Vivek Shraya is an artist who crosses countless artistic boundaries while effecting social change. As this year’s Mass Exodus curator, she hopes to see students use fashion to challenge some of today’s most prevalent social issues.

Shraya said art has always been a channel for her to communicate the oppression she has faced as a trans person of colour. This began with music.

“Writing songs was a way for me to communicate the isolation and loneliness I felt growing up. That’s where my artistic journey started,” she said. “As I get older, my art is often tied to wanting to bring visibility to or tackle certain social issues.”

Today, she uses different mediums to challenge racism, misogyny, homophobia, stigmas surrounding mental illness and more.

At 38, Shraya is no stranger to success. She is the author of the bestselling book I’m Afraid of Men, part of the music duo Too Attached, a Polaris Music Prize nominee and a five-time Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is also a director on the board of the Tegan and Sara Foundation, an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Calgary, was featured on The Globe and Mail’s Best Dressed list and much more.

She was invited to curate Mass Exodus, Ryerson’s annual fashion event where graduating fashion communication and fashion design students can showcase their work. It will take place at Daniels Spectrum from April 4 to 6. As curator, Shraya will have the opportunity to select the looks that will be featured in the final runway show.

This year’s show is titled Mass Exodus 2019: An Inevitable Shift.

When asked what “An Inevitable Shift” means to her, Shraya said she finds it exciting because change is usually framed as something we dread, but this turns that assumption on its head.

“A lot of us are creatures of habit, but habit is often used an excuse to be complacent and produce the same kinds of clothing,” she said. “An inevitable shift to me is sort of like a renaming of change as the reality that change is going to happen and sort of embracing that change and leading the change, if you will.”

Shraya said she hopes to see students push traditional boundaries and challenge the norms of mainstream fashion.

“I think designers thinking more broadly about body types and genders is really crucial,” she said.

She added that accessibility in fashion is something she hopes to see improved in students’ designs as well as the fashion industry in general. As an avid shopper in so-called gender neutral stores, she said even androgynous clothing is subject to fashion’s mainstream beauty practices, and she believes it’s time for this to change.

“We go into a store and we know that everything is going to be divided by ‘Men’ and ‘Women,’ and that’s even gender neutral stores,” she said. “I’ve gone into stores where they have more androgynous clothing yet I’m coaxed to go to the men’s side. But isn’t the whole point of this store that anyone can shop in it? I think that there needs to be a lot of dismantling and re-education around that.”

Shraya said she is excited to see what students come up with and to be inspired and surprised by the next generation of fashion leaders.

“I just feel excited to see what Ryerson fashion students are coming up with,” she said. “I’m excited to meet these students and learn from them and maybe have ideas for my own personal style while I’m at it.”

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