Artist Profile: Linda Ozromano

Author: Yang Lim

 LindaOzromano. I Feel Peaceful. 2017

LindaOzromano. I Feel Peaceful. 2017

      Based currently in Edmonton, Linda Ozromano is a self-taught photographer whose artistic sensibility is shaped by a convergence of various interests and experiences that have, in turn, cultivated her interest in other cultures.  This convergence can be summed up by her comment: “My passion for travel as well as community development combined with curiosity over how art influences our political, social and emotional realities had the biggest impact on my artistic practice.”

      Ozromano has been significantly involved with the local and international community in the areas of public advocacy, human rights, humanitarian aid, and sustainable development.  For example, she has been involved with non-profit organizations for many years.  This included working with organizations such as Operation Groundswell in Toronto and volunteering in Uganda in 2011, followed by a return there in 2014, during which she participated in educational and international initiatives.  Furthermore, she has collaborated with artists on community art projects to address societal issues.

      As such, her photography is shaped significantly by her social conscience as well as her engagement with social and cultural issues.  As Ozromano states, she is attracted to the photographic medium because she can use it as “a tool to see the world,” through which she can uncover “the ordinary and the mundane” as well as the unknown and unfamiliar.  She feels that people do not pay enough attention to the ordinary in urban cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton.  Therefore, her depictions of ordinary people and street life aim to humanize its inhabitants and represent them as three-dimensional, complex individuals.  Ozromano hopes that her works will encourage people to recognize and foster mutual connections among each other:

 

 

I think the best moments are the ones that we think are mundane and ordinary. There is a certain beauty in what is usually not exposed or captured. I like to seek for those moments. I also think if we allow ourselves to fully experience emotions in a healthy and open way, we may discover so much of what we didn’t know about ourselves as well as each other - and this is where all the wisdom comes from. 

 

 

      The development of her artistic practice begins with Project Maisha, which exemplifies her keen interest in capturing the humanity of people and their respective communities.  While fundraising for her volunteer trip to Uganda in 2011, a friend gave her a piggy-bank that is shaped like an orange elephant and suggested that she name her.  Ozromano decided to name the orange elephant “Maisha” which means “life” in Swahili, and to bring it along on her trip.  Consequently, the elephant became a means for Ozromano to experience and reflect on her journey through different communities, during which she used photography to document the places and people whom she met.  The elephant would often generate curiosity and interest among people and serve as a starting point for generating conversation, particularly among young people.  Ozromano likened her photographing of the elephant to the movie of Amélie, in which the main protagonist Amélie would take photos with a garden gnome—so that it seemed like he was travelling around the world.

      Through this photographic series, Ozromano explores the ways in which storytelling can function as a means to connect people as well as create a sense of home and belonging through the generation of a shared narrative of experience.  The elephant itself could be said to function as a metaphor or focal point for the interpersonal connections among the people.  Furthermore, her photos convey the humanity and individuality of the African kids, which differ significantly from the homogenous images of impoverished and starving African kids that circulate in the mainstream media.   Although poverty and hardship certainly exist in Africa, these are not the only conditions that impact people’s lives there; however, the mainstream media has tended to focus on these characteristics, which has resulted in a reductive representation of the continent that does not adequately reflects the diversity and individuality of its people.  Through Project Maisha, Ozromano challenges and deconstructs that image.

      Her subsequent photographic series reflect a continual interest in Africa and with capturing images of people’s everyday lives.  For example, she depicts images of street life in Memoirs from Istanbul and evocative images of Iceland’s landscape, architecture, and community life in Getting Lost in Iceland.  In Zanzibar Unveiled, she depicts everyday life in Zanzibar, juxtaposed with some scenic imagery.  Through this, Ozromano appears to ask audiences to consider the actual lives of inhabitants beneath the attractive beach, water, and scenery that typically attracts tourists.  Mama Land, East Africa includes posed and candid shots of children and adults.

      Ozromano’s sense of herself as someone with a hyphenated identity also informs her work.  As a Turkish Jew, she is part of a minority population in her home country, so her self-identity is informed by a variety of different layers.  Having immigrated to Canada twelve years ago as an international student, she has made Canada home ever since.  As a result, her interest in home and belonging can be seen in her work, including the photographic series that she exhibited at this year’s The Works Art and Design Festival.  The series Colours are Emotions explores how people wear emotions as masks and, more specifically, how colours can convey or respond to particular emotions as well as how objects may represent certain emotions. 

      In each photo, Ozromano positions herself in the middle by facing the camera and holding a particular object, besides which she has also painted her face a certain colour that acts as a mask.  In one photo, her face is painted green and she is holding her passport, whereas in another her face is painted red and she is holding a National Post issue that has the front-page headline “Vegas Gunman’s Body Found Amid 23 Guns.”  As a result, the photos invite audiences to think about what emotions they associate with certain colours, consider how they feel about her and the objects being portrayed, and assess their own relationship to those very objects.  Indeed, Ozromano’s face mask in each photo appears to function as a metaphor for people’s emotions and the ways in which these can impact on the choices that one makes, whether negatively or positively.

      Reflecting on her artistic practice and relationship with her audience, Ozromano strives to evoke emotional responses from people through her work and to encourage a sense of connection and mutual recognition of each other’s humanity:

 

 

I like to see myself, not only as a photographer, but more so as a visual storyteller and story activist. I certainly like to convey a message: however, I think most importantly it is how my artwork makes the audience feel rather than think or perceive. Feelings like melancholy, nostalgia, grief and longing are not easy to approach but I like to give people space to feel vulnerable and help them see humanity in all the stories I try to depict.

 

 

      Currently, Ozromano is working on a documentary series based on her recent photography of her grandmother’s house in Turkey, through which she will explore topics such as her heritage, hyphenated identity, and sense of home and belonging.  To learn more about Ozromano’s art, visit her website at https://www.lindaozromano.com/ or follow @lindaozromanophotography on Instagram.

(Re)Mapping Alberta Territories: (Re)Claiming Indigenous Space and Agency

Author: Yang Lim

  Photo credit: Miriam van Eck

Photo credit: Miriam van Eck

      In the wake of the work accomplished through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and subsequently through the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Manitoba, there has been a push at the public and governmental levels to redress the legacy of residential schools upon Canada’s indigenous communities and to advance the process of reconciliation between these communities and the provincial and federal governments.  In relation to this, there has been an increased recognition in the public sphere regarding how Canada’s indigenous communities have had their perspectives and experiences misrepresented or excluded from predominant institutional and media discourses.   As a result, indigenous artists such as Marina Hulzenga are creating artworks that prompt people to reconsider their perspectives and attitudes towards Canada’s indigenous communities.

      Marina Hulzenga’s project Liminal Space (Awasitipahaskan) was on view this past June in Edmonton’s Bleeding Heart Art Space on 118th Avenue, which was advertised as part of The Works Art and Design Festival.  Through this project, Hulzenga disrupts the geographical space and political borders that demarcate Alberta as a province and define it in relation to the Canadian nation-state.  She challenges the public’s understanding of space and borders by highlighting their constructed nature and the ways in which they serve to privilege or exclude particular narratives that are perpetuated about that space.  As she states in the description that accompanies her work, Hulzenga hopes that her work will “widen, stretch, erupt our existing spatial awareness and make room for the re-discovering and re-imagining of our narrative.” 

      Indeed, Hulzenga exposes the biases inherent in “Western” mappings of space as an abstract process as they suppress and erase the presence of the numerous indigenous communities that are a significant part of this province and its history.  Her work reinscribes the presence of the province’s 141 First Nation reserves, all of whose presence has been suppressed and erased in mainstream representations of Alberta’s land.  In doing so, Hulzenga articulates a more complex understanding of Alberta’s geographical space that destabilizes its provincial borders, encourages a more fluid conceptualization of that space, and situates it within the context of indigenous oral narratives and communal memories that give it meaning. 

      The installation itself includes a large map of Alberta hanging on one wall that shows all of the indigenous reservations and settlements with their respective boundaries.  Complimenting this large map are some white rectangular boards that each depict the geographical shape of a specific indigenous community and includes a label that identifies each community’s name with its geographical coordinates.  These boards are arranged in a row and run along the perimeter of two walls close to the baseboard.  The juxtaposition of these two elements—the large map and the indigenous communities that are represented individually on white boards—draw attention to the problematic process of mapping a territory and the ways in which it can privilege a particular perspective upon that space. 

      By drawing attention to these indigenous communities, Hulzenga deconstructs our understanding of Alberta’s map and forces us to consider what maps may not show or emphasize.  Conventional maps of Alberta that people may be accustomed to seeing in sources such as geography textbooks, driver guides, and tourist guides will tend to depict the province’s major roadways and elements related to the land’s physical makeup, such as the water features, elevation levels, and so on.  Indigenous reservations and settlements have not been consistently represented and the political borders that define Alberta as a province take precedence.  As a result, the indigenous communities’ histories are also omitted as they are inherently tied to the land upon which they define their identities.  These omissions are made even more apparent by Hulzenga’s inclusion of a historical map of Alberta in her installation that also do not identify these communities.  In relation to this, the arbitrariness of reservation boundaries is highlighted by Hulzenga’s depiction of the Enoch Cree Nation reserve’s traditional land map alongside the chronological shrinking of their territory. As a result, Hulzenga posits an alternative understanding of space that is more fluid and defined by the cultural communities’ historical boundaries and experiences rather than by the political borders artificially imposed by the Canadian nation-state without acknowledgement or consideration of the historical context that has preceded them.

      Furthermore, these spatial representations of Alberta omit the narratives that give them meaning.  Hulzenga has collected oral narratives about indigenous peoples’ memories of their childhoods growing up and how it is strikingly different from where they live now, which people can listen to by putting on one of the headphone sets, each of which are tied to a small tree.  As a result, this conveys an understanding Alberta’s territory as not only a physical space but also a discursive space that is given meaning through narratives and storytelling.  The individual anecdotes emphasize how the land is not simply a physical, abstract entity but rather something that has cultural, ancestral, and personal significance and that is given meaning through the retelling of stories in the present.  Their stories may convey regret or a sense of loss around the fact that they can never return to the ways things were before in their respective communities.  However, at the same time they convey a sense of humour to emphasize that these communities are living, breathing entities.

      Related to these narratives is Hulzenga’s inclusion of selected drawings from Enoch Cree nation members who have been asked to draw a map of their reserve from memory in one minute.  The drawings range from attempts to create a representation of the reserve that accurately identifies key roads and landmarks to those that are more interested in creating a suggestive rendition of their community that identifies markers of personal significance.  The results of this seemingly simple exercise reveals the complexity of meaning-making that occurs in relation to a geographical space and the fluidity and ambiguity inherent in this process, since one person may derive significant meaning from a particular place whereas another person may not.

      Another element of the exhibit are the aerial photos of Churchill Square and other locations around Edmonton with the tile and gravel components outlined in red.  For Hulzenga, the presence of gravel takes on a cultural meaning as it signals the shift between the border of one territory to another.  These illustrate how the physical materials that make up the land themselves are endowed with meaning, which is something that may not be readily apparent to people.

      The only drawback to this installation is that its format and spatial layout are perhaps limited by the gallery space’s size and shape.  Had there been more room available, it appears that Hulzenga could have spread out the different elements of her installation a bit more so that people could navigate around and view it more easily, such as the white rectangular boards that depicted the specific indigenous communities.  Nevertheless, the impact of Hulzenga’s work will still be felt by the people who have viewed it.

      As a whole, Maria Hulzenga’s exhibition offers an important intervention into the discourse of truth and reconciliation.  The act of mapping is an important part of this dialogue as it is tied to the history of indigenous communities, who have had their traditional lands systematically taken away by the government and reduced to a fraction of its original size on reservations.  As a result, Hulzenga’s work prompts people to become more aware of and acknowledge this history that indigenous communities have experienced and that continue to have lasting effects to the present day.

      A previous version of Maria Hulzenga’s Liminal Spaces had appeared previously at last year’s The Works Art and Design Festival, but with a different spatial arrangement and in a different venue.  For more details about her artistic practice, visit her official website at http://www.marinahulzenga.com.

 

Christine FrostComment
Why do we stop being creative when we grow up?
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By Julie-Claude Vezeau-Croteau, Programs Assistant.

When you are a kid you think you are the center of the universe. You believe that everybody likes what you make, and if they don’t, you are sure they are wrong. Your sense of empathy develops around the age of 7-8. Afterwards, you understand that you are not alone. It means that you are more aware of how others feel, but it also underlines that you realize how they may think of you. 

Before, you felt great about everything you created but now, you compare yourself to them and you feel terrible about it. It’s hard to take the time to become better at something when you feel judged. Never the less, sometimes what you don’t know can make you feel better, for example: art making. 

Making visual art can be relaxing and give you a unique way to express yourself. It is also easy to start; you just need a piece of paper and a pencil and you can start doodling. Doodles are drawings that you don’t have to show anyone - but if you feel brave enough I will encourage you to come to the artmaking tent open from noon to 8 everyday on Capital plaza. You can try The Intriguing plant project which is an introduction to drawing, collage and sculpture. 

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Christine FrostComment
Artist Profile: Emmanuel Osahor

Author: Yang Lim

  In Search of Eden  by Emmanuel Osahor, exhibiting on Capital Plaza. Photo by Fren Mah

In Search of Eden by Emmanuel Osahor, exhibiting on Capital Plaza. Photo by Fren Mah

Complexity and multi-faceted: these are two words that point to the motivations behind Emmanuel Osahor’s art.  Having graduating from the University of Alberta’s BFA program in 2014, Emmanuel Osahor has developed an artistic practice that is informed by two distinct yet interconnected threads: (1) a desire to explore complexity and challenge people’s assumptions of the work that they are looking at, whether this is in terms of the work’s subject matter, medium, or approach to the topic; and (2) a desire to grapple with utopic ideas.

        In his reflections on problems that we face today, Osahor comments that his work is “trying to deal with my own frustration at the impossibility of having a quick fix.”  Discrimination, marginalization, and homelessness are entrenched problems in our communities today that we may desire to address quickly, yet such is not the case in reality.  As such, his art becomes a way to negotiate his own thoughts on these subjects as well as a means to challenge his audience’s perceptions of reality in the process.

        However, it is important to avoid viewing Osahor’s art through an activist framework as this misses the nuances of what he has set out to do in his art.  He regards the role of art as a catalyst for reflection, dialogue, and empathy, all of which can provide the conditions for changing people’s perspectives and attitudes.  For Osahor, the ability of art to generate empathy is powerful and can enable people to be more open to change.

        The evolution of Osahor’s art can be traced back to a number of influences that connect with his educational and personal background, coupled with his awareness of societal issues that developed from his immigration to Canada and from his artistic collaborations with cultural communities and organizations in Edmonton.  Although he immigrated to Edmonton in 2010 for educational reasons, Osahor has since made Edmonton his home.  After finishing his BFA program with a specialization in painting and printmaking, he worked on some projects that reflect a confluence among his desire to draw upon his personal experiences and his interest in engaging with issues of social and political relevance.

        His initial projects dealt with personal subjects that he used as a starting point to explore broader concerns.  In “The Distance Between Us” (2014-2015), Osahor explores questions about peoples’ memories, their relationship to the past, and the ways they construct narratives to make sense of that past.  The starting point for his considerations are some old family photographs, from which he drew his inspiration.  Similarly, his work  “And Then My Hands Shook” explores the topic of violence of contemporary society by reflecting on a variety of images that range from personal photographs of life back home to images found in newspapers, through which he reflects on the lingering effects of civil war in Nigeria as well as the pervasiveness of violence in a broader, global context.

        His subsequent projects, such as  “Green Pastures” (2016) and “My Journey,” (2016) focus on engaging with the local community and documenting the experiences of immigrants and newcomers to Edmonton through art.  Intent on giving voice to their perspectives, Osahor affirms that these peoples’ experiences tend to be unacknowledged or unappreciated by the public because of their skewed assumptions about immigrants’ intentions for coming to Canada as well as the nature of their experiences once they have settled here.  Far from being a smooth transition to a new country, immigrants are often leaving their community, livelihood, and a whole way of life behind in order to come to a country that is completely foreign to them.  Such a disjuncture in their lives is something that Osahor feels is not recognized enough.

        His own experiences as an immigrant have also served as a catalyst for him to explore these issues.  When he was a new immigrant in Canada, he had a particular preconception of Canada that was utopic and not really grounded in reality.  However, he gradually came to realize that the public was unaware of the actual lives of newly settled immigrants in Canada and the actual conditions of what Africa is like.  He observed that Canada’s mainstream news coverage of Africa was often negative or otherwise did little to cover it at all.  While in school, he also volunteered with iHuman and later worked with them for a period of time after graduating in 2014.  He then began working with photography as a medium and began taking a lot of street photography to gain experience.  

        From working in these mediums of painting, printmaking, and photography, Osahor grew to appreciate the strengths of each medium as well as the possibilities that they provide.  Indeed, his attraction to photography arises from his recognition that he can challenge people’s perspectives and assumptions about the genre, through which he can explore subjects that are important to him.  For example, his River Valley project in 2017 explored the river valley and the complex meanings attached to it.  Although the river valley can be regarded as a sanctuary or oasis in the middle of Edmonton, it has different meanings for people who visit it and for the homeless who make their home there.  As such, this highlights the complexity of what a space can mean: it can be an escape, but it can also be a home.

        At this year’s The Work Art and Design Festival, Osahor will have a 24-foot high installation that will feature a selection of photographs from this River Valley project as well as a living wall with plants that will reflect those that grow in the River Valley.  This is an extension of his previous work as he continues to challenge people’s perceptions of what they are seeing as well as the possibilities for making use of a space.  His hope is that the installation will encourage people to pause and reflect in the midst of a media culture that is saturated with images.

 The light boxes at  In Search of Eden  light up in the evening on Capital Plaza.

The light boxes at In Search of Eden light up in the evening on Capital Plaza.

        Patrons can check out Osahor’s work at Capital Plaza, the central site of this year’s festival.  To learn more about Emmanuel Osahor’s art, more information is on his website at https://www.eosahorart.com.

 

Christine FrostComment
Artist Profile: Yong Fei Guan

Author: Yang Lim

 Photographer:  Manpreet Singh

Photographer: Manpreet Singh

        Yong Fei Guan is an Edmonton-based artist whose work provides a welcome contribution to the diversifying of perspectives in Edmonton’s art community.  Although Guan was always been interested in art as a child, she had limited opportunities to study it extensively in school.  Art education was not valued in the community where she grew up as the visual arts were not seen as a pragmatic occupation.  After immigrating from China to Canada over a decade ago, Guan studied art at MacEwan, followed by a degree in Fine Arts from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design.  When she returned to Edmonton, she started to develop her artistic practice and took the City of Edmonton’s composting program and became a Master Composter, after which she subsequently taught the public about how to compost.  At the same time, she became more interested in exploring her own cultural identity.

        As a result, Guan’s artistic practice has developed out of a unique confluence of her connection to her Chinese heritage, her active engagement with environmental issues, and her desire to create a distinctive artistic practice that extends beyond the mediums of traditional Chinese art.  In doing so, she aims to increase the Edmonton public’s awareness about Chinese culture and history as well as to create a new type of art that speaks to contemporary issues that impact Edmonton’s Chinese community.

        The development of her artistic practice did not arise without some challenges.  After she completed her art education, she created several animal paintings and illustrations as well as dabbled in some abstract art.  Besides, this, she started to work with traditional mediums such as ricepaper and ink, but she found these to be unsatisfactory.  In 2014, she came up with the idea of folding some of her ricepaper-and-ink works into origami, which were subsequently exhibited at Harcourt House.  This became an important moment in Guan’s development of a unique artistic voice, which she further developed through her participation in the Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival.  During the festival, she facilitated a workshop about how to make lanterns out of milk jugs, which proved to be very popular with the public.  This progressed to her creation and exhibiting of Foo Dog at a group show last year, followed by her creation of a Chinese guardian lion that appeared at the Shaw Conference Centre’s Art Night event this past March.   Guan constructed the lion out of recyclable and repurposed materials such as milk jugs and 6-pack rings that she sprayed pink.  When the lion was displayed at the Shaw Conference Centre, she observed that several people would pose by the lion and take photos.  For Guan, this was an affirmation of her work’s resonance with the Chinese community and other Edmontonians as well.

        The guardian lion was intended to remind people of the stone lions that were stationed in front of Edmonton downtown’s Harbin Gates.  Located at the intersection of 102nd Avenue and 97th Street, the Harbin Gates have been a central part of downtown Edmonton since 1987.  However, they were dismantled last year due to the Valley Line LRT expansion, which the city had slated to build through that street.  Failing to consult sufficiently with the Chinese community, the city began by removing the two stone lions in front of the gates on April 4th, 2017, followed by the dismantling of the Harbin Gates on the November 4th-5th weekend that same year.

        The dismantling of the Harbin Gates was a shock to the local Chinese community and several members held a candle vigil the day before they were dismantled.  For several of them, the lions had sentimental value and they held fond memories of them, besides which they were culturally significant as the gate’s materials were a gift from Edmonton’s sister city Harbin, China.

        Through the creation of her guardian lion out of recyclable materials, Guan  is making a statement about the cultural significance of Harbin Gates and the stone lions, both of which she regard as an important representation of Edmonton’s multicultural heritage.  For Guan, their removal by the city shows the municipal government’s lack of awareness, understanding, and respect for the Chinese community in Edmonton because it signifies the physical erasure of Chinese history and heritage from a city that has, ironically, been proud to affirm its diversity.  As Guan affirms, ”The Chinese community is Alberta is over a century old and Edmonton is currently home to about 79,000 Chinese immigrants. Yet, there is a lack of respect for Chinese cultural practices locally.  Chinatown is being gentrified; the Harbin Gate has been removed.  It is outrageous to experience my own cultural heritage disappearing from a place I now call home.”  For the community, the removal of the gates and lions exemplify how changes seem to be taking place without their consultation.

        Her interest in composting has also given rise to an ongoing project entitled C is for Composting.  With the composting knowledge and skills that she has acquired, Guan is interested in teaching children about composting and its relationship to nature.  As a result, she experimented with torn paper art and began formulating some ideas for a picture book, which is still a work in process.

        Guan is currently in the process of creating a second guardian lion out of the same materials.  Her current project will appear in this year’s The Works Art and Design Festival and will consist of both lions being displayed prominently at the festival’s central site at Capital Plaza.

        To learn more about her art and artistic practice, Yong Fei Guan’s website can be found at http://www.yongfeiguan.com.