, Guatemala, South Africa, Finland, and Japan. Some of the artists featured in the exhibition are Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, Sarah Sense, Barry Ace, Rebecca Belmore, Marja Helander and Dylan Miner.

Àbadakone’s curators have framed the exhibition in accordance with the themes of relatedness, continuity and activation. Wall text in the gallery reads: 

“Relatedness is the view that all things on the earth are our relations. This idea is fundamental to Indigenous worldviews. Relatedness – from the intimate to the global – reminds us of the responsibility inherent in art making to all living things as manifested in what is conventionally understood as the ‘art object.’”

“Continuity is relatedness across generations, histories and our futures. It helps us see that art is not static in time, but is in a constant cycle of change and renewal.”

“Activation is about presence: how an artist animates a space, an object or an idea through performance, video or viewer engagement.”

Other themes the exhibition explores include decolonization, Indigenous sovereignty, land-based knowledge, food insecurity, gender and identity, legacies of trauma and colonization, and practices of healing.

Many of the exhibition’s artists employ methods of ‘re-historicization’ and ‘re-narration’ to subvert and disrupt colonial histories and discourses. One such artist, Will Wilson, aims to dismantle the racist undertones embedded within colonial and ethnographic photography. His ongoing portrait series CIPX (Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange), that imitate the portraits of colonial photographer Edward S. Curtis, sees a disturbance of the colonial ethnographic gaze and consequently functions in reclaiming Indigenous agency and sovereignty.

During the upcoming months, Àbadakone will feature performance artists such as Peter Morin, as well as host workshops, film screenings, talks and other events.

The annual Ottawa art history bus trip is put on by Concordia’s Ethnocultural Art Histories Group, Concordia’s Undergraduate Journal of Art History, the Art History Graduate Student Association and the Department of Art History. In addition to visiting the National Gallery of Canada, other visits included the Ottawa Art Gallery and Carleton University Art Gallery.

The exhibition is on display at the National Gallery of Canada, at 380 Sussex Dr. in Ottawa, until April 5, 2020. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. 


Photos by Kari Valmestad.


Concordia launches tool for Indigenous self-identification

“We are all working together towards greater retention, and that is done through support,” said Catherine Richardson, director of Concordia’s First Peoples Studies program.

Concordia has launched a new tool for Indigenous self-identification through MyConcordia. On the “My Student Centre” page, on the bottom left hand side under the personal information headline, there is the optional “Indigenous Self-Identification” link.

“There has been a high drop out rate of Indigenous students due to racism in the classroom and in the institution,” said Catherine Richardson, director of the First Peoples Studies program. “We are all working together towards greater retention, and that is done through support.”

Richardson explained that if she, who is Métis, was a student at the time of this new Self-Identification process, the support she would have gotten through it would probably encourage her to stay in school if she fell behind or had troubles.

Richardson said the staff could be present and be able to advocate for her if she had an issue with a professor for example. Or, “if there was a funeral in my community that I needed to attend, they would help me make arrangements with the professor.”

“For a long time, Indigenous students and those ‘taking care of the students’ did not want them to have to self-identify because there was too much risk of stigmatization and racism,” continued Richardson. “The ASRC offers a safe space, cultural safety and opportunities to form friendships and connections away from home, with a higher sense of mutual understanding.”

Concordia Spokesperson Vannina Maestracci said in an email to The Concordian that this new tool is used to connect students to culturally relevant resources and support on campus. According to Maestracci, the inputted information will be kept confidential and will only be available to select staff at the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre (ASRC) and the Office of the Registrar.

“There are more reasons to identify other than to merely be used as a diversity statistic by the institution,” said Richardson. “There are more scholarships available for Indigenous students, particularly at the masters and doctoral level.”

On top of scholarships, the identification tool could also give students the opportunity to have access to specialized services, bursaries and trips to conferences.

Richardson said the ASRC holds an Indigenous graduation celebration as well. Students don’t need to be formally identified to the university in order to participate, but it is through this identification process and the ASRC that the staff reaches out to students.

Richardson said knowing the number of Indigenous students is important for groups such as the Indigenous directions leadership group. Once given this information, the group could properly and more strongly advocate for the students when made aware of their background and general number, and they would, therefore, be better able to attend to their potential needs. She added that this identification also gives Indigenous students access to jobs related to Indigenous research projects, such as First Voices Week.


Graphic by Victoria Blair

Student Life

Exploring identity through film

Jackie Batsinduka explores loss and family history in Geni

“Growing up as a child of two survivors of the [Rwandan] genocide, the big thing for my family—and I think it’s true of many people’s family—is that it’s not really talked about,” said Jackie Batsinduka, a Concordia communications studies graduate. “My mom lost the majority of her immediate family, except for two brothers, and my dad lost his entire family. So imagine that, then you have a kid two years later.”

Jackie Batsinduka is a rising filmmaker and recent Concordia communication studies graduate. Photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka.

Starting on April 7,1994 and lasting about 100 days, the Rwandan genocide resulted in the mass murder of nearly one million people, the majority of whom were Tutsis. Batsinduka was born in Ottawa just two years after the genocide. “I guess it was easier to just forget and live your life,” said Batsinduka, “focus on this new chapter.” Although her family rebuilt their lives and eventually settled in Gatineau, Batsinduka explained how the past would come up in small ways, no matter how much they tried to push it away.

“Whenever there’d be a class project that had to do with your family tree, I’d be like ‘I don’t know,’” said Batsinduka, with a shrug. “Then as a six-year-old, having to explain to your class like, ‘yup, doesn’t go higher than my parents; unfortunately I don’t know anything else’ and everyone else can’t really relate.” Because her parents hardly spoke about the genocide, Batsinduka said she grew up feeling as though asking questions about her family’s history was too painful. “I’m kind of embarrassed to say it,” said Batsinkduka, “but I also wasn’t, like, out there seeking to know more.”

Throughout her childhood, Batsinduka was fascinated with how TV shows and movies could bring people’s imagination to life, despite not thinking of herself as imaginative. “As I got older and into high school, I realized ‘hey, I can make this stuff,’” she said, with a laugh. Batsinduka’s filmmaking career began in high school where she’d make amateur videos with her friends in media club. In CÉGEP and eventually at Concordia, she further explored her multimedia passion and continued developing her unique voice.

After graduating from communication studies at Concordia in summer 2018, Batsinduka delved into writing the script for her first project post-graduation, titled Geni. The short film tells the story of a girl estranged from her mother, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, who is invited back to her childhood home at her mother’s request. Batsinduka is both writing, directing and co-starring in Geni, which explores how one family is impacted by the genocide, the intergenerational trauma carried by the children of survivors, and how each family member’s unique experiences feed into one another.

Christine Kayirangwa, Batsinduka’s mother, was born in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka.

“Whenever there’d be a class project that had to do with your family tree, I’d be like ‘I don’t know,’” said Batsinduka, with a shrug. “Then as a six-year-old, having to explain to your class like, ‘yup, doesn’t go higher than my parents; unfortunately I don’t know anything else’ and everyone else can’t really relate.”

“This project is an opportunity to heal, not just for the Rwandans involved in the making of this film, but for everyone who will watch it,” writes Batsinduka in her director’s notes. “By bringing Geni to life, I can thankfully now say that my identity as the daughter of Rwandan genocide survivors is something I have begun to claim.”

Geni is also the shortened, Americanized nickname for the main character, Mugeni. Mugeni means ‘bride’ in Kinyarwanda, one of the mother tongues of Rwanda. Batsinduka’s mother, Christine Kayirangwa, has no acting experience but is also co-starring in the short film as Geni’s estranged mother. “Having her support and her confidence in me, and trusting me that this is a story worth being told and that I can tell it, has been amazing,” said Batsinduka. “Just her willingness to embark on this exploration of how this story could change our lives, or our relationship.” Though Batsinduka’s father passed away a few years ago, before this film was conceptualized, she likes to think that he’s smiling down on her and Kayirangwa as they explore their shared history together.

Identity reconciliation is a central theme in Geni, as is profound loss and the cyclical nature of family dynamics, which Batsinduka feels everyone can relate to. “The film is for everyone, but it’s especially for my community,” said Batsinduka. “There are nuances that are very much for people of that community, and that was important to me […] to not hold back on the audience. This film will definitely leave you thinking.”

Geni is scheduled to film in early May, and is aiming to premiere at festivals in summer 2019. This year marks the 25-year commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, which took place from April 7 to mid-July 1994. Batsinduka is holding a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo from March 19 to April 16.

Feature photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka

Student Life

Black History Month: Walking through life in limbo

Reconciling my identity as a Cameroonian-Canadian in Uganda

It’s 2014. My excitement is so tangible, the man beside me can sense it with every fidget. I haven’t set foot in Cameroon for 15 years; the country from which my parents came of age, the country that holds my earliest memories, the country I’ve been told to refer to as home. In that moment, in the backseat of my uncle’s jeep, for the first time in my life, I felt at home.

Now, it’s 2018 and I am excited to be returning to the motherland for an internship. I’m a bit wary of engaging in a “going abroad” endeavour, but I’m confident that the organization I’ve partnered with is different from your typical non-profit. As the plane descends, my nerves betray me: there’s a dryness in my throat, my body is stiff, and my heart is thumping.

My head is full of thoughts, hopes and expectations. Front and center is the anticipation of that feeling of home filling me once more as it did four years earlier. Although I realized it wasn’t my home country, I was expecting to feel more at home than I did in Canada. Finally, the plane lands, I step out, and as I try to make my way through the crowd, I can feel my body searching for that ‘home’ feeling and failing to grasp it. I push those feelings (or lack thereof) aside and reunite with my fellow Canadians.

My days were spent on a compound with fellow Canadian and Ugandan interns. The work days were packed with various activities; on the weekend, people did their laundry, read a book or hung with the locals. I realized my dark skin allowed me to navigate public spaces in ways some of my fellow interns couldn’t. I could slip out and shop at the market without the boda boda men (those who transport people on motorcycles, referred to as bodas) screaming muzungu (“white” or “foreigner”) my way. I could walk all over town without getting so much as a glance in my direction. This was one of two times in my life I was not a visible minority.

One day, I went out with a friend, a white Canadian girl. We were hungry and wanted to try this cafe, which was filled with white people—foreigners. I noticed eyes on me, but wasn’t fazed. My friend places her order; her friendly disposition leads to a chat with the cashier long after having ordered. I am not greeted with the same energy extended to my friend just seconds before. Though my accent throws the cashier’s guard off, it is not enough to affect him the same way my friend did.

My ability to blend in—if I didn’t speak—was once a blessing, but I realized it was useless if I would still be treated as lesser in the presence of my white friends. I had always known that in Canada, the system favoured white people/white-passing people; but I had underestimated the extent of colonialism in “developing” countries. My time in Uganda showed how so many locals have an automatic association between skin colour and one’s “foreignness.” Even though I, too, was a foreigner, it was never the assumption. When I would speak, my accent would create such a confusion the english-speaking locals would rather speak to fellow locals rather than engage with me.

In Canada, I am a visible minority constantly fighting for the space to be seen, heard and validated unashamedly. I never thought I would have to fight for that same space in a country where most, if not all, of the population looks like me. I felt as if I had to fight even harder than I do back home, because the attention automatically went to my white counterparts.

The struggle on the table is not my desire for attention; on the contrary, it’s a questioning of identity. Where do third culture kids fit when they were born in one place—or their parents come from and identify with one place—but they were raised somewhere else? We spend time this month explicitly to celebrate black history, while so many black people struggle with reconciling their identity.

Should we continue trying to assimilate within the community we most identify with while negating all other parts of ourselves, or should we just create new spaces for people who are in this limbo? This isn’t the first time a black person will have questions about their identity, nor is it the last.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda


Reimagining identity through participatory storytelling

Birds Crossing Borders creates a collective memory

Home and identity are important themes concerning one’s individuality. So how do people displaced by conflict deal with the deep-rooted trauma that arises from events such as war? How do victims reclaim their identity and find a safe space?

Khadija Baker’s Birds Crossing Borders, a multimedia installation that includes sound, video and a performance involving falling water, aims to develop consciousness and remembrance through storytelling, with the ultimate intention of creating a collective memory.

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

A multi-disciplinary artist of Kurdish-Syrian descent, Baker’s cultural identity is present in her works. She shares the stories of refugees who have been displaced by the current conflicts in Syria. Her performative, video and sculptural installations explore socio-political themes, specifically in relation to identity, displacement and traumatic events such as war. Recurring themes in her works delve into unsettling feelings associated with the idea of home and aim to promote an understanding of cultural complexities.

Consisting of multiple screens highlighting the collective stories of refugees, Birds Crossing Borders reflects on the shared memories of home, particularly in relation to the identity shared by Syrian refugees.

“We are used to estrangement in many places. Even in my own country, I felt the estrangement,” shared one of the men featured in Baker’s compilation of recordings.

Addressing these sentiments of estrangement from one’s native land or hometown allows the viewer to further recognize the importance of home and the significant impact displacement has on those affected by war.

The exhibition creates a space of understanding and empathy by leaving room for discussion. The sharing of these collective stories serves as the representation of refugees and victims of war.

While the stories in the exhibit describe various individual struggles, Baker’s performance highlighted a unifying theme present among their experiences, by shedding light on the struggles of integrating into a new community.

Her performance focused on the identities of newly arrived refugees. With no distinct description, its primary purpose was left to the audience’s interpretation. Moreover, the nature of the piece demonstrated the prejudice associated with immigrants and refugees.

The centrepiece of the performance itself consisted of 14 transparent boxes. Each box contained varying amounts of water. A balloon filled with black water hung above the first box as a symbol of the common judgement of refugees as “contaminated.”

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

Barker began by squeezing the black water from the balloon into the first box. The water began to travel through a tube that connected each box to one another, and the remaining 13 boxes slowly began to fill with the black liquid. This illustrated what could be perceived as “contamination.” By the end of the performance, each box contained the same amount of water. The black liquid mixing with the water in the boxes is meant to demonstrate the integration of refugees, Baker explained. Although at first, they can be seen as “disrupting” the flow of society, in the end all will balance out. Society will equalize over time, Baker said; refugees want to contribute to society, and they do.

“Each human has to be an effective person. If we all long for and become attached to our identity in its limited meaning, we won’t reach any place,” said one of the refugees highlighted in Baker’s videos. “You chose a place to live in, and you have to be loyal and integrated and positive and interact within [it].”

Birds Crossing Borders is on display at Montréal Arts Interculturels (MAI) until Oct. 13. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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