Mindset

I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t post it though. I needed to sit on it a while and assess if I should. The post was about rejection. And feeling like crap. Who writes blog posts about feeling crappy!? I know I usually don’t. Typically we post things when we land the big project, when our partner makes us dinner, when our kids do super cute things. I think its human nature to want to share our stories of success. As artists, we don’t want to publicly tell people about the rejected grants, the shows we didn’t get, the days where we ask ourselves what the f*%k  are we doing with our lives and why don’t we just get a real job. 

But I realized maybe there is value in other people hearing about my challenges and days of feeling defeated.  I’m pretty sure everyone has those days, but sometimes when all we see is gloss and Instagram filters, we forget that under it all, along with the ups, there are also downs. That’s life baby. 

So the reason for all this rumination was because I had presented a project for a public art commission, but alas.... I didn’t get it. In French, they call it a “concour”, and that’s exactly what it is; a contest where 3 - 5  artists are shortlisted, and then they pitch their project to a committee. One wins, and the others have to be professional and pick up the pieces of their dignity and self-respect and keep on keeping on, pretending like its just part of the game, and “better luck next time”. 

This is usually what I do. I don’t dwell on it. I look at what I’ve learned from the process; I look at what I need to work on to improve myself and my projects, and I aim to do better next time.  I’ve never been the type to wallow around in self-pity over anything. When I’m feeling low after rejections, I go to the gym and exorcise my frustrations through physical activity; I put on some Missy Elliot, roll up my sleeves, and get back to my studio. 

I don’t wallow: I make shit happen!  I have been shortlisted for almost 20 projects (I honestly can’t remember) and have been awarded 7 public art projects in the Montreal area. I think that’s amazing!  

Well, most days I think its amazing. 

But on this particular day, the day after not getting a project, I didn’t want to turn my frown upside down. I didn’t want to stay positive and see this as a learning experience for next time like I usually do.

I wanted to stay in bed all day and eat potato chips. So, so many potato chips. Mmmmm…. Potato chips. 

And it’s the middle of February. What does sunshine look like again?

It’s 2 weeks later, and now I’m posting this because I’ve had some time to let dust settle and to come back to my centre; the fighter in me has re-emerged and is ready to take on all of life’s challenges. I realized that my disappointment wasn’t because of not getting one project, it was the collective disappointment of many rejected proposals over many years. I just reached a tipping point.

But in life, we face many many tipping points, and every time we have to decide if we’re going to get back up or not. Is this going to break me? Is this going to define me? Or will I choose to look this pain, this disappointment, this sadness in the eye and stand up to it. Whether work related, or affairs of the family and the heart, we can only do better by looking at all of it as learning and opportunity for growth. You grow or you die. 

I still have several bags of potato chips in the house, just in case I need them. But for now, they remain unopened and I’m going to the gym, with some Missy Elliot flowing through my earbuds, fuelling my vibe. 

Bring it life. I’m ready. 

 

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Full circle inspiration

A couple of months ago, I had several friends travelling in India, at the same time. They were all posting photos on Facebook of their daily treks to mosques, caves, temples and tombs. It transported me back to my 26-year old self, while on my first trip to India, the fruit of my application for a Commonwealth Arts and Crafts Award. This research award stipulated that I spend a minimum of 6 months there. This was truly a life changing experience for me. Not only was this the first time I travelled outside of North America, but I arrived in Mumbai 2 days after 9/11. I was en route for India, in Rome, when 9/11 happened. The world was in upheaval and so was my young spirit. 

I persisted, though, and remained in India despite family urging me to return home. 

During those 6 months, I did a few self-directed residencies and visited nearly every mosque, temple and tomb of the Mughal Empire. I was fascinated with ornate historical architecture, having mostly researched European architecture before this trip. I was now seeing and experiencing a whole new style of architecture that was grand and mighty, bold and enduring, but also contained fine, delicate features and decorative pattern.

This trip affected my outlook on the world, helping me see myself and my culture from the outside looking in. It also helped shape my art practice. I sometimes forget how much this trip shaped me and led to who I am today, both as a person and as an artist. 

I’m currently completing a public art commission for an elementary school in Montreal. As I look at my design for this commission, which involves the imagery being etched into the huge exterior concrete walls of the building, I am reminded of Akbar’s Tomb, in Sikandra, about 10km from the city of Agra, where the Taj Mahal rests. The carved sandstone blocks that frame the entrance gates to the site of Sikander’s Tomb always reminded me of quilt blocks. Even back then, at 26, before I was consciously doing artwork with quilt references, I guess was unconsciously planning for future work. I took photos, did sketches. But then I tucked these notebooks away on a shelf with other old sketchbooks to rarely look at and collect dust. 

When I saw the images my friends posted from their visits to these sites in India, it was like an “ah-ha” moment. As I remembered Akbar’s Tomb, I felt silly for forgetting about it all these years and not seeing how much it influenced my current work. It’s comforting to look back and know that the 26-year old who often felt lost and confused during those 6 months amongst the ordered chaos of India, was actually paying attention. For a few years after that trip, I kept waiting with the impatience that accompanies youth, to see some immediate work develop. It didn’t seem to happen. But life went on. 

Sometimes it takes a long time for ideas to develop. All that we see and do and experience affects us and as creative people, eventually it makes its way out.  I thank the Commonwealth Foundation for trusting in me all those years ago.

Adobe MAX Bash: Sugar Mural in Las Vegas

The scene:
Las Vegas, October 19th, 2017. A huge parking lot in the shadow of the massive High Roller observation wheel is, over the course of one week, turned into an open-air bar, tapas lounge, club, event space for over 9000 people. 
The theme: Contemporary, high-tech Alice in Wonderland
The audience: attendees at the 2017 Adobe MAX annual conference. 

So.... amidst the usual wild and surreal happenings of Las Vegas, and the magical transformation of a parking lot into a world-class event (organized by Los Angeles based event planning company SO events), I was creating a sugar mural on site, in line with the theme of Alice in Wonderland.  It was a dry, hot week working on site, but a beautiful evening when the event took place. It was a fun night, interacting with people, seeing their reactions when they realized it was ALL made of sugar!  And of course, the most frequently heard comment was... 
"SWEET!!"  

Decadence: From start to finish

Art Prize in Grand Rapids, Michigan has wrapped up. I'm really proud to have made it to the final round, after being voted into the top 5 public choice votes in my category of installation. I had a great experience being in Grand Rapids for 10, meeting people while installing my sugar mural, and teaching several hundred kids at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which was also the venue that hosted me and my artwork. 

Here are the final images of my mural, called Decadence. The statement I had for the work is also listed below if you want to know about the concept behind the piece. 

STATEMENT: "This ephemeral sugar mural is dedicated to excess. It’s made of sugar because what could be a better symbol of desire and greed than this mouth-watering pleasure that culturally, has been turned into a staple, found in almost every meal. Sugar is also a symbol: a stand-in for all those other commodities that circle the globe, helping corporations to grow and the individual to diminish. Sugar’s painful history of slavery may be the past, but let’s ask ourselves how many other commodities are linked to new forms of slavery and oppression? Decadence is a term often used to describe opulence and luxury. But the origins of the word imply decay. Decay feeds the opulence… So what happens when moderation turns to excess? Come watch and see… the living, and reciprocally, the dying process of this mural will happen gradually over the duration of Art Prize. Pieces fall apart and images fade, not unlike history and our memory of events."

Learning Through Sugar

I had the honour and privilege to teach several hundred kids during Art Prize Education Days in Grand Rapids, Michigan a couple of weeks ago. I was there for 10 days creating a site-specific sugar mural at the Grand Rapids Public Museum for an event called Art Prize. The museum invited me to teach kids workshops for 4 days to ages ranging from 5-17.  I developed 2 different types of age-appropriate workshops, both using edible sugar-based materials.

Before each workshop, the kids saw my mural. I spoke about the concept behind the work, how it relates to the history of sugar and its' links to colonization and slavery. I explained how the decay of the work over time, through fading and crumbling, is linked to the relationship between the wealth of some and the ruin of others. I encouraged them to think about where materials and foods come from today. How are things made? By whom? Do forms of slavery and oppression continue today?  

As always, I got interesting questions and some very thoughtful comments. I think kids grasp complex subjects better than most adults think and we should bring them into conversations more often. I left each of these 4 days feeling tired, but very much rejuvenated. I certainly hope to teach kids workshops again. I think I can learn a lot from them... 

 

PEOPLE, PATTERN, PLACE: Melville, SK: Take 3!

Here is the final instalment of this series of 3 photo shoots I did in Melville, Saskatchewan in June and July of 2017. It's part of my series called "People, Pattern, Place" where I create geometric formations using people, and the colour of their clothes, to create the patterns. 

The goal of this project is to connect people: in these times of conflict and division, this project is my humble attempt to bring people together. By symbolically bringing people together to create these harmonious formations, I'm hoping it can be the catalyst for new connections and relationships in communities.

In this, the largest formation I did while I was in Melville, we had some amazing community support! We had the 4H club, the Sil Foo Kung Fu club and the Melville's Mils baseball team (the players are also mostly American, so I was super stoked to have them come out and show come community pride!). And of course, to complete the design I had a few more individuals come out to be part of this living quilt. #peoplepatternplace

This initiative is made possible by the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, a collaboration between the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, the Government of Canada, The City of Melville and extraordinary leaders from coast to coast to coast.

Cette initiative est rendue possible grâce au Fonds communautaire pour le 150e anniversaire du Canada, qui est une collaboration entre the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, le gouvernement du Canada, le Ville de Melville, et des leaders extraordinaires de l’Atlantique au Pacifique à l’Arctique.

PEOPLE, PATTERN, PLACE: Melville, SK - TAKE 2!

On July 8th, I did another formation at the Melville Heritage Museum lawns. I loosely call this one "Rider Pride"!  Nearly everyone around here has a Saskatchewan Roughrider shirt, and those who don't, have green or white! It was yet another sweltering hot day in the prairie summer. Thankfully people didn't have to remain baking in the sun for too long.

This initiative is made possible by the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, a collaboration between the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, the Government of Canada, The City of Melville and extraordinary leaders from coast to coast to coast.

Cette initiative est rendue possible grâce au Fonds communautaire pour le 150e anniversaire du Canada, qui est une collaboration entre the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, le gouvernement du Canada, le Ville de Melville, et des leaders extraordinaires de l’Atlantique au Pacifique à l’Arctique.

 

PEOPLE, PATTERN, PLACE: Melville, SK - TAKE 1!

3 new photo compositions done in Melville, SK are complete!  I'm still in the editing room, going through the photos, so I'll post each one in different posts. This was the first one I did on June 24th. It was loosely themed around Canada Day, with participants wearing red and white. We also had a few MSC high school students from the local SADD chapter wearing their shirts (Students Against Drinking and Driving).  It was a small group, but I think we did some good work... :-)

This initiative is made possible by the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, a collaboration between the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, the Government of Canada, The City of Melville and extraordinary leaders from coast to coast to coast.

Cette initiative est rendue possible grâce au Fonds communautaire pour le 150e anniversaire du Canada, qui est une collaboration entre the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, le gouvernement du Canada, le Ville de Melville, et des leaders extraordinaires de l’Atlantique au Pacifique à l’Arctique.

Our Heroes: Community project with WIBCA

Throughout the month of April, 2017, I've been heading out to the West Island of Montreal to work with WIBCA (West Island Black Community Association) to create an artwork on the theme of "OUR HEROES". The resulting artwork will be mounted on a parade float, and part of the Pierrefonds-Roxboro parade on July 1st. The borough invited 5 contemporary artists to work with different community groups to create parade floats on different themes. If you can make it out to this parade on July 1st, I highly recommend it! 

Members of WIBCA chose 6 prominent black figures through history as representations of their "Heroes". Those people are: Marie Joseph Angelique, Mathieu DaCosta, Viola Desmond, Mary Ann Shadd, Lincoln Alexander, and Michaëlle Jean. Images of these people are integrated into the artwork, as well as printed on fans that will be handed out to people along the parade route. Since these people all have such amazing stories, more info about each person is printed on the backs of each fan. 

The concept of using fabric and round, sewn forms (referred to as "yo-yo's" or "fuxico") is derived from a series I have been working on, which began in Brazil, called "People, Pattern, Place". I create human formations that reference patchwork styles common to each area. Just as fabric is a series of threads, that, once woven together, becomes stronger, so to do communities become stronger when individuals come together. 

The images below show us all hard at work, cutting, sewing, painting.  I wish I had recorded some of the conversations that took place over the 6 workshops... pure gold! Something magical happens when you bring a group of people together and have them sit and sew together. Sometimes they're called "stitch and bitch" sessions. For me, it was more like a "stitch and share" or a "stitch and learn". I feel truly blessed for having the opportunity to work with this group. Again, art has enriched me, and I hope I can share that enrichment with others. 

Thanks to Emmanuelle Jacques for coordinating the project; The Borough of Pierrefonds-Roxoboro for supporting this project, and of course, thanks to WIBCA for welcoming me and sharing their energy and time for this project. 

Peace and love.