kind renderings: Rendezvous With Madness Festival

October 27 – November 6, 2022

Workman Arts Offsite Gallery, Rendezvous With Madness Festival

kind renderings Exhibition Installation shot.2022. Photo by Henry Chan, courtesy of Workman Arts.

By Aysia Tse

kind renderings is the group exhibition for Workman Arts’ 2022 Rendezvous With Madness Festival with the theme being “More Than Rebellion.” Working towards generational change, better informed public discourse, and supporting representation surrounding mental health and addiction, Rendezvous With Madness Festival organizes screenings, exhibitions, workshops, panel talks, performances, and more.

kind renderings, located at the Workman Arts Offsite Gallery in Artscape Youngplace, considers kindness as an act of choice. Six artists share the space, creating work stemming from their own lived experiences with mental health and well-being. Processes of self-reflection, vulnerability, struggle, and healing are all present throughout each work in the exhibition. Together, they form a collection of work that addresses challenging experiences through diverse approaches and explore a range of emotional tones.

kind renderings. Twinkle Banerjee, The things we carry with us (2011). Photo by Henry Chan, courtesy of Workman Arts.

First entering the gallery space, Twinkle Banerjee’s installation The things we carry with us (2011) covers the wall with newsprints from floor to ceiling. Crumpled, burnt articles are scattered over blue patterned fabric, and two images are mounted on the wall; a photogram of hair mixed of the artist’s and her mother’s, and a collage made with cyanotype from a film negative of her grandmother. In an essay about the work, Banerjee speaks about the pain that comes from generational trauma and reflects on her interpersonal relationship with her grandmother. She opens up about the resentment that comes with family dysfunction and inherited trauma rooted in displacement arising from political policy. The partition of India caused her grandmother to be one of the millions who were displaced as children. Collaging multiple copies of the newsprints with alarming headlines that include reports of murder and arson, injuries and killing, and other acts of violence give more context to her grandmother’s lived experience and familial history.

kind renderings. Stéphane Alexis with his installation, Chains & Crowns (2022). Photo by Henry Chan.

Across from Banerjee’s installation is Chains & Crowns (2022) by Stéphane Alexis. A large black, white, and purple photo banner with 16 hairstyles arranged in a grid covers the opposing wall. In the accompanying statement, each hairstyle is numbered 1-16 with a description of the hairstyle, including the common name, historical background, social, and cultural significance. The Hi-Top, Senegalese Twist, Cornrows, Bantu Knots, Ghana Braids are some of the hairstyles featured. For Alexis, this socio-political project reflects on his interpersonal relationship with hair and self, speaking about familial influences and the community and family histories that grounds his work. In his artist talk, Alexis spoke about how history grounds us in who we are and contributes to a communal sense of understanding. In this photography project, he wanted to reflect on the hardships of Black history but also highlight a sense of resilience and boldness.

kind renderings. Jenny Chen with her animation, Multitude of Fish – Ascension Tales. 2022. Photo by Henry Chan.

Moving further into the space, an animation project by Jenny Chen titled Multitude of Fish – Ascension Tales (2022) is projected on a wall behind the gallery desk. Reflecting on energetic bodies and exploring spirituality, Chen uses fish as symbols and their journey to the heavens as a reflection of their own wellness journey and process of healing. In the adjacent room, artist Boozie’s work brings more personality to the space with Losing It, a series of framed digital illustrations. Portraits inspired by a continuing time in her life of confronting and documenting her inner self-talk, Boozie uses images of hamster wheels to illustrate the feeling of never-ending cyclical thoughts. In this series created as an outlet or coping strategy, she personifies these demons and draws them wearing white underwear – an image that she hopes brings some humour and silliness to disarm their constant presence.

kind renderings. Boozie pictured with her illustration series, Losing It. Photo by Henry Chan.
kind renderings. Paintings from Wen Tong’s series Cinnamon. 2022. Photo by Henry Chan.

Wen Tong’s painting series Cinnamon (2022) shows a shift in her perspective during the COVID-19 lockdown. Painted in a magical realist style, Tong depicts everyday imagery and speaks about finding magical moments in the mundane through painting a “poetic truth.” Opposite these bright, colourful, and painterly pieces, Jessica Field’s work My left-hand is talking and my right-had is nurturing at first glance, looks like charcoal drawings with handwritten text. As a new media artist, Field’s practice involves physical computing, coding, and fabricating “artificial agents.” The drawings on display are produced by an artificial intelligence computer she has worked on for over 10 years. As she feeds her art into the AI, it produces more work that is reflective of her drawings, writing, and experiences with her process of healing. Field’s work considers the reclamation of medical terms and the “treatment of injuries that feel unreconcilable.” Accompanying the drawings is a video of Field reading her poems in a walk-through of her book that documents a collection of drawings and poems. A print copy of the book is also on display for visitors to explore on their own. Looking forward, Field wonders if over time, as she heals, the AI drawings will slowly reflect her recovery and evolve with her.

kind renderings. Jessica Field with her work, My left-hand is talking and my right-had is nurturing.2022. Photo by Henry Chan.

The artists and their work consider the complexity of the human condition that involves trauma, healing, familial, political, and historical factors. They also explore intra and interpersonal relationships that affect our health and well-being in positive and negative ways. The title kind renderings support the space as a tender one – one where artists can make work about challenging topics, share them in a safe space, and approach these conversations together with the care and kindness they deserve.

Depression Cooking: In Conversation with Sonali Menezes

Sonali Menezes, Depression Cooking. Image courtesy of the artist.

By Rebecca Casalino

Sonali Menezes is a Hamilton-based artist who maintains an interdisciplinary practice deeply rooted in community. She works as an arts educator, facilitator, and knowledge gatherer throughout her artistic projects. This intersectional approach is highlighted in work like her 2015 project “Untitled (Lavender Harvest)” where she collected local lavender and made jellies and syrups as gifts for the workers who cultivated the garden. Her work as a knowledge gatherer is evident in her zine-making practice where digital copies of So Your Anxious As Fuck and Depression Cooking are available for download on Etsy for $1.00. Menezes’ body of work varies in medium with her politics acting as a connecting thread throughout her performance, video, sculpture, printmaking, and poetry.

Portrait of Sonali Menezes. Photo by Ariel Bader-Shamai.

Rebecca Casalino: Depression Cooking: easy recipes for when you’re depressed as fuck is so lovely and so personal, Sonali—it was a pleasure to read, and it was lovely to attend your Depression Cooking Virtual Dinner in February. I wanted to start this interview by speaking about the people you thank for supporting and inspiring you throughout the making of this zine. Can you speak to your Depression Cooking allies?

Sonali Menezes: It meant so much to me that you came to the virtual dinner, Rebecca! You also shared a wonderful idea for depression focaccia using store-bought pizza dough (total genius). I really want to emphasize how much this zine doesn’t belong to me; I don’t own the knowledge that’s shared. It’s very much collective, and I like to think of myself as a collector in this context.  So much of the inspiration for this zine came from really everyone I’ve ever lived with or eaten with in my life. Conversations with friends and family, and messages from complete strangers on social media. To narrow things down a bit, I want to focus on thanking four people. The first is Anna Bowen from, who sent me a pitch invitation for her Complicating Care, series and helped me find a home for this project. The second is Abedar Kamgari who encouraged me to apply for special project funding through Hamilton Artists Inc. so that the first print-run of the zine could be shared entirely for free. Third is Jeffrey who is my number one supporter and always washes the dishes. Last is my maternal grandmother Elizabeth Francis who taught me that all you need to do to start cooking a meal is to fry up a chopped onion and garlic in a pan with oil.  But I do stress both in the zine and I also mentioned this at the virtual dinner: that cutting onions is not ideal for depression cooking. Mainly because when you induce crying in depressed humans, it’s hard to stop crying!

Your family’s support of this project is so wholesome. Can you speak a little bit about their roles in creating, and inspiring the zine? 

I’m very lucky and privileged that my family always supports my weird projects. Whether they understand them or not, they show up and I’m grateful. I learned how to cook from observing the adults around me growing up – and that was my parents and my grandmother. I have specific sections of the zine that are inspired by them. The ‘faster boiling method,’ which involves bringing water to the boil in an electric kettle and then pouring it into a pot on a hot element on the stove comes from my father. Open-faced sandwiches, or “Things on Toast,” as I call it in the zine, are inspired by my mother. I started relying on meal replacement drinks thanks to my sister. It’s impossible to divorce my relationship with food from my family.

The experience of writing Depression Cooking while depressed and trying to cook for yourself must have been very meta. You even describe being unemployed at the beginning of the pandemic and struggling. How do you handle professional struggles artists face like unemployment, rejection, and the constant juggling of deadlines? 

Initially, I had planned on releasing the zine in November of 2021. But then the days became colder and darker, and my seasonal depression kicked in on top of my regular depression, and honestly, I really struggled with completing the zine. After only recently moving into a new house with two roommates, we got evicted and needed to find new housing. I needed to flip the timeline on the project to reflect on what was happening in my life and to balance my own mental health. I had initially written the Depression Cooking Zine into a residency proposal for the AGO that was rejected. I find the key to handling constant rejection is to keep applying, despite the rejection because eventually, something will stick. And I was right with this project, it fits well into Anna Bowen’s Complicating Care Series. I think deadlines are so tricky. I’m a full-time arts administrator for my day job, and the only way I’m able to manage the projects I do are with deadlines. But when I’m off the clock working on my own personal projects, I find deadlines hard to meet outside of my 9 to 5 while balancing the rest of my life. Being an artist while also paying your bills is hard, and I haven’t quite figured out a balance yet.

Sonali Menezes, Depression Cooking Manifesto. Image courtesy of the artist.

Food is so political, personal, and vulnerable especially when it intersects with mental health. I loved the way you tackled diet culture calling out propaganda, white vegans, and neoliberal consumerism. Can you speak to writing The Depression Cooking Manifesto in the center of the zine?

I actually wrote the Depression Cooking Manifesto in one sitting at the Central Public library in Downtown Hamilton, and I feel very connected to the second floor for that reason. Writing the manifesto was very cathartic for me. Suzanne Carte asked me during the virtual dinner if there was anything that I learned from writing the manifesto. And my response is that I learned how to be just as kind to myself when it comes to food as I am with my intended zine audience. Sometimes it’s easy to dole out advice in my zines, it’s another thing to genuinely listen and apply what I’m writing to my own life. The manifesto was this moment where I was able to do that.

I loved that you mentioned chocolate Ensures in the “Grab-and-Go” section of the zine. How did your sister introduce you to the idea of meal replacements?

I was at my sister’s apartment during the pandemic. She’s a doctor and incredibly busy between work and a full-time master’s degree. We were unloading groceries and I was very hangry.  A six-pack of ensures were sitting on her counter and she suggested I try one so that I would be less hangry before we cooked lunch and I’ve relied on them ever since.

Sonali Menezes, Depression Cooking. Image courtesy of the artist.

You allude to this need for community knowledge when you write “I wanted to create something that I could have given my 18-year-old self when I moved out of my parents’ home.”[1] Do you see this project as adding to a conversation around resource sharing and the need for more community resources? 

Definitely. All the information I’ve shared already exists in the world; I don’t own it. I think this all especially exists in some form on the internet, but I find the internet to be an incredibly overwhelming place. I think that’s why zines have endured, despite the internet—because they’re focused. I don’t reach the same sense of overwhelm or exhaustion when reading a zine that I do trying to find a straight answer on the internet. So, Depression Cooking is me trying to fill that gap. My first zine that entered into the realm of resource sharing was So You’re Anxious As Fuck: tips and tricks and things, from 2016, I made the second edition in 2018, and that’s my most popular zine apart from Depression Cooking. That zine is a little more ‘self-help’ oriented and prescriptive, but I like to think of Depression Cooking as more of a love letter to my depressed kin.

You address the reader directly and personally – and I find you give them quite a bit of agency. In the introduction to the zine, you write: “you’re the expert on your own survival”[2]. How did you approach writing for a depressed audience?

I thought about myself as a depressed human and what I would like to hear and wrote with that in mind. Mind you, we’re all depressed in very different ways, and I know this zine might not be ideal for everyone.

To wrap up I wanted readers to know the context of this zine within your wider artistic practice. Knowing your work and background, the concept of The Holy Trinity of Depression Cooking [3] (Mac and Cheese, Instant Ramen and Toast) really made me chuckle. The body and shame are so tied up in Catholic ideology and I appreciate your different approaches to these subjects. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your recent video work that you made during your residency at Factory Media in 2020, and how it relates back to mental health and community support.

I think moving through zines, video work, and performance work really demonstrates why I call myself an interdisciplinary artist! While I would no longer call myself a Catholic, the lessons I learned being raised as a Catholic are constantly informing my practice. The video work I made specifically during my residency at Factory Media was about rejecting my jealousy of white, blonde women through rituals informed by my Catholic upbringing. I wanted to explore the notion of jealousy being a ‘sin,’ that could be cleansed or forgiven. But then I also wanted to complicate this notion of jealousy being a bad thing within the context of being raised under white supremacy. In 2019 and 2020 I was healing from exiting a bad relationship with a racialized man who had been cheating on me with white, blonde women. My mental health was at a low point, and I relied on a lot of support from my friends and family at that time. Sometimes the best way to heal is to make bad art about your feelings.

Check out Sonali Menezes’ Etsy shop for print copies or digital downloads of Depression Cooking.

You can find this interview in the second print issue of Femme Art Review on Queer and Feminist Collaboration.


  1. Menezes, Sonali. “Preface,” Depression Cooking: easy recipes for when you are depressed as fuck. Publication Studio Guelph, and Hamilton Artists INC. 2022. 2.
  2. Menezes, “Introduction.” Depression Cooking: easy recipes for when you are depressed as fuck. Publication Studio Guelph, and Hamilton Artists INC. 2022. 4.
  3. Ibid, 5.

The Bed: In Discussion with Maayan Sophia Weisstub

Maayan Sophia Weisstub. The Bed. The Museum of the Home. Images Courtesy of the artist.

Interview by Adi Berardini

CW: Discussion of domestic abuse

Displayed at the Museum of the Home as part of the Festival of Sleep from June to September 2022, The Bed by Maayan Sophia Weisstub is a powerful installation that takes the visuals of bruises and injury and pairs them with the comfort of a bed. Although the bed is often associated with solace and security, for domestic abuse survivors, a bed can hold complex and negative associations. As Weisstub explainsThe Bed explores the physical, mental, and emotional toll of domestic abuse, addressing how even after the bruises fade, the emotional scars still linger. The installation sparks difficult but essential conversations about domestic abuse to ultimately create awareness and healing. 

Currently based in London, UK, Maayan Sophia Weisstub is an interdisciplinary artist working with a range of media from drawing, animation, collage, and sculpture and installation. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Weisstub has shown at the Saatchi Gallery, Christie’s, and Pavlov’s Dog Gallery. Her work has also been featured in White Hot MagazineKaltblut, and Design Taxi, among others. The following conversation discusses The Bed and her broader practice. 

Maayan Sophia Weisstub. The Bed. The Museum of the Home. Images Courtesy of the artist.

Can you speak more about your installation The Bed at the Museum of the Home which aims to raise awareness and reflect upon domestic violence against primarily women and children?

Raising awareness is regarding everyone. It’s commonly towards women and children but also towards men, I don’t want to take that part away. It’s a topic that always concerned me, like many other social topics. I also did a project with a graphic design office in Munich last year to raise awareness about violence against women. It’s not the first project where I’m dealing with this topic. I wanted to do a bit more because a lot of my work is naturally [based on] the things I deal with. It’s important for me also to touch on other topics and make a little change or protest. It’s not always easy for me to go outside and protest so I can raise awareness in a way that I can or know how to. This is my way to contribute to it as a start [to a conversation about] this topic. 

I didn’t want this to be about me or my experience, but it touches me in personal areas. I wanted it to be in the entire spectrum of domestic abuse. I think it touches most people in some places. Whether it’s been sexual abuse or verbal abuse that I think many people have experienced in some sense from parents or siblings, or a partner a lot of times. Sometimes we don’t necessarily think of it as scarring or domestic abuse, but they are all on the spectrum. And then, of course, the more severe ones—I don’t know if more severe, cause it all depends on the effect—but the physical violence and abuse that we hear about in the news.

We don’t hear about it [often], but during COVID, we heard about it more because cases were rising since more people were at home. I think [people] felt frustrated with their conditions, and many were out of work and didn’t make the money they needed, or they took their aggression on their partners or children. I think it’s something that should be [discussed] more because I feel like there’s not enough attention [paid to] it. Then I decided I wanted to do a piece about it, and I had this idea, like a metaphor.

Maayan Sophia Weisstub. The Bed. The Museum of the Home. Images Courtesy of the artist.

The Bed evocatively bridges the personal and the public and juxtaposes the softness and respite of a bed with the pain of physical violence. Can you elaborate on your approach to using these opposites and how The Bed addresses trauma and survival?

I see the bed as a shelter where you can rest at the end of the day or even cry when you need to be with yourself. Also, intimate relationships and physical contact happen in bed. So, the bed is a very personal, private, or intimate symbol. On the one hand, it’s supposed to be the safe place where you could be vulnerable. Then, on the other hand, it’s also like it can be a door to nightmares or for dark things that may happen in situations in bedrooms, behind closed doors as well. 

There’s bruised skin [depicted] in different stages of healing. I researched bruises and looked at photos of domestic views of survivors. I wanted it to [reflect] different stages, but still, there are some scars there. Some heal, some don’t, and some stay forever. 

The bed is a very personal, private, or intimate symbol.

Then I approached and was in contact with Refuge, a charity that helps children and women who are survivors of domestic abuse. They sent me some materials and I researched from people around me and my own experiences. [I was in] contact with them regarding the text I wrote that accompanies the artwork, to ensure that it’s not offensive. I wrote victims at the beginning, and later they told me that it’s correct to say survivors, not victims in this case of domestic abuse. That was the only thing, but it’s a big thing to change. I think it’s important.

Then I reached out to a Museum of the Home, it was very fortunate that they did the sleeping exhibition [Festival of Sleep]. It fit well with their program. I reached out to other places, but this was the place I wanted the most because I feel like they’re very involved with the community and social topics. I was very intrigued by The Museum of the Home. It’s a beautiful building that was built in the 1700s. The head of the Ironmonger Society built it for retired ironmongers and widows of ironmongers. And later it was bought and turned into a Museum of the Home in the fifties where it showed different sets of interiors in Britain to teach people about the history.

They do a lot of community workshops and stuff with different communities, such as Turkish, Jewish, Indian, or African, they have a very diverse community coming to the museum. I felt that it would be the best place to show The Bed. Of course, I want it to be shown in galleries and museums as well, but it’s also important for me to show it to audiences that aren’t necessarily the same audiences who would go to the Tate. It’s also free so there are a lot of different audiences that would come and see it. It’s not necessarily [just] artsy people. Once they said that it fits, I [thought that] this is the best match.

I co-hosted a workshop about The Bed on September 28th with a friend who is a designer. It was a therapeutic workshop quilting scars, so attendees added their scars to this communal blanket. It was informative and provided a safe space to do craft work together. I think it added to the experience of The Bed shown there.

Maayan Sophia Weisstub. The Bed. The Museum of the Home. Images Courtesy of the artist.

It might be hard to gauge, but what has the response been like, do people often share their stories with you?

I went there with friends, [a couple of] art curators and a journalist to show them the work. I mainly got responses from people I went with because museum visitors didn’t know that I made it. I like that because then I can see their response from the side.

There was one woman who went there, I saw her staying there and taking a photo, and then she told me and my friend that it was “very powerful.” That was very nice to hear. Also, I saw a couple come in, and one woman said to the other, “The bed is very small,” and then she walked out. The work is not easy to digest. I know from my friends that they had different responses.  

Some people said it’s meaningful and powerful. With these kinds of abuses, you tend to feel a sort of loyalty to the person who has done that to you, whether it’s a family member or a partner. You don’t want to make them look bad. I don’t feel people necessarily have to share their experience if they don’t want to. If they brought it up, I would ask and talk, but I wouldn’t force anyone into an inconvenient or uncomfortable spot. I hope one day we will be able to talk more openly about the pain that we go through and not be ashamed of it, or scared to share, or worried about making someone else look bad if they’ve done something wrong.

With friends, it takes time to gain trust and feel safe enough to share traumas. It takes a certain degree of knowing each other to share these vulnerable experiences. 

Maayan Sophia Weisstub. Mnēmē, A Breathing Object. 2021.

Your work commonly connects inanimate objects to emotional feeling (such as a table and chair, with the kinetic sculpture Mnēmē, A Breathing Object), giving it human qualities. Can you speak more about this connection and your inspiration of how people connect to objects?

Mnēmē is a word that describes the effect of the past on the present. That work was my graduation project from the Royal College of Art, where I graduated last summer. This piece was dedicated to my father who passed away almost eight years ago. It was about how we project sensations, memories and experiences onto inanimate objects and bring them to life doing that.

A lot of it was also inspired by reading In Search of Lost Time by [Marcel Proust], there’s a part that [clearly] describes this experience. I always feel like I get attached to objects quite easily. If someone brings me [something], I can’t throw it away easily. I keep it and associate it with memories of that person. It breathes life into the object, becoming a sort of monument forever. In the book, there’s a part where the main character eats a Madeleine. Suddenly, he goes into a stream of memories from his childhood triggered by the smell, touch, and taste of that cookie. I think that you can get that when you find an old shirt, for example, that belonged to someone you cared for, suddenly it brings a lot back to you.

The objects in that installation are all objects that I [used to] create an imagined scene of my father’s room when he was younger. It’s all furniture from the fifties, including the book. 

Everything is finely [selected] and symbolizes something. The article the book is opened on is an article about life and death, different theories by different philosophers about how to conceive death in regards to time. We may not know what happens next, but I believe it doesn’t just end when someone passes away. 

How do you choose your medium with the work that you do? 

I usually think of an idea and then I think of what would be the best medium to share it with the world and communicate it. A lot of times, I see my drawings and collages as sketches for future installations, sculptures, or films. I do them at home on paper or Photoshop, just because these are my immediate resources. I would like to produce more large-scale installations and video works. I like things that immerse you in an experience.

You can view Maayan Sophia Weisstub’s work on her website and Instagram. Check out her upcoming installation at Room25 in Tel Aviv in May 2023.

(Un)familiar Resemblances: Circularity of (un)knowing

Circularity of (un)knowing: An exploration of embodied knowledge in untitled spaces

Mayten’s Projects

Claire Heidinger, First Time Homebuyer 2022, Oil on canvas, 36″ x 30″

By Dana Snow

Circularity of (un)knowing: An exploration of embodied knowledge in untitled spaces ran from July 30th to August 16th at Mayten’s Projects, a tight gallery space in the bustling Niagara and King intersection of downtown Toronto. Opening weekend gallery goers mingled with Caribana attendees, a kaleidoscope of colour decorating the sidewalks of otherwise nondescript gray buildings. The exhibition faced an unexpected early close, leaving the particular heartbreak of losing precarious space in an expensive city that impacts emerging artists.

In Circularity of (un)knowing: An exploration of embodied knowledge in untitled spaces artists Claire Heidinger, mihyun maria kim, Natia Lemay, Par Nair, and Hau Pham refigure absence, cropping and abstracting women’s figures to relay an intimate sense of recognition. Featuring IBPOC women artists, the exhibition avoids the pitfalls of homogenizing “otherness.” Self-curated by participating artists, the exhibition acts as a call-in. What strength does refusal hold in an age of hypervisibility? I don’t have the answers to this question, but I keep revisiting the works to see if I can catch a glimpse of them between the obfuscations of the artists’ hands.

Claire Heidinger’s Pomelo is the first work to invite me into the gallery. Hanging directly beside the didactic text, the work appears as an offering into the gallery space. Waxy green leaves and bright yellow reds glimmer through the oil paint, settling into an ambiguous space between consumable and ornament. This becomes a familiar theme throughout the displayed works, echoing throughout Jade Celadon Peanuts, and Ginger with Red Patterning.

 Jade Celadon Peanuts commemorates a casual moment of the artists’ grandfather snacking and monumentalizes a shared experience of ancestral migration. A ceramic ginger root, adorned with delicate floral stippling calms the senses in the same way a ginger tea might in Ginger with Red Patterning. A more insidious connection emerges in Miss Chinese Toronto Pageant. A large-scale oil painting commemorating “Miss Silken Hair,” the work renders the winner in a celebrity glow. Her smile is a dazzling white; her freshly manicured nails atop long slender fingers posed around a bouquet and glass award. The unforgiving crop of the painting right below the subject’s eyes leads me to a clumsy first reading: she too, is to be consumed. And this is the strength of the curation and the work itself. Heidinger works on the assumptions of a colonial gaze and holds back from a one-dimensional reading. Flora, the subject, displays a “hybridized connection to ‘homeland’ in North America” in her bilingual sash, golden dress, and winner’s stance.

In her essay Inscriptions of Truth to Size, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak speaks to the impulse for anonymity when staging one’s ‘origins’: “You can’t have a true fit, just the approximate size, a hand me down for others who must stage the same collective origin as yourself.”¹ By rendering her subjects as complicated aesthetic symbols, Heidinger pushes the discomfort of the objectifying gaze, both daring and denying viewers to replace any of her works’ subjects with their sign.

Hau Pham, It’s hard work being the Best. Image courtesy of the artist.

Hau Pham’s and Heidinger’s works speak to one another in their conceptual approach to aesthetic veneer, placed in opposition to one another in the gallery space. In a conversation with the artist, I learn that her approach to painting is informed by her approach to makeup. “The most successful thing oil paint and makeup do is to make something beautiful.” In It’s hard work being the Best, Pham captures the opulence of Buddha in a golden statue lusciously rendered in veneered brushstrokes and surrounded by orchids. Unbeknownst to the viewer, the statue has been likely spray-painted to convey this opulence. Pham begins a painting from candid shots, “they’re not always good photos,” she laughs. Using paint as a beautifying substance, the artist opens a conversation around the value of beauty standards, and the joy, labour, and entrapping of femmes to imbue that value in themselves.

Compelled by her own experience and friendships with South East Asian and East Asian women, she documents items that offer a “false liberation” to the treatment of an individual. Online as a tween, Pham felt the influence of beauty vloggers like Bubzbeauty, and felt the trappings of choice feminism. She captures this viscerally in Trapping a younger version of Myself, a found object sculpture consisting of hundred-dollar bills, a loaded vape, and a set of thick false eyelashes. Each object stands in for an element of the Buddhist philosophy: “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Lashes weigh down lids, vapes keep mouths busy, and cash makes it easier to ignore weighty issues. In Fall of the French (manicure) Pham tediously renders the classic French mani in its tongue-in-cheek decay. Pham’s work places the gloss of beauty as a point of interest while denying the viewer a visible entry to the works’ true underbellies. Pham’s practice uses elements of beauty to draw the viewer in and then has them sit with feelings of what they may wish to cover up.

miyhun maria kim’s works use casting as a method of translation and obfuscation. Through the gallery entrance, one meets with your tongue goes your memory. These are hydrocal casts of faces with peacefully closed eyes, set atop hand-stitched cushions, mimicking traditional Korean headdresses. kim creates distance from the values of “duty, honour and performance” by rendering the faces in low contrast. The laborious process of creating the cushions points to the time spent processing these values.

Casting is a material method that echoes throughout many of kim’s works, from The Language of Man, a bronze cast of a bare foot pressed against a bare shoulder, installed with an Onngi and scratch paper, to 달과 말 the moon and words, a quiet and commanding installation near the gallery’s exit consisting of thirteen beeswax casts of German versions of the Korean moon jar, set atop hanji (traditional Korean mulberry paper). The artist took inspiration from their various situations in multiple geographic regions for this work, drawing from “perpetual outsider experience as a Korean diaspora.” Using a translated recognition of the moon jar in a Liepzig flea market, kim cast the form in Canadian beeswax, locating their work in three regions simultaneously. Ink and hanji amplify the experience of translation, using abstractions of texts in Chinese characters, further muddying questions of formation. By using cast as translation, the artist creates new material connections to a sense of place. 화병 Squeezed hearts features wrenching ceramics seated on bamboo cushions. The viewer can see the impact of the artist’s hands constricting the clay in the process of making. The works read as the same size as human hearts. Hwa-Byung (anger disease) is an illness that affects the heart as a result of “suppress[ing] anger resulting from family conflict, so as not to jeopardize harmonious family or social relationships.” By exemplifying this internal anger in an object, kim cements the language of translation in their work.

Par Nair, a mother series, oil on wood panel, series of 12 pieces 6” x 8” each

Par Nair’s Letters of Haunting consists of two sarees whispering to one another in the slight breeze, separated by a mound of turmeric. The works are hand embroidered, a meditation on homesickness at the height of the pandemic. Embroidery, Nair told me in a previous conversation, is an inherited skill. The work puts us in touch with the maternal labour that came before us. The artists’ mother feels present in the gallery – whether it be her smeared, reworked face and translated face in her passport photos in a mother series, or her sarees, longing for her body and hanging at a monumental scale. At the show, Par let me know exactly how precarious the installation was. One fan was blowing the wrong way and the gorgeous golden spice would leave marks on the sarees. I am left with an insight on grief from a dear friend: “Sometimes, it’s not that the person is out of your life. Sometimes it’s that you know they are there, and you can’t hold them.”

Always but never dreaming exits the viewer from the gallery with the first real presence of a full figure. Swathed in creamy brushstrokes of black, the work unveils the figure of the artist through a half-eclipsed face, forearms, and foot lounging outside the covers of an overstuffed chesterfield. As one shifts around the work, the details of dream catchers, hanging coats, and weave of the blanket make themselves apparent. Lemay begins each artwork as a surface, feeling for a moment in her life where she felt constrained in the same way the surface is. The colour field works act as a literal positionality – the artist describes later to me that each work speaks to feeling confined in a space at a developmental moment in her life. As a child, she couldn’t speak to why intersections such as Blackness, Indigeneity, and girlhood had an impact on the way she was seen, but she could feel why. Blackness functions as a language of ambivalence in the works.

Natia Lemay, Always but Never Dreaming 2022, oil on canvas, 62″ x 42″

In Visibly Invisible, a little girl looks toward the edge of the circular panel, body language tense and alert, with the beads in her hair gleaming out a fire engine red. Lemay iterates to me: “Beads and braids are a Black thing, but they’re also an Indigenous thing. Why do we read them in one way, versus the other? If you are looking at the painting and seeing it as a Black person, you’re not really seeing it.” In her seminal essay Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity Lorraine O’Grady suggests a “both: and” ism to approaching critical subjectivity in European-Western theory – meaning that a subject can step away from the essentializing binds of defining what subjecthood can be, take what works for them, and expand.² Lemay’s paintings “poke the bear” in experiential storytelling, demanding the viewer describe what they see, and let them sit with the assumptions they make on gender, race, and life experience.

Circularity of (un)knowing: An exploration of embodied knowledge in untitled spaces is a necessary unveiling. The works demand patience, challenging viewers’ preconceived notions of beauty, consumption, presence, and visibility. Acts of obscuring figures become porous markers for recognition. Those who are looking may find themselves in the spaces left unknown.


¹Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Inscriptions of Truth to Size. Catalogue essay, Dunlop Art Gallery, 1990.

²Lorraine O’Grady. Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity. AfterImage 20. No. 1 (Summer 1992).

Sweet Decay: in and as an ecosystem by Shannon Taylor-Jones

Shannon Taylor-Jones, in and as an ecosystem exhibition installation. Photos by Shannon Taylor-Jones, courtesy of the artist.

Shannon Taylor-Jones

Good Sport Gallery

September 23 – October 22, 2022

By Reilly Knowles

Shannon Taylor-Jones has transformed the gallery into a tender, ghostly woodland.

Crossing the threshold of Good Sport Art Gallery & Studio in London, Ontario, I’m beckoned inside the space by mossy nets of knitting. At first, the woolen sculptures hanging from the ceiling evoke decaying flora, but as I draw close, figures reveal themselves: plush blobs like decomposing faces with stretched sockets, then intestinal snakes of bubble-gum pink. Their bodies are reclaimed by the forest, pleading for careful touches – indeed, gentle interaction is encouraged by the artist. Each sculpture feels painstakingly placed and distinct, disallowing the installation from truly feeling ‘wild,’ yet each one flows in and out of the other, like one lyric leading to the next.

Shannon Taylor-Jones, in and as an ecosystem exhibition installation. Photos by Shannon Taylor-Jones, courtesy of the artist.

Tucked inside and hanging from the textiles are specimens of crusted fungi and crispy leaves, chosen as carefully as jewels for their unique colours and shapes. Amidst the textiles are also oil paintings on panel, which appear like beetroot and rotted spinach smeared across lumber. The paintings are far stronger when intermixed with the textiles, and the span of wall dedicated to three panels feels quiet in proximity to its richer surroundings. Beneath the central corner of the installation is a blanket with three knitted pillows for visitors to rest and contemplate.

Taylor-Jones is an emerging interdisciplinary artist working in Toronto and London and has been a member of Good Sport (a collective as well as a gallery and studio space) since 2018.1 She explores decay and mycology as a way of thinking through the human body’s place in its ecosystem and its relationship to mortality. Her work is a way of affirming every organism’s tethers to the whole of nature, and every organism’s experience of the eternal tides of making and unmaking.2 As she writes in the exhibition’s accompanying text: “Corporeality is haunted by intimate kinship. That which is ‘human’ is not separate from ‘nature,’ but is deeply, intrinsically embedded within it. Art making is not an individual act, but a fertile collaboration of life, death, and the inbetween.”3

Shannon Taylor-Jones, in and as an ecosystem exhibition installation. Photos by Shannon Taylor-Jones, courtesy of the artist.

Taylor-Jones especially sees an affinity between the messiness of nature and the messiness of being disabled. That is to say, the messiness of being a body that is idiosyncratic beyond social acceptance, of being a body that feels both intense joy and intense pain. As she writes: “The intersection of disability/neurodivergence/madness is a liminal place of being, an ecosystem of simultaneous, disparate truths, where growth and decay both thrive.”3 She views the planet itself as disabled, its systems disjointed by climate change. In the face of surviving on this disabled globe, she contends: “people who live in disabled bodies are the people to look to for how to live and build on a disabled planet… To live on this planet, we need to think differently, and I think we need to think about the interconnection of all life (and death), and we need to recognize non-human beings as important, as equal, as intelligent.”5

Shannon Taylor-Jones, in and as an ecosystem detail. Photos by Shannon Taylor-Jones, courtesy of the artist.

The softness and slowness of the installation feels poignant at a point in the pandemic when people have long since been ordered to throw down their joyful, soft pursuits and return to their jobs per usual, to once more submit to the oppressive capitalist grind. As a person with severe chronic fatigue, Taylor-Jones critiques the notion that people must always be productive, as well as hypocritical discourse within disability activist spaces that often shames people for ‘not doing enough.’6

Amidst this onslaught, her exhibition beckons: ‘Come, rest awhile. Rest inside the coming and the going. Everything is not well, but it’s beautiful in any case. Sit inside my uneasy loveliness.’

in and as an ecosystem continues until October 22nd, 2022 at Good Sport Art Gallery & Studio (402.5 Richmond St., London, Ontario). The gallery is open Saturdays 12 – 4 pm, or by appointment. This exhibition review was written for Ruth Skinner’s course The Greatest Shows on Earth at Western University.

1 “Shannon Taylor-Jones,” Good Sport, Good Sport Art Gallery & Studio. Accessed September 26, 2022.

2 Correspondence with the artist.

3 Shannon Taylor-Jones, “in and as an ecosystem,” Good Sport, Good Sport Art Gallery & Studio. Accessed September 26, 2022.

4 Ibid.

5 Correspondence with the artist.

6 Ibid.

No Soy El Sol Que Quema: The Sun and Queer Dreaming

Andrés Garzon with his work in the exhibition No Soy El Sol Que Quema at Good Sport Gallery. Image by Adi Berardini. 

No Soy El Sol Que Quema by Andrés Garzon

Good Sport Gallery

August 20th – Sept 3, 2022

By Adi Berardini

No Soy El Sol Que Quema by Andrés Garzon is an exhibition reflecting on religion and internalized homophobia, looking at his role as a brother and a son. Further, it’s a reflection on hiding versus living as your authentic self. Growing up as Jehovah’s Witness in a family that immigrated from Bogotá, Colombia, Garzon’s relationship with religion is a complex one—he felt isolated by the need to hide his true self and the internalized homophobia this created. On the other hand, Andrés explained that the community his family found through Jehovah’s Witness helped him retain his language since the Kingdom Hall he attended and the literature he read was in Spanish. Although it created hurt and divided him, it also created a connection for him and his family to other recent immigrants at the time.

Having a complex relationship with religion is a narrative that many queer people know well. Religion can be like an externalized force, a voice in your head that nags you and tries to convince you that the way you are is somehow inherently “wrong.” An invisible weight that pulls you down. I grew up in an ex-Catholic household—Although my parents aren’t religious, my grandparents were pretty Catholic. Even though it was at a distance, religion and its influence always seemed to have its grasp on me. Enough to want to push my feelings down and repress myself. And I pushed them down further and further. I pushed them down so far that I couldn’t push them down anymore, and they came flooding up. Although to this day, I feel like I’m still chasing the years I lost to denying my feelings and experiences I could never quite reach, at least not solely in my dreams.

Andrés explains how the exhibition is also closely tied to dreams as a form of escape. When he felt he needed to hide himself, he became interested in lucid dreaming and his dreams were like an escape from a reality that often seemed like a nightmare. Andrés is a friend and hearing him say that dreaming was solace from reality was hard to hear. I was upset that someone I care about felt that his dreams were a welcomed escape from reality. But then I realized I’ve been there before, as many other queer people have. The pain and stress of hiding your true self is a weight that no one should bear.

Excerpt from Mi libro de historias de Amor (My Book of Love Stories) by Andrés Espitia Garzon. Photo by Abby Vincent, courtesy of the artist.

The accompanying exhibition text Mi libro de historias de Amor (My Book of Love Stories), consists of a mix of former dream logs, poems, and journals from 2015-2021. Its cover references a childhood bible story book, nostalgic for its iconic design and the memories attached to it. The first half is in English, and the second half is in Spanish, translated by his older brother, Diego. One of the texts recounts a time when his mother looked into his eyes and saw nothing—she just wished for him to find a sense of joy.[1] It made me think back to when I moved from Vancouver and experienced losing the affect in my voice due to an overwhelming sense of dread. I was going through a tough time since I had lost the sense of community that I had before. My mother also realized that something was blocking my happiness. My friendship with Andrés and other relationships in the queer art community here in London eventually alleviated the pain I had felt and brought warmth, much like the sun in Andrés’ paintings and drawings.

No Soy El Sol Que Quema by Andrés Garzon at Good Sport Gallery. Photo by Abby Vincent, courtesy of the artist.

Another theme in No Soy El Sol Que Quema is the power of familial love. The imagery of the sun/son is prevalent throughout representing a symbol of safety and home in sunny Colombia and his role as a son. As Andrés explains, the drawing El Hijo Escondido / Hidden Son depicts the hurt that he felt while trying to hide from his family. Andrés explains that in Jehovah’s Witness, being gay is considered shunnable. He feared that by coming out, he would potentially lose the approval of his family that had sacrificed so much for him growing up. The sketch depicts a self-portrait archetype of Andrés curled up, hiding from the world. Conversely, El Hijo Escogido / Chosen Son depicts the figure basking in the sun with joy and fulfillment. When Andrés came out to his family, his family chose him and had left Jehovah’s Witness, their religion for the past 20-so years. As many people in the LGBTQ2S+ community know, there’s also power in chosen family. The drawing celebrates living authentically and the triumph of love over fear and shame.

No Soy El Sol Que Quema by Andrés Garzon at Good Sport Gallery. Loving In The War Years I and Loving In The War Years II. Photo by Abby Vincent, courtesy of the artist.

In Loving In The War Years I two figures are wrestling together with long, dark hair (a signature of Andrés’) and arrows in their legs. The name is a nod to the text of the same name by Mexican feminist Cherrié Moraga, chronicling her coming of age as a lesbian at a time wrought with censorship in Mexico. The arrows are a reference to Saint Sebastian, the shapeshifter of the bible, oscillating from masc to femme depictions in the art historical canon, and one Andrés resonates with. Against the navy blue of night, the figures are reminiscent of Matisse’s La Danse. Andrés says that these figures represent the two archetypes within himself that struggle against one another. The struggle represents the fight toward self-acceptance and the complications of external factors such as religion and the pressure of family acceptance. The painting on the adjacent wall, Loving in the War Years II, depicts the two figures peacefully embracing, with bright yellow stars forming a halo around them, divinely protected. The two paintings also reference night and day—and the stark difference that finding peace and self-acceptance can bring.

Just as the sun can bring warmth, religion and a relationship to God or a higher power can bring peace and comfort. Although just as easily, the sun burns, and religion as an institution has brought pain and toxicity to many. Its force over peoples’ lives has been used as a tool of oppression to gain power (I mean, colonization). No Soy El Sol Que Quema explores finding a relationship with God after leaving organized religion. Personally, tarot has become a spiritual tool that I turn to, engaging with it as a daily ritual.

El Que Sabe Lo Que Tiene, Sabe Lo Que Debe (Knowing what you owe, is knowing what you have) detail. Photo by Abby Vincent, courtesy of the artist.

Andrés explains to me how his mother was the family breadwinner before arriving in Canada, while his father kept track of the family finances, and how his parents always made sure food was on the table for him and his siblings. El Que Sabe Lo Que Tiene, Sabe Lo Que Debe (Knowing what you owe, is knowing what you have) consists of bright yellow porcelain coins placed on a plinth, resembling the pentacles of the tarot deck. With permission, I pick them up and they are smooth to the touch, like a rock smoothed from the waves of the ocean. Scattered in between these pentacles are seashells and snail shells, some from nature and some from garage sales. I recognize the golden ratio spiral in a few. Andrés explained that the yellow pentacles are modelled after a pendant given to him by his mother, with the same indent he would often run his fingers over. The pentacles reference the sacrifice his parents gave him and his siblings through their hard work and determination.

After engaging with Andrés’ exhibition No Soy El Sol Que Quema, I think of how queerness itself is sacred. Although it can be painted out as a sin by religion, it’s what has brought me peace and community when I needed it the most. No Soy El Sol Que Quema is a love letter to Andrés’ family and chronicles a journey of self-discovery, with both queerness and spirituality, but on one’s own terms. Andrés’ paintings and drawings are a stark reminder that healing is possible when love is chosen over fear.

[1] Garzon Espitia, Andres. Mi libro de historias de Amor. 2022 . p. 18.

Check out Mi Libro de Historias de Amor (My Book of Love Stories) by Andrés Garzon Espitia. You can also find a digital copy here.

Seeds and Dyes: Queer Tamil Lineages of Art in Scarborough

Vijay Saravanamuthu, Two Seedlings. 2021. Film still. 

By Vasuki Shanmuganathan

During February 2022, I had the privilege of interviewing emerging artists Vijay Saravanamuthu and Dhiviya Prabaharan about their recent exhibit titled No Vacancy in Scarborough, produced in collaboration with Emily Peltier from Scarborough Arts – on view in Scarborough’s Tamil barbershop SR Beauty Salon, Nov – Feb 2022.[1]

The exhibition theme contests representations tied to Tamil arrivals (refugees, immigrants, undocumented people, and migrants) as temporary or ahistorical Canada. Re-interpreting these notions, the exhibit centers on narratives of Tamil people bringing with them deep histories and traditions of arts and crafts practices to Turtle Island. No Vacancy in Scarborough invited artists to consider which practices have survived, been inherited, or revived through their families despite forced migration.

The works of Scarborough textile artist Dhiviya Prabaharan titled Shanmugadevi and digital artist Vijay Saravanamuthu titled Two Seedlings highlight cultural production practices passed down through their grandmothers. They continuously explore complex and revelatory narratives about Tamil art forms that have taken root in local neighbourhoods as a result of migration and displacement. Scarborough’s lack of exhibition spaces does not quell the rich heritage of artists in the area nor, as Vijay describes, “how artful living is infused in how we move, our everyday living.”[2] Historically, the area has been sidelined by Toronto’s concentration of galleries, not to mention the class, race, and economic access barriers visible within the city’s art landscape. 

The exhibit took place in a hair salon which is part of a strip mall long occupied by Tamil shop owners but slowly dissipating with transit expansions, gentrification, the rising cost of living, and the impacts of the pandemic. I visited the shop owner, Yoga, who was willing to host the exhibit in the Scarborough neighbourhood of Brimley and Eglinton. He had arrived as a refugee less than a decade ago with his family. In response to the proposed partnership, he shared his belief that Tamil art deserves the kind of recognition that matches its rich history.[3]

No Vacancy in Scarborough urgently daylights the challenges of charting the survival of Tamil creative practices, familial warmth, and diasporic continuities through revisiting lineages of art and crafts.

To talk about a queer Tamil lineage of art, one must contend with the trauma of conflict and displacement, and the inheritance of practices long lost to time, genocide, and war. Both artists emphasize this common history as significant to understanding their work during our interview. No Vacancy in Scarborough urgently daylights the challenges of charting the survival of Tamil creative practices, familial warmth, and diasporic continuities through revisiting lineages of art and crafts. When the most recent genocide in 2009 took place, old and new generations alike felt deep grief. Displacement means losing connection to the island of Sri Lanka. Displacement has also meant losing knowledge of Tamil art histories and developments. Yet Tamil art in Canada is finding revival of older practices as witnessed by new artists’ lineages and collectives who incorporate these practices in their artworks.

Dhiviya Prabaharan. Shanmugadevi. 2021. Batik panels.

Dhiviya Prabaharan’s Shanmugadevi approaches intergenerational relations through an honoring of ancestral creative practices and reclamation of queer connectedness to culture and family. Their batik panels embody a craft-based process of calling in and grieving — repeating the labour-intensive rituals of the past by turning raw cotton fabric into images and patterns tied to natural elements. The exhibit showcased six 15 x 20 batik-resist panels. Prabaharan explains, “This series of work was co-created with the spirit of my ancestor, my late paternal grandmother Shanmugadevi, through the elements of fire and water and its interactions with the batik process. My grandmother was a batik designer, garment worker, and artist. However, because she had passed before I was born, and for many reasons including the war and migration, many of her designs were lost. I grieved this loss deeply, and in feeling and moving it, an opportunity to learn her art was born. This experience has reminded me that I am truly held by my ancestors, the power of trusting in divine timing, and believing that the right people show up at the right time.”[4] 

Dhiviya Prabaharan. Shanmugadevi. 2021. Batik panels.

In contrast, Vijay Saravanamuthu’s short film Two Seedlings seeks to document family histories and art practices between himself and his paati (grandmother) Ranganayaki Chinna Thirucottyappa with visual storytelling using pen and ink drawings and black and white photographs collected on a recent trip back home to Sri Lanka. His paati taught herself how to draw despite the lack of art classes accessible to her on the island by taking remote learning classes using a mail-in critique system in India. Vijay’s work is marked by a sense of visual mourning which forecloses on the totality of loss. Two Seedlings features voiceover and digital weaving as a means to reclaim, “treasured remnants of a life once lived with peace and dignity in pre-1983 Ceylon.”[5] His relationship to the arts has been influenced by the familial network in initially recording and digitizing existing practices and then adding his digital visual journey which makes use of panning wide sun-filled landscape shots, animated photographs, and voice narration. A second artwork is already in the works as he seeks to turn his intergenerational and collaborative exchange into a durational commentary on the nature of writing one’s history. 

Vijay Saravanamuthu, Two Seedlings. 2021. Film still. 

He says, “Displaced by the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka, Two Seedlings explores my relationship with my paati and my homeland, knowing both ancestral mothers only through photographs, phone calls, and short visits. Growing up in a family of storytellers, I often listened to old tales and imagined what my grandmother might have looked like as a child, what her childhood on the island might have been like, and how war and displacement have impacted her. Lacking access to paati in ways that many of my peers accessed their grandparents – exchanging gifts at holiday dinners, as cherished keepers of childhood secrets, or as warm hands tucking you into bed – my relationship with paati lived mostly in my imagination.”[6]

Vijay Saravanamuthu, Two Seedlings. 2021. Film still. 

The intent behind the No Vacancy in Scarborough series was to bring together arts organizations, small businesses, and creatives in suburban neighbourhoods who had been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Vijay and Dhiviya are part of a growing group of Tamil artists who seek to contribute to this arts landscape by honoring lived experiences and inherited histories from back home. Given the success of this exhibit, another call for Tamil artists has already been launched for the Golden Mile district of Scarborough.[7] What can be learned from centering queer Tamil artists and their contributions? A process of looking at older practices critically as they too come from histories tied to caste, Indigeneity, gender, and location but without losing the tender ties that carried them through the generations. This approach invites artists to draw on new and existing intimacies through art entwined to local neighbourhoods. 

A few months after the closing of this exhibit, Queer Tamil Collective held the first ever Scarborough Pride Event for Tamils which was a historical moment for the community.[8] There has also been a proliferation of Tamil artists and collectives exhibiting work in the past two years such as most recently Jeyolyn Christi’s thoduvanam (Contact Photography Festival, May 2022),[9] Whyishnave Suthagar’s Life Cycles (CDCC Gallery, May 2022),[10] Josh Vettivelu’s prayers for a word (Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, February – March 2022),[11] for all, I care (Lakeshore Arts, October – December 2021),[12] and Tamil aavana kaappaka tittam (The Public Gallery, March – June 2021).[13] Perhaps it is farsighted to conclude these recent exhibits as an indication of a growing Tamil art movement, but consideration of this possibility is long overdue in Canadian art criticism.

You can also find this review in the second print issue of Femme Art Review on the theme of Queer and Feminist Collaboration.

[1] “No Vacancy in Scarborough: Exhibition Description,” Scarborough Arts, November 2021, accessed 1 July 2022,

[2] Vijay Saravanamuthu, interview by Vasuki Shanmuganathan, online, 17 February 2022.

[3] Yoga Palaniyandy, interview by Vasuki Shanmuganathan, Scarborough, 23 November 2022.

[4] Dhiviya Prabaharan, interview by Vasuki Shanmuganathan, online, 14 February 2022.

[5] Vijay Saravanamuthu, “Two Seedlings,” 2021, accessed 1 July 2022,

[6] Vijay Saravanamuthu, interview by Vasuki Shanmuganathan, online, 17 February 2022.

[7] “All that is Golden: Call for Artists,” Scarborough Arts, 25 July 2022, accessed 26 July 2022,

[8] Adler, Mike, “Scarborough Pride Toronto event first one ever in Canada for Tamils,” The Toronto Star, 17 June 2022,

[9] “Jeyolyn Christi: thoduvanam,” Contact Photography Festival, accessed 20 July 2022,

[10] “Life Cycles: Live Performance by Whyishnave Suthagar,” Critical Distance, accessed 20 July 2022,

[11] “prayers for a word (or a lack that builds the world),” Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, accessed 20 July 2022,

[12] “for all, I care,” Aarati Akkapeddi, Luxvna Uthayakumar, Krish Dineshkumar, Vasuki Shanmuganathan. Accessed 20 June 2022,; queer Telegu-American artist Aarati Akkapeddi was part of this exhibit comprised of Tamil artists. The group of artists had found affinities in how two related racialized communities on Turtle Island shared similar care practices amidst the pandemic.

[13] Tamil Archive Project, “tamil aavana kaappaka tittam,” The Public Gallery, March 2021,தமிழ்-ஆர்கைவ்-ப்ரொஜெக்ட்.

Crossing Thresholds: 45th Parallel by Lawrence Abu Hamdan

March 26 – June 4, 2022

Mercer Union

Installation view of Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 45th Parallel at Mercer Union, 2022 (courtesy the artist, photo by Toni Hafkenscheid)

By Sarah Sarofim

Among the many exhibitions that took place in the spring of Toronto as part of the 2022 Toronto Biennale was a powerful exhibition on the violence of borders at Mercer Union. Through a film with a brilliant monologue played by Mahdi Fleifel and two large paintings, Lawrence Abu Hamdan questions the nature and frailness of—what we know to be—borders. Drawing on incidents that have taken place on the Canadian-American border, the Mexican-American border and across the Atlantic in the Middle East, 45th Parallel unravels how surveillance and visibility toy with movement across nations. 

A big component of the exhibition is a film directed by Abu Hamdan (on Zoom) that is shot inside the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, a unique space that sits on the Canadian-American border. The monologue is performed in both spaces. While Fleifel stands on the stage that’s in the US, the empty room he’s talking to, full of wide wooden seats, is in Canada. A black line, probably 7 centimetres wide, is drawn throughout the space, marking a separation between Quebec and Vermont.      

The film feels like it has four acts. It starts in the library with Fleifel recounting how the space was used to smuggle guns across the borders. Two Americans bought guns in Florida and drove up to the library to get them through to Canada. Since the washrooms are accessible to both countries, one person walked through the washroom, left the arms in the third bathroom stall and Canadian Alex Vlachos took them and went back to Canada. Shots of shelves in the library and the bathroom are coupled with Fleifel’s narration. At times when we do see him, he’s sitting on a chair on one side of the black line with a table in front of him directly placed over it. The line, apparent and present, is irrelevant. Through this site and film, Abu Hamdan allows the viewer to visualize lines noting separations, before moving to two other cross-border cases, farther away from the Haskell Free Library and Opera House–where borders aren’t a black line on the ground.

Installation view of Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 45th Parallel at Mercer Union, 2022 (courtesy the artist, photo by Toni Hafkenscheid)

A woman on the stage of the Opera House playing the pedal steel on stage appears. Behind her is a backdrop of dapperly dressed people by canals in Venice that slowly begins to lift up, revealing another. If one paid close attention to the space when walking in, not eagerly passing through to get to the film, they’d realise that the backdrop is the same as one of the ones that they just passed. 

The music from the pedal steel carries on, slightly unsettling yet compelling, and the viewer can make out a large painting that says “la frontera donde debe vivir.” The slow reveal and interlude music come to an end as if announcing the start of Act II. Fleifel starts recounting the case of Sergio Adrian Hernandez, a fifteen-year-old who was shot by a US border patrol on the Juárez-El Paso border. Jesus Mesa Jr, the US border portal was standing in the states while Hernandez, and the friends he was with, were in Mexico. The bullet crossed the border and led to the murder of the unarmed boy. 

“Though Agent Mesa’s firearm was stretched out into Mexican territory, his feet were three inches behind the American border,” Fleifel tells the camera. He re-enacts the scene while standing over the black tape in the library, marking the border between Canada and the US, as to reinforce the absurdity of a line, lethal yet invisible, at the Juárez-El Paso border.

The Supreme Court in the US, 5-4, ruled in favour of the border portal, claiming that since he was on US soil and Hernandez died in Mexico, he could not be prosecuted in the US. The judges were concerned that ruling in favour of Hernandez would implicate complications with the US foreign policy, namely, drone strikes launched from the US in the Middle East. 

The steel pedal starts again, and another backdrop is revealed. Unlike the first two acts, Fleifel stands first on the stage listing, in great detail, the drone strikes that took place in Kabul (2018), Yemen (2013), and Makeen (2009). The camera stands behind Fleifel’s back and the audience isn’t granted the chance to look at his face. No backdrops are seen–the performance coming to an end. Fleifel’s tone is firm and demanding; “If the judges were to find Mesa guilty of this one killing, then what about the 48,308 murdered by hellfire?” 

The last act of the film brings the viewer back to the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. Fleifel talks about how during Trump’s Muslim Ban the library was “one of the last little cracks in the border.” Families and friends who couldn’t leave the US in fear of not being able to get back in met their loved ones who could get a Canadian visa in the library. Instead of a no-talking sign, the library had “no burgers and extra-large cokes” signs–signs of a place of gathering. The film ends with Fleifel recounting how one of the librarians said, “we are a library, but I don’t want to shush you when you haven’t seen your grandmother in forever.” 

Installation view of Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 45th Parallel at Mercer Union, 2022 (courtesy the artist, photo by Toni Hafkenscheid)

When the film ends, the viewer gets up and walks back as they entered. They are met–again–with the painted backdrop of an aerial view of Damascus followed by the backdrop of the Juárez-El Paso border, with the writing “the border where he should have lived.” The two massive paintings of landscapes where murder and injustice have taken place, stand tall demanding one’s attention. Abu Hamdan took inspiration from the Haskell Free Opera House, where the absurdity of sitting in Canada and watching someone on stage in the US was heightened by the painted backdrop of Venice, to create the two works. 

After having watched the film, the viewer is able to take in small details and break down the scene as a whole. Backdrops don’t become the suggestion of a place, a need for a suspension of disbelief, but rather a violent space, powerful in their placement and size. I remember being in awe walking out and stopping to look at them. The painting is a political ground where neutrality is eliminated. Abu Hamdan engages with the history of landscape painting and rejects its tradition of choosing aesthetics over honouring the site and its layers. 

The ceiling where the paintings are hung made me feel like I was in a theatre, and in fact, the space is the ghost of one. 1286 Bloor Street West, now Mercer Union, used to be the home of one of Toronto’s earliest movie theatres, called the Academy Theatre. It was built in 1913 in an Edwardian style and closed around the 1960s. Mercer Union has been around since 1979 and moved a bunch before settling on Bloor Street West in 2008. The space that now hosts the exhibition has witnessed many backdrops, suspensions of belief, and theatricals. 45th Parallel, borrowing elements of theatre and film, reads as a counter-narrative to the scripts that were performed in this space–exposing the consequences of American imperialism and border enforcement violence. 

Installation view of Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 45th Parallel at Mercer Union, 2022 (courtesy the artist, photo by Toni Hafkenscheid)

This arbitrariness of borders is especially relevant to Canada, where lines drawn by the British have led to genocide. 45th Parallel was part of the 2022 Toronto Biennial of Art titled What Water Knows, The Land Remembers, a continuation of the 2019 Biennale The Shoreline Dilemma. The locations chosen were an ode to the water and ravines that have mapped the city’s geography and inhabitants, that once bordered places we walked by. 

One of the central questions to the biennale is “what does it mean to be in relation?” and “45th Parallel” immerses itself in it. The exhibition does not just look at relations and their meanings but the hierarchies that exist when being in relation–a bullet, a body, a law in relation to a border, a country, a field. It looks at the dismissal and negligence of relations as well as the selectivity and decisiveness of being in relation. 

The title of the exhibition, 45th Parallel, also points to other ways of being in relation. In this case, the invisible line that treads a surface to mark it isn’t institutionalised or militant. The 45th Parallel denotes “the middle of the earth,” where every place that this abstract passes through is equidistant from the North and South pole. The Haskell Free Library and Opera House sit on this line. While latitudes are often used as tools for movements and navigation, borders are usually restrictive. They implicate race and class, and self-serve the state, never the vulnerable or the migrant. The title of the exhibition acts as a cue to question the notion of borders and their relation to land and soil. The incredibly well-written dialogue treads that line as well. The Haskell Free Library and Opera and House were referred to as the “granite and brick loophole in the longest border in the world” and the “400 metre anomaly.” This huge play on words grounded the site in its materials and reinforced the absurdity and lethal power of borders. 

Installation view of Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 45th Parallel at Mercer Union, 2022 (courtesy the artist, photo by Toni Hafkenscheid)

Today, the welcome page of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House website reads: “The library is opened [sic] for guided tours again! No family/friends reunions (cross-border visits) allowed.” What once embraced the frailness of borders, now complies with its authority.  

Abu Hamdan’s work continues to explore and reveal the neglected violence that happens across borders. One of his most recent projects is, an extensive research project showing the physiological effects of aircraft noise and the extent of the Israeli air force surveillance in Lebanon post-war. Although the film in 45th Parallel speaks of a specific site, the installation grounds the work in the layered history of Toronto and is still able to highlight global injustices. The exhibition is documentative, critical, and–theoretically and linguistically–so accessible. It is an incredible example of the kind of exhibitions that are a reminder of the importance of producing and sharing work—in relation to the spaces we can or cannot navigate, the lives that we live, and the lives that could have been lived. 

Reconnecting Through Recipes: Reflections with Meegan Lim

Meegan Lim. Harvest Garden Zine Interior View. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Interview by Aysia Tse

Meegan Lim is an illustrator based in Brampton, Ontario whose practice meets at the intersections of food, culture, storytelling, and social change. Since graduating from the illustration program at OCAD University in 2021, she has been working on zines, comics, illustrative work, various public and community art projects, and editorial initiatives. She was recently awarded the “Best Political Zine” for her publication Harvest Garden by the Broken Pencil Zine Awards in 2021. Lim spoke more about her love for food, zine-making, and the sometimes-bumpy journey of reconnecting to your cultural identity through art. 

You create personal and socially engaged zines that explore your cultural identity through discussions with food. Can you speak more about how you came to develop your practice at the intersection of these topics?

During school in my second year, there was more autonomy with the projects that I was able to tackle. I saw it as an opportunity to explore my cultural identity, but by food, it was kind of an epiphany moment I would say. I’ve always been a big foodie, always loved the Food Network as a child, and of course, familywise has been a way for me to connect to my own culture, but I never thought to combine it with my art. When I did, it was an obvious pairing. That was the start of it, it was just right in front of me and then I realized that there was just so much more beyond my own culture, of course. It’s beyond the actual physicality of food and tastes, it goes back to memory, it goes back to history, and it carries so many different meanings for all kinds of people. That’s what keeps me going back to it. 

Meegan Lim. MSG: The Craving for Cultural Embrace Cover. Photo Courtesy of the Artist.

In your zine called MSG: the Craving for Cultural Embrace, you reflect on the Asian minority trope and resisting these definitive boundarieof identity. Can you speak more about your reflective process when digesting these topics and then having them as a part of your creative projects?

I didn’t dive into these tropes or these histories until I moved away from home. That distance forced me to think about it more, I was researching on my own and trying to make it make its way into my own schoolwork as well, in my conceptual focus through my illustration work. I got into a big wormhole of the internet, going through big journals about all of these tropes, the history of Chinese restaurant syndrome. It threw me into a little crisis because it was the first time where I sat with those ideas and those concepts. I didn’t have that context, so once I was able to identify that, I wanted to document it because I have a hard time feeling my feelings. 

I don’t know if it’s like an Asian thing, but it was something that I just really wanted to capture in my art form, and it coincidentally lined up when I was visiting my family back in Malaysia. I wrote the majority of MSG while I was there. It was a mind trip of sorts because I was writing it in the same environment where I was experiencing those first cultural identity crises. The first time we went back to Malaysia I was maybe seven or eight years old and having that realization that you can’t fully communicate with your family, or you feel that big disconnect culturally, it’s an interesting feeling. It was like art journaling of sorts. I was not able to speak the language, but I [could] still understand that my family was talking about me, about how Westernized, how white, or banana I was. So, it was interesting to reflect on that 10 years later.

Meegan Lim. MSG: The Craving for Cultural Embrace Interior View. Photo Courtesy of the Artist.

I love the colorful and playful aesthetics of your personal risograph zines. I loved to hold it when I experienced it in person. What drew you to zines as the medium for the topic you address? I’m curious as I know you’re also a drawer, painter, and illustrator.

It’s exactly what you described. It’s the feeling you have of that physical item in your hands because it’s just so intimate. You’re like really intimate with the person, that person who’s reading it. I love how it can sometimes feel like those little notes your friends pass in class. It’s almost like having a direct conversation with the people who pick [it] up. I’m allowed to be as personal as I can. Zines were like a journal for me—It’s like art therapy of sorts. I had a box of zines where I just used old copy paper, no one has ever seen them, but some are just doodles, and some are just a bunch of words. It’s very much a very cathartic medium for me. 

Using food as a medium for storytelling can be the source of a very meaningful conversation for other people.

Are there specific things that excite you about using food as a jumping-off point for storytelling?

When I was identifying that food was something I wanted to focus on, I was also a bit nervous because with illustration, you can be focused on having a certain style or you get pigeonholed into certain topics or aesthetics. I was worried I was going to be known as the food illustrator, but also, I don’t mind it now. There is so much more than just food. Using food as a medium for storytelling can be the source of a very meaningful conversation for other people. It doesn’t really matter what my initial intention is with the illustration or the zine, it’s what carries on afterward because who knows what other people are going to get from it. I know you’re Singaporean, so you were able to get lots out of it [since] it carried back some other memories. And that’s something that I didn’t initially intend through sharing my mom’s recipes, but it happens and it’s really cool.

Meegan Lim. Red Pocket Recipes. Interior View. Photo Courtesy of the artist.

Yeah! In (Red) Pocket Recipes you share Chinese-Malaysian recipes, some of which are nostalgic for me, as I was born in Singapore! You included Laksa, a fish-based rice noodle soup that brought me back to some of my own childhood memories. Can you speak a bit more about your love for recipe sharing?

Recipes always just made their way through my childhood. Being able to share my mom’s recipes and some of my own recipes with other people, it’s the satisfaction of seeing other people create it or resonate it, or be like, “thanks for sharing this recipe with me, it turned out really good.” It’s almost a level of trust. Recipes are a form of oral and written history that isn’t captured a lot, especially in my family. It took a lot to get my mom to sit down and write the recipes with me. I locked my bedroom door and said, “sit on the bed” – we’re getting teaspoon, tablespoon measurements out of her.

It means a lot to be able to capture that because I’ll never hear the end of my aunts saying “oh, you better get your mom’s recipes, because she’ll go someday and you won’t have that.” You won’t be able to capture your heritage if you don’t actively practice it, right? 

Meegan Lim. Icing on the Cake. Photo Courtesy of the artist.

Do you have any advice for other artists who are just beginning to explore and reconnect to their cultural identity through art? 

I mean, I’m still figuring it out. My main point of advice would be to go at your own pace and be kind to yourself because it can be very emotionally heavy to discover all those different layers that you might not have realized were there when you were a kid. So just take your time. It can be hard to digest and uncover a lot of those memories that can be triggering and weird to uncover when you’re an adult. 

I guess my second advice point would be to just look to other artists, creators or educators who are talking about similar experiences, not only for comfort and relate-ability but also just inspiration for your own work. You’re most definitely not the only person experiencing that, so it’s important to recognize those other people, and use those avenues to understand what has already been shared, that way you’re able to really explore your own intricacies and details of your own experience.

When I was initially exploring it in my own art, I was very hyper-aware of self-tokenization and how it can impact how others see you. That shouldn’t be how you go about things, but it is something to consider, especially in an Asian community where tropes easily develop. After I published MSG, I was very hyper-aware of the lunchbox moment and I was like, am I just repeating the same thing in an echo chamber? So that’s something to be aware of but try not to let other people dictate how you are experiencing your own cultural identity because it is different for each person. 

What’s next for you?

I don’t think I’m going to stop drawing food anytime soon. I keep saying there’s going to be like a Red Pocket Recipes Two or I that I’m going to post new recipes, but it’s so hard to sit myself down to do that. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make that time in the next year or two to really distill all those recipes. I want to fulfill my own personal creative goals through those home recipes from my family. In terms of the rest of my practice, I just want to learn more of other cultures and how food is very much a catalyst for all those histories and memories. I’m consistently learning more and more, and it’s humbling because of course I’m not going to know the world’s culinary history. It’s very motivating to know that there’s always something new to learn.

I am doing illustrations for a Dumpling Anthology. It’s been really cool because I’ve been able to read essays from all these food writers about their favourite dumpling from their family. Dumplings are such a universal food! Hopefully, I can take on more projects like that.

Check out What We Talk About When We Talk About Dumplings, published by Coach House Books. You can follow Meegan on Instagram @meeganlim and see more of her work by visiting her website,


K. MacNeil. Natura Morta. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Interview by Adi Berardini

K. MacNeil is a genderqueer artist, educator, and curator working in a range of media including printmaking, video, performance, and drawing. Referencing their own experience, their work addresses grief, chronic and mental illness, and the supports within the Western medical system. Their latest exhibition at home apothecary: OR EXTRA STRENGTH + PAIN RELIEF at Centre [3] in Hamilton features an interdisciplinary body of work that started as sketchbook ink paintings. As they describe, the series grew in its scope over six years, capturing the everyday objects used to manage self-care. The exhibition also addresses the resiliency needed while facing marketing schemes of care products in a capitalist society and the actions taken towards healing.

Currently residing in Toronto, ON, MacNeil has an MFA from the University at Buffalo and a BA in Studio Art from the College of Charleston. They serve on the executive board of SGCInternational and work as the College Printer at Massey College. MacNeil’s work has been exhibited internationally in Paris, France; Beijing, China; Canada, and throughout numerous institutions across the US including the International Print Center New York, the Western New York Book Arts Center, and CEPA Gallery. Additionally, they are the Hexagon Mid-Career Artist in Residence at Open Studio in Toronto. Read on to learn more about their work and the exhibition at home apothecary: OR EXTRA STRENGTH + PAIN RELIEF.

AB: Your exhibition at home apothecary: OR EXTRA STRENGTH + PAIN RELIEF addresses the wellness industry and how it treats health care as transactional and the resiliency it takes to navigate this. Can you speak more about your thinking and concept around the exhibition?

KM: The exhibition is thinking about transactional healthcare and how to be resilient in this sort of late-stage capitalist world that we find ourselves in. Developed over six years, I started this work as illustrations in my sketchbook and I didn’t think that they were going to go anywhere. At some point — after about two or three years — I just kind of kept making them. I [felt that] I need to commit if I’m going to just keep making this work and see it through to some type of conclusion.

I realized that what I was focusing on with these paintings, these sort of still lifes of objects that I was surrounded by, were an autobiographical body of work focused on what I’m using to try to take care of myself. A lot of my work has always been about mental health and stigmas and my own daily struggles with depression and anxiety. Naturally, these were all the objects that I used to treat my anxiety and my depression and various other ailments. So, it was everything from pill bottles to sunglasses and Q-tips. Sometimes it’s vitamins or band-aids and other little things like books.

K. MacNeil. Gender Dysphoria Hoodie in the Morning. Installation shot courtesy of the artist.

One of my favourites is a painting of a sweater that says ‘Awful’ on it, based on an actual sweater I own. The title is Gender Dysphoria Hoodie in the Morning. It refers to the gender dysphoria hoodie that [many] people in the trans community use to manage their dysphoria. When you’re dealing with this dysphoria, you just kind of put a big hoodie on and hide within that. That’s a way of taking care of yourself and a way of being resilient as a trans person.

I decided to take a broad lens and address everything that I use to take care of myself in all these different facets of my life. Through that, I was also examining the way these things are branded and marketed to us and the language used around them—and how interesting and problematic it can be. The way I like to think about this exhibition is a Venn diagram of what it means to self-care and self-medicate and treat yourself that’s the intersection of where all these works fall. It’s not exclusively critical of the medical industry but it’s also not exclusively favourable.

I was also examining the way these things are branded and marketed to us and the language used around them—and how interesting and problematic it can be.

It’s just trying to take a realistic look at like, for example, how I need ibuprofen and I hate how much I have to take ibuprofen, but it’s part of my life. I was recently diagnosed with chronic pain and they basically [told me] you just have to take ibuprofen all day, every day, which is what I do. And there are a couple of supplements that help, but that’s about it. It’s frustrating, but it’s also like that’s the best that the medical community has got in terms of treating that illness, which is pretty sad.  

K. MacNeil. I think my cough drops are gaslighting me. Installation shot courtesy of the artist.

Your piece ‘I think my cough drops are gaslighting me’ has printed HALLS wrappers and the messages seem to address how manufacturing health and wellness plays into toxic positivity, especially during the pandemic. Can you speak more about this piece and the interactive aspect of it as well?

The piece is a pile of replicated HALLS cough drop wrappers that were printed using a linocut block for the logo and then letterpress for the motivational pep talks that they use. The whole thing is hand-printed and handmade. I say that because a lot of people thought that they were real cough drop wrappers and a pile of garbage on the floor. It’s art—I swear.  

I made just under 1,300 of them and all the phrases that are on them are phrases that I got from HALLS cough drop wrappers themselves. They’re from something called “a pep talk in every drop,” a HALLS marketing campaign that they wrap their cough drops in. And they’ve been doing it for years. The piece is installed as a pile on the floor and viewers are encouraged to take one of the wrappers with them and slowly deplete the pile throughout the exhibition. It’s a reference to the work of Félix González-Torres, who used depleting piles of candy in reference to the AIDS crisis and inter-personal relationships. I won’t get too much into his work cause there’s a lot to be said there. But I was interested in how Félix González-Torres was responding to a pandemic of his time, as I am with this work.

The idea initially came to me near the start of the pandemic in April of 2020. I had a cough, I didn’t have COVID, but I was still taking cough drops. I was opening up and reading these motivational statements when I was going through genuinely the worst month of my life. Several people I know had recently died and I had to quickly move over the border. I lost one of my jobs and just like everybody else, I was in a state of financial disarray as the entire world was ending. And it was like, what are we doing here? And this cough drop wrapper is telling me, “March forward,” “Get back in there, champ,” “Get through it,” and “Go for it.”

K. MacNeil. I think my cough drops are gaslighting me. Installation shot courtesy of the artist.

It’s a slap in the face, right?

Yeah, it was. I just [thought], “Wow, these don’t hold up so well in the pandemic.” The one that really got under my skin was the one that said, “You’ve survived tougher.” It hearkens back to that phrase that a lot of people like to say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

It’s this kind of problematic idea that you can just withstand trauma after trauma and you’re going to be stronger for it. And it’s not always the case, but specifically with COVID, a lot of people didn’t survive tougher—a lot of people died. A lot of people got long COVID, and a lot of people’s lives were dramatically and permanently affected by this. And I think this culture of getting through it and surviving tougher is more harmful than just admitting, “Hey, we’re all going through a hard time right now.” We could use a little bit of softness instead of toughness, you know? The piece is kind of commenting on how those phrases are pretty gaslighting.

It’s also thinking about the amount of waste that’s produced by the medical industry. That’s a big part of this exhibition too, is just thinking about how much crap we accumulate from cough drop wrappers or pill bottles or random packaging. And how these things that we genuinely need to get through and to survive also come with a fair share of packaging and environmental waste that’s ultimately contributing to climate change. It was a way of encouraging viewers to take one of the wrappers home with them, instead of just mindlessly throwing stuff away in the garbage. What if we kept and took care of these things and tried to find alternate uses for them? I’ve been doing a lot of research into the zero-waste movement and trying to find how that works within my lifestyle. This is sort of my way of exploring that idea.

K. MacNeil. WITNESS MY SHAME. Installation shot courtesy of the artist.

Something that draws me to your work is how it fosters dialogue around mental illness and the stigma surrounding this. Can you speak more about how you address mental illness and mental health, especially in your piece ‘WITNESS MY SHAME which addresses how mental illness is discussed in society?

I would say that WITNESS MY SHAME and I THINK MY COUGH DROPS ARE GASLIGHTING ME have a lot in common. I was recently thinking about how it’s interesting to see this thorough line in my work because I made WITNESS MY SHAME many years ago and I didn’t think I was still working in that vein. Now I can see how that idea really stuck with me. 

WITNESS MY SHAME was a series of shadow boxes that highlighted phrases in a bold, black font that have been said to me personally, by close friends and family. I think they are phrases that you hear more frequently in response to mental health issues or chronic health issues. So, those phrases are, “I’ll pray for you,” “Just smile,” “Suck it up” and “You don’t have to talk about that right now.” Those were phrases that just shut a conversation down. If you’re trying to talk to somebody about what’s going on with you, whether it’s physical or mental illness, and the person you’re talking to doesn’t know how to respond, [they] use one of those types of phrases. It just completely shuts a conversation off—It’s their way of getting out of talking about something that might make them feel uncomfortable.

I took those phrases and I screen-printed them in these shadow boxes in this black font. And then over the top of them in the Plexiglas, I scratched several other phrases that might elicit those responses. Some of those phrases are, “I feel like I don’t have control,” “I just feel kind of numb,” “It feels like a life and death kind of thing,” “and “I can’t experience any more joy.” Those phrases came from a series of interviews I did for a sound piece, so they are phrases from other people who are experiencing mental illness trying to share what it feels like to have their mental illness.

What happens when you look at the piece, because you can’t see the scratched phrase super well, you have to look incredibly closely and come up to the piece and inspect it because you see it’s a bit blurry—your vision is slightly blocked. It was kind of interesting because a lot of people just walked right past the boxes and didn’t take that closer look. Then somebody would take a close look and then somebody else would take a close look and you’d see them kind of pull a whole bunch of people and [realize that] there are these phrases that are scratched on top of it. I appreciated how that happened because that’s what the piece is about. Some people are just oblivious, and they say these phrases that sort of steamroll over a conversation when you’re trying to reach out for help and other people stop and listen and take that closer look.

It’s more of a response to how people handle mental health and chronic illness in general. I think it kind of points to the stigma that it’s difficult to talk to people when they’re talking about mental health and that it’s something that we really shouldn’t even be talking about. It comes from that mentality that you should just suck it up, put a smile on, move on, and not talk about these things because it makes other people uncomfortable.

K. MacNeil. at home apothecary: OR EXTRA STRENGTH + PAIN RELIEF Installation shot courtesy of the artist.

I was wondering if you have any artists or other things that inspire you that you’d like to discuss?

I’ve already mentioned Félix González-Torres, his work is hugely influential to me. I don’t think you’d necessarily see a direct correlation when you look at my work but he’s one of those artists I’m always thinking about when I make work. He’s like the Patron Saint of printmakers. I don’t think he’s technically a printmaker, but every contemporary printmaker who is concerned with the multiple [loves him].

For this exhibition, I was also looking at a lot of painters. I technically did my undergrad in oil painting. In particular, Wayne Thiebaud: I have always been amazed at his sense of colour. Getting to see his work in person, find[ing] a subtle stroke of neon orange or a lime green underneath the form. I’ve always been fascinated by how his paintings come together and the little pops of colour that peek out. And certainly, I would say his composition is impactful on me too. I’ve spent a long time just looking at his work.

Another artist that I looked at a lot is Giorgio Morandi, a painter from Italy. His work is so lovely. It’s funny, when I would show his work to students, they were like “I don’t get it. It’s boring.” And that’s kind of what I’m interested in, the way he explores the banality of household objects. I’d say the last one for this exhibition is Philip Guston. I’m in love with the work that he does. I mean, especially the stuff he did later in life with the self-portraits and the more expressive caricatures that he was doing. But specifically, I’ve always been a strong admirer of the confidence of his painting stroke. You can tell that he just goes in, and he paints a line and that’s it, he doesn’t fuss with it. That’s something I always try to keep in mind when I paint because I fuss with things, and I want to get to the point where I’m not fussy. I want to paint a line and that’s the line.

One other artist that I wanted to mention is Finnegan Shannon. They do this piece called, Do you want us here or not which are these blue benches that they install in art spaces that say things like, “This exhibition has asked me to stand for too long. Sit, if you agree,”“I’d rather be sitting. Sit, if you agree,” and “There aren’t enough places to sit around here. Sit, if you agree.” You engage with the work by sitting on it. It’s just this brilliant and much-needed conversation about the accessibility of art spaces and public spaces in general.

Especially as someone who lives with chronic pain, I’m constantly telling people, “I’m sitting, I’m not lazy. I just have to sit, it’s just what I do.” I love those pieces because one, I wish there were more chairs everywhere in the world, and two, I think we’re on the same wavelength in terms of what we’re talking about with ableist language and spaces.

Do you have any upcoming or current projects you’d like to mention?

I’m currently an artist-in-residence at Open Studio. That residency is winding down, but I’m still working on that body of work, which is a series of etchings exploring waiting rooms and healthcare institutions. I feel like it heavily relates to this exhibition as well. 

It’s a commentary on the inaccessibility of healthcare spaces. Waiting rooms are some of the most boring places on the planet and yet there’s so much pain and trauma and suffering that happens [in them]. I’m very interested in the banality of pain and suffering and trauma and what that banality means. You sit in a room with a blank wall and generic seating that’s terribly uncomfortable for hours at a time, waiting to be seen by a doctor, and sometimes they catch your issue and sometimes they don’t.

I have this series of drawings of waiting rooms that I’ve collected over the past several years. I’m turning them into etchings, which I’m going to string together into one long, never-ending waiting room.

You can find more of K. MacNeil’s work on their website and their Instagram, @kit.macneil.