The works of immigrants and refugees and their experiences moving to Canada were highlighted at an art showcase on campus last week. It informed the public about the difficulties in establishing a home and the barriers that many people encounter, when searching for a new place to settle down.
The event, Art Without Borders, was held at the Modern Literature and Culture (MLC) Gallery last Thursday. Hosted by World University Services Canada (WUSC) Ryerson, the theme of the event was to humanize a global movement by shedding a light on how migrants and refugees contribute to our community.
Aya Refaat, the chair of WUSC Ryerson, said the group’s focus is on migration and accepting people from different places around the world by showcasing their art to others. “Borders don’t really matter at the end of the day,” she said. “Everyone brings in their unique experiences and their unique contributions through art … without having to worry about policy issues or borders and just experience the art and what it means to the people.”
Live classical violin music filled the room and different kinds of paintings and photos lined the walls. The showcase featured the works of four artists: Aphiraa Gowry, Hikmat Alhabbal, Mirna Chacín and Maria Queiroga. Each woman had their own powerful story to share, coming from different places around the world.
Gowry, a Toronto-based artist and photojournalist whose parents are refugees from Panama, said she has experienced displacement first-hand.
Chacín left Venezuela not only due to the political and economic corruption, but also because she wanted to seek out a better life with her wife in a more accepting environment.
“I used to do photography as a way to overcome most of my difficult times in life, and … I came with my wife and I did it for love because we wanted to have a normal life in Canada which is not allowed in Venezuela,” said Chacín.
Chacín also discussed how art articulates her mental health in a way that words can’t, and how it serves as a healthy form of self-expression.
Queiroga is a contemporary artist who collects objects that she says remind her of happier times with her loved ones. She then incorporates those memories into her art. “My art process changed a lot when I got here because there’s a mix of sensations of the immigration process,” she said. She says that on one hand she feels happy to be a part of a welcoming community, but on the other she misses Brazil, her family, friends and culture.
When Queiroga discussed her first six months in Toronto, she spoke about overcoming the language barriers. She also discussed how street art inspired her to create new art pieces.
Her artwork integrates postcards against a canvas with bright dripping paint. The postcards were given to her by her grandmother and represent being away from home, but are also part of the greater theme of travel. Queiroga said her art is “being a part of something you want to remember.”
Runwa Nuqul, a York University student who attended the art showcase event, said she was there due to her interest in art and politics, but also because she feels displaced within Canada herself.
Refaat said she hopes that “Ryerson students who attended the event can take a greater understanding for refugee and migrant issues and understand how refugees and migrants contribute to Canadian society through their art.”
Although the two South American women, Chacín and Queiroga, had never met before the two shared a hug. They are both overcoming the difficulties of immigrating to a new country and the struggle of establishing a new life away from what they previously called home.