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East End Spotlight is a monthly news piece where we highlight a series of east end artists, arts organizations, creative spaces & professionals that we want to shine a spotlight on💙!

For November 2020, we got in touch with some new artists and arts organizations who live or work in east Toronto. Scroll down to read more about the following people and organizations this month:

    1. Blessyl Buan – Artist
    2. Firefly Creative Writing – Arts Organization
    3. Gordon Shadrach – Artist
    4. Jennifer Lee – Artist
    5. Matthew Tribe – Artist
    6. Roshni Wijayasinha – Artist

*Banner image by Roshni Wijayasinha*

1. Artist: Blessyl Buan

Name: Blessyl Buan

Discipline: Dance and Hand Made-Jewelry

Artist Websites:

www.buankissed.com
www.drblessyl.com

Artist on Social:

Buan Kissed Instagram
Dr. Blessyl Instagram
Bipoc Dance Health Instagram

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

I am a Toronto-based Chiropractor and mom of 4 that needs to be creative in order to thrive. I’m a multi-disciplinary dance artist and maker behind buankissed: a collection of hand made Capiz shell earrings that reconnect you to the moon and the earth. My relation to people and my art is based on community, its relations to the earth and its ability to tell stories. All of my practices whether it be healing, dance, or making are driven to inspire others on what is possible while promoting cultural diversity.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice? 

Not being able to be around people in the same way through physical connection, to listen to live music, to dance in the studio or perform and to move and be inspired by art forced an incubation period of introspection that became the catalyst to the art that is emerging through me this season. The act of making and reaching out to community in a virtual world helped to calm me in times of uncertainty. The pandemic has prompted me to reconnect to the earth and through that grounding, I created buankissed-which translates to “moonkissed”. I also founded the BIPOC Dance Health Directory to create awareness on cultural diversity that is needed in the dance health industry.

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

Following buankissed on social media and supporting my work helps me to grow as an artist and remain sustainable. My pieces connect you to the earth and bring joy during this challenging time. The capiz shell and the symbol to the moon help to teach the ways we can cycle as nature does; to embrace self-compassion and navigate this world with more intention and ease.

I also create video content on how high performers and artists can thrive. Subscribe to my youtube channel or follow @drblessyl on social media. Artists heal culture and community. Despite the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, art can still survive.

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

The launch of buankissed has created artistic collaborations with artists and fellow local makers. I’m excited to see the development of my work and its impact on community.  I am also pleased with the growing community of BIPOC Dance health which highlights the intersection of healing arts, diverse dance disciplines and culture. Through these initiatives you will see me speaking more about cultural diversity and the importance of the arts and its intersection with health and wellbeing.

A fun fact about you for our readers:

I married the boy that I met when I was 16 and his last name Buan comes from the word “buwan” which means “moon”. Oh and I’ve also danced with Madonna. Sorry that’s 2 facts.

2. Arts Spotlight: Firefly Creative Writing

Name: Firefly Creative Writing

Type of Organization: Creative Writing workshops, retreats, coaching and online programs

Website:

www.fireflycreativewriting.com

Social handles:
Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

Tell our readers a bit about your arts organization, your history, artistic mandate etc.: 

We started way back in 2005, when our founder Chris (that’s me) printed up a whole bunch of handmade flyers, bought a case of thumb tacks and headed out into the East End to track down every cork board in sight.

The flyers were for a small writing workshop in my living room. I’d just finished a Master’s Degree in Community Development, focusing on how writing and creativity can bring people together. I was passionate, ready and had no idea where to begin. Somehow though, the workshop filled, and Firefly has been growing since then, step by tiny step.

We now have a team of 8 writing facilitator/coaches, 3 admin staff, a subscription program, coaching programs, LOTS of retreats and workshops, and a cozy little studio on the Danforth. We are deeply committed to creating cultures of belonging that let us lift up our and one another’s voices. We believe that everyone has a writing voice and that finding and using it can be a joyful and connecting experience. We also believe in the power of tea and cookies, so we miss our studio, but we love working online.

What makes your arts organization unique or different?

A lot of writing programs out there still follow the “instructional” approach — seats in rows, teacher at the front, and the underlying idea that there is a right and a wrong way to write. In my experience, those environments tend to be full of insecurity, fear and the desire to “do it right”. Creativity can’t thrive in that context, so we want to turn it upside down.

We believe that there is no authority on writing. There are no rules. There is just your voice, your process, your drive, your messiness, your passion. We work with participants to help find these things in themselves, and to connect to their own power and celebrate where it naturally goes. In our workshops the facilitator isn’t a teacher, but a guide, who creates a space where the group can grow and find out who they are together.

We also know that writing can be scary, hard and often exhausting, so kindness and care are the center of all we do. When we used to meet in person (we will again!) we always had homemade cookies. In our subscription program we always send dark, organic chocolate (made my local east end roasters, Soul Chocolate.) At the end of our retreats we give out “emergency preparedness kits” with self-care tools and personalized writing prompts for that moment when you get home and you miss the retreat. Those little details aren’t “extra” for us, they are at the center of how we work.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 changed your arts organization?

We were so scared when Covid hit! Our programs were *all* based around in-person social interactions. Our studio is small, with a dining-room-sized-table that everyone would sit around. Clearly all that had to go.

Thankfully, Zoom has let us keep working, and even to expand our reach. We’re amazed to find just how personal and intimate Zoom can be with the right facilitation and processes in place. We’ve also been able to create new programs, like “Morning Coffee Sessions” where for a small monthly fee, people can join us every morning to get a writing prompt and write for 20 minutes together, and “Push Week” which brings a big group together for 5 days of creative accountability and shared space.

We were dreading this new online environment, but now we’re having a lot of fun with it.

How can community members interact or support your organization right now?

To get to know us better, we have active social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and a popular newsletter. We’re always recruiting for Morning Coffee Sessions, if anyone wants to write with the gentle presence of others, all that info is here: www.fireflycreativewriting.com/coffee-sessions

What does #EastEndLove mean or look like to your organization?

I’ve lived in the East End since I moved to Toronto in my early 20’s and I wouldn’t be anywhere else. I’m touched by how supportive the small business community has been of Firefly, and how much people in the east end genuinely want to help small businesses thrive. Special shout out to The Handwork Department for giving us endless writing prompts and The Samoserie for feeding us whenever we gather as a team!

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

We’re always excited in November to see who is participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Writing a whole novel in a month is a wild feat, and often brings out brilliant things, often disguised as secondary characters, sub-plots and margin notes.

On our horizon, we’re excited to launch our second “PUSH week” in early December, five days of sinking deep into writing through an online community. The theme this December is “Reconnecting to our desire to write.”

3. Artist Spotlight: Gordon Shadrach

Name: Gordon Shadrach

Discipline: Portrait painting (oil on wood panel) and sculpture installation (textile)

Artist Website: www.gordonshadrach.com

Artist on Social:
Instagram

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

My art reflects my lifelong fascination with the semiotics of clothing and its impact on culture. As a young Black child growing in a white neighbourhood, I was particularly aware of being judged by my appearance at a very young age. The self-awareness that I developed so early in life became a huge part of who I am. Because of my personal experiences and observations, my artistic interests lie in the intersection and codification of race and fashion. These codes impact the way we navigate through spaces and influence how people associate with one another. My portraits of Black men utilize fashion—contemporary or historical dress—in order to create narratives which pull viewers in to explore the biases embedded in North American culture. More recently, my portraits and sculptural pieces have been examining stereotypes placed on the perceived strength and athleticism of Black men. I have been comparing how Black bodies have been used historically in North America; first as slaves and soldiers and then as professional athletes. I want to use my art as a way to disrupt the colonial constrictions of portraiture by inviting viewers to reflect upon the depiction of Black people in art and culture.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice? 

Covid-19 impacted my practice in March by putting a complete halt to feeling creative, and completing any art. I had a solo show that had just opened at United Contemporary gallery that I was excited about and it had to shut down due to the quarantine. I wasn’t really sure how to continue. Eventually, I managed to find some inspiration from the quarantine and social distancing requirements as well as the anti-Black racism protests and started a series of portraits called, “RePurposed”. In this series, I reimagined sports equipment as PPE face masks on Black men. I wanted to examine how Black men are exalted as athletes in our culture, but when they use their platforms to speak out on racial injustice, they are shut down or expected to “shut up and dribble”. I also started to speak out more about the racial imbalance of the Canadian art scene, and my frustrations with the systemic racism within the commercial galleries and public institutions on social media. Sharing my experiences put me in touch with more people. My show re-opened in July at the gallery with my new pieces and I am really happy with how the show turned out.

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

People can support me by buying my art! I also want people to start examining what they consider to be “Canadian art” and think about historically whose voices were heard and why other voices were excluded. I want people to understand how our history has enabled that exclusion of voices to current day. I want people to examine their biases about how art and artists get chosen for art fairs and gallery representation. I would like people to support more Black and BIPOC artists so that wider audiences get to see the value of their work. I want the support for Black people that art communities expressed after the thin veneer was pulled away to expose their systemic racism to be ongoing and authentic.

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

I am excited to be represented by United Contemporary gallery at Art Toronto again this year. I really hope that the artists represented this year will be more diverse and that gallery owners and directors will hold themselves accountable for the promises they made this summer.

A fun fact about you for our readers:

I own way too many shoes for one person.

4. Artist Spotlight: Jennifer Lee

Name: Jennifer Lee

Discipline: Photographer, Front-end Designer and Developer

Artist on Social:
Instagram

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

I am a visual arts lover, concert-goer, volunteer and community supporter, and an all-around hobbyist. I am a graduate of Ryerson University’s Image Arts program, and for over the past 15 years I’ve been bridging the gap between design and technology by building web applications that are informed by user research and driven by my passion for web accessibility.

As an explorer and a natural documentarian, I love telling stories with my camera. I use photography to find connections with landscape, people and the passage of time. Through street and candid photography, I quietly observe communities, how people interact with and within spaces and how our environments and landscapes experience change.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice?

I had a couple of projects that I wanted to pursue in 2020, but the enforced isolation and the expectations around physical distancing put those plans on pause. My photography practice and subject matter then shifted as I found myself doing a lot of solitary walks around the streets of East York and Scarborough with a camera in hand. Photography has always been a comfort to me and an independent and meditative activity; it helped me cope with the unknown, the anxiety and the despair that came from all the uncertainty we were all facing. At the same time, I looked at the streets differently, observed what was happening around me and saw how our community had quietly transformed.

In August 2020, I was invited by two artists, Eva Kolcze and Jess Thalmann, to participate in a 6-week on-line project called The Time Being, which was funded by a Digital Originals grant from the Canada Council for the Arts and CBC. The project was made up of lens based media that captured the sites, spaces, and environments visited and inhabited during our time in isolation. This gave me the opportunity to reflect on the 6 months of photographs that I had taken and make these visual connections with how others interacted with each other and within the environment as they adapted to this new way of living.

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

Instagram has been an amazing platform in connecting me with a broader community of creatives, from photographers, to visual and textile artists, to writers and sound artists, and to community builders and grassroots organizations that I care deeply about. It’s my number one outlet at this time to be able to share works in progress. Connect with me @msjennifer.lee!

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

I love print format and photo books, so I’m excited about working on my own photo books/zines in the next few months. In particular, I hope to make a small book on a series of portraits I had worked on of my two great aunts, both in their late 90s, living their fully independent lives in New York City.

A fun fact about you for our readers:

I love learning new things and signing up for classes. Pre-pandemic, I was learning how to weave, cook Korean food and play guitar. Now, during these pandemic times, it’s learning about different kinds of beers and chips.

5. Artist Spotlight: Matthew Tribe

Name: Matthew Tribe

Discipline: Illustration

Artist Website: www.matthewtribe.com

Artist on Social:
Instagram

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

I am an OCAD U Illustration graduate who came to Toronto from Kingston a few years ago. I love the fluidity and versatility of watercolour, even if it can be a bit unpredictable and unforgiving. I illustrate figures and natural environments, and watercolour helps me uniquely convey the connection between emotion and atmosphere. At the heart of my work is a lifelong passion for character design and unique, striking silhouettes, from drag and modern fashion to old bestiaries to superheroes, gods and myths.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice?

As an illustrator I tend to work on my own, and I’ve enjoyed having a lot of time at home to try to do art. Try being the operative word. The events of 2020 have exacerbated my mental health issues which can make it difficult to do anything, at all. Before social distancing I was starting to build momentum exhibiting art in public space, which is invaluable in terms of making relationships and sales. Now everything has moved online, where social media engagement can be hard to get right.

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

The best way to support me is through commissions. My favourite thing as an artist is when someone asks you to make something for them – the whole process of collaborating with a client to create a piece of art that is completely unique to you and them. If you are interested please feel free to get in touch through my website or Instagram.

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

I recently completed a mural project for Street Art Toronto. It was a collaborative concrete barrier mural for Scarlett Road Cycle Track, which is currently being installed if not already complete. If you’re in the area you should check it out! This was my first mural experience and I really enjoyed the opportunity to be part of this. I encourage anyone who’s interested to connect with START to take part in future projects.

A fun fact about you for our readers:

My partner and I just adopted two beautiful kittens and we are very excited to be cat dads!

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