The possibilities of 2018

In a few hours’ time (from where I write in the cold, cold prairies of Canada), 2017 will end and we will find ourselves facing the start of a new year: 2018. The year ahead is open, and there is no fixed history within it yet. Only possibilities.

For me, “possibility” has always been a favorite word: in my mind, it’s not a word built on joyful optimism — it’s a word grounded in anticipation. One that sees the world’s realities, with all its shortcomings, all its uncertainties, and accepts there is something better: change. This past December, we moved to create change. To stand in solidarity with the lives from across Africa — with refugees and migrants — that are being degraded, tortured, and sold in Libya, today.

It is my hope that as we enter the new year, in the days ahead, we keep our demand — our anticipation — that freedom is reached, and slavery abolished, strong. That we hold to the possibility that at any moment what’s currently taking place in Libya will end; but, we must keep working towards this vision.

So, I’d like to say thank you for all your efforts over this past month.

As I write this, we’ve grown beautifully at 2,630 supporters, and I hope we’ll continue growing in the month ahead. I hope 2018 will bring you all a continued sense of understanding, of strength, and of many possibilities to live for something better in all our lives.

I hope it brings you love. Or, as James Baldwin once wrote in The Fire Next Time, “I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace — not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

Happy New Year everyone.

 

With much love and respect,

 

Becky

***

If you haven’t already, you can share and sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/end-the-enslavement-of-african-mig…

 

#EndSlavery
#HumanRights
#HumanTrafficking
#SlaveryinLibya

 

 

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End the Enslavement of African Migrants and Refugees: A Petition

Wired Fence in Old Jerusalem

Photo by Becky Hagan-Egyir

 ***

Slavery is the next thing to hell.  

–  Harriet Tubman

On November 14, 2017 CNN released the results of an investigation in Libya, revealing that Black migrants and refugees are currently being held in detention centers, rounded up to be displayed at auctions — and sold. Their worth amounting to no more than a few hundred dollars.

In exchange, they are used against their will for physical labor. They are demeaned. They are raped and exploited.

This is not only disturbing and painful news, it is beyond a stark reminder of how far we have yet to go when it comes to abolishing slavery. When it comes to hearing the voices of those who are currently being silenced and ignored in Libya.

Put simply: the selling of African women, children, and men — of their lives and dreams — is unacceptable.

We can change this.

We can send a message that the eyes of the world are on Libya. That we are calling for, expecting and demanding the sale of children, men, and women to come to an end. Immediately.

Thank you a thousand times in advance for looking at the petition below and signing it; for being a solution and taking a stand against this injustice, “the next thing to hell.”

And thank you for helping African migrants and refugees, trapped in Libya, to be free.

***

Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/end-the-enslavement-of-african-migrants-and-refugees?recruiter=768626323&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

Some reflections on a legacy of “New World” terror…

Residential School in Ft. Chip

Residential School in Ft. Chipewyan. Photo by Becky Hagan-Egyir

***

I have a question that needs answering: What are we doing, big or small, to create effective change? To dismantle our fear(s)? There’s too many soul-sucking things happening these days. It’s not enough to say it’s 2017: therefore, these things (also known as the persecution of People of Colour) shouldn’t be happening. As if we’re looking at relics from the stone age. But, history is never static; it moves between past and future, influencing every passing moment.

Thinking on what happened recently in Charlottesville—something that’s happened in too many similar patterns of hate too many times before, and in too many disturbing settings—is what led me to my question. It also made me feel paralyzed, for a time, by what felt overwhelming and draining as more and more details and more videos came out—which, to my eye, all revealed an apathy for black lives that the Nazi/supremacist/terrorists demonstrated in Charlottesville to deadly purpose.

Reflecting on this violence, I felt stuck for a moment. As if time was playing a twisted game, gambling on western history’s long-reigning fable that POC’s voices could never—never!—win a place within its pages; or its streets and public spaces where statues stand to commemorate the innumerable ways that POC’s voices have been silenced.

In Charlottesville, the statue of Confederate general, Robert E. Lee—sitting proudly and upright on his horse, this general who pushed to continue slavery and all the benefits it afforded him—attests to this.

His statue carries on a tradition of silencing. One where the wounds of Blacks are looked down upon and seen as illegitimate in the face of an old romanticized South: a vision seen in the face of Robert E. Lee on his noble steed. This carrying on, this version of history, is what the activists in Charlottesville were calling to end. (A move the Nazis and white supremacists, in keeping with their old tradition that Black Lives Don’t Matter, saw as this: “dishonorable! dishonorable!”) Yes, throughout the history of the Americas, people have suffered from those who’ve turned a blind eye to the ways the insidious past still rears its head.

To those who look at the events in Charlottesville and say, “this is not what we believe in,” how can that be? How can that be when too many people in the history of the Americas, from the very northernmost of Canada to the tail-end of Chile, have barely been recognized as human because of the varying degrees of melanin in their skin? Have had their humanity disregarded from the very moment the ships landed and “discovered” the “New World”—and, from those moments on, created its foundations on the genocides of the Indigenous and the lives of the enslaved? These are the foundations, the legacies of terrorism, that the “New World” was built upon. And is still fighting against, still struggling and dealing with, today.

So, it brings me back to this: What are we doing, big or small, to create effective change? To dismantle our fear(s)?

Because, in some way or another, tomorrow has to be better.

There can be no more carrying on of “New World” traditions of erasure. Not when it comes to my survival, or those who look like me with melanin running deep in their skin, and all the history that brings with it; not when it comes to our collective memories that keep us moving forward to live and, above all—above everything!—not only to survive, but to thrive ardently, generously, and vitally.

The path showing tomorrow only as some continuation, as some dragged out violence of colonialism and all its oppressive ideals, is unacceptable. Unacceptable to my understanding of the world, of its possibilities, and the convictions that I stand on as my own personal foundation, which spells out: I am enough and I belong—even if what I witness today makes me feel weary at times with fear.

I remind myself that people have choices and they make actions from them. And, I remind myself, that the world wasn’t made to carry all this destruction. It shows in the work being done to create change, to overturn the oppression embedded deep between the Americas, as those who protest against racism and its symbols of hate have been doing in Charlottesville.

Their work is encouraging. Even more than this, it is necessary.

*

Below are two links to those who were injured by the act of terrorism in Charlottesville, and who are in need of financial support in their physical recovery:

https://www.youcaring.com/alexismorrisnoellemorris-903027

https://www.gofundme.com/natalie-romero-medical-fund

And, in memory of the life lost in Charlottesville, and of those seriously injured defending anti-racism, here’s an article with suggestions of groups to support:

https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-support-anti-racism-organizations-in-charlottesville-76190

Please feel free to add links that you know of in the comments below. I’m looking forward to reading what you have to share. (And, this should go beyond saying but I’ll say it anyway: no statements of hate or phobias towards other people’s humanity—ie. transphobia, anti-Blackness, anti-immigration, etc.—will be welcome in any way in the comments. Check your privilege. Be mindful, be respectful.)

Take care of yourselves.

For International Women’s Day 2017

Courtesy of the phenomenal Dr. Maya Angelou:

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

***

And that’s so many of the women who’ve inspired me throughout my lifetime. To all of you, Happy International Women’s Day!

To all phenomenal women, let’s continue working for our stories to intersect, to be heard, to matter, so when one of us talks, and shares our truths, it will shatter barriers.

To all phenomenal women, let’s make it known that our freedoms are things that grow; that they are made over with our understandings of what it means to be a “woman”. That the expressions of joy and struggle that we share with the world are not an inconvenience — never can it be an inconvenience! — but a benediction for all humanity.

To all phenomenal women: continue living in all of your greatness.

That’s it.

– Becky

On Islamophobia, Hatred, and the 29th of January, 2017

There is a lot of work to be done to diminish hate, in all its forms, in this country we call home. Islamophobia should have no place in Canada—but it exists here. All lives should matter—but, the dirty and honest truth is, that there are people who exist in spaces of privilege. Those who wear blindfolds when it comes to equality, and who practice the idea that many lives are less valuable than their own. And can do this to violent extremes.

On January 29, 2017, a white supremacist showed that this Canada does, in truth, and to the great sorrow of many, exist. This white supremacist stole six lives from their family and friends—and he stole them during moments of reaffirming the beauty and intricacy of life; a confirmation done during shared, and private, prayers. And those lives and what they stood for should not be forgotten. They are lives that should inspire us to be better, to do better. To love more, and not less.

They are the lives that represent being Canadian. And, if we love our country—like we truly believe and say we do—we should challenge what we feel and know is not right. And the people who gathered across Canada, mourning in vigils from British Columbia to Newfoundland, they did this; and in those moments, inspired me to believe that this principle still exists. Yes, they inspired me to believe in this; even at this long moment of darkness.

The vigils were a stand against misguided hate, against the senselessness of prejudice. Against fears of a religion whose practice is best reflected in its very name itself. Islam: a submission and obedience to the best of all virtues: a search for peace.

What we are facing today in Canada is the long-haul of a fight we have to win; for (in paraphrasing a verse from the Quran) the loss of one life is a loss for all humanity. And the loss of these six lives, of Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabiti, Azzeddine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou, Khaled Belkacemi, and Abdelkrim Hassane, is a loss for everyone; for those who grew up believing that Canada is home to many (despite of, or even, because of struggles we may have faced; struggles those labelled as “others” had to, and most definitely, still face today—as these six men surely experienced for the freedom of calling themselves Canadian.)

Many of us have been frightened by the actions of the white supremacist-terrorist who shot these six men figuratively (and as the Vice President, Labidi, of the Cultural Centre where the men were praying believed, literally) in the back; and a few of us have been frightened into perhaps believing, whether outright or deep in our subconscious, that Canada is not a home for everyone. That it is home for those who claim power or position. But power is useless unless there is a fight to compare it with. And that fight belongs to all of us. And it should be done for the sake of all of us.

Perhaps, a few more of us have even been intimidated into secretly believing, for a single and undeniably irrational moment, that power belongs to those who will use violence to make their views known. (Namely, those whose vision of the world is one of white superiority, and who terrorize people in their places of worship. And to those supremacists, all I can say is this: your vision of the world will never be true. It was not true yesterday; it is not true today; and it will not be true tomorrow.

Unless you claim the rightful titles of those indigenous to this land—of those who were here before waves of white supremacy took root and created strains of sickness: from residential schools, to isolated reservations without safe drinking water, to treaties for stolen land, from all these things, there and back again, and so many other unspoken strains—I say this: Canada will never belong wholeheartedly to you. You have no right to that.)

The thin-iced fragility of white-supremacist-identity has proven itself to be blatantly deadly, time and time, and exceedingly over—and over!—again.

The destruction that lies beneath that should not allow us to forget that Canada belongs to a network of stories. That they include the stories of immigrants and generations of their families who have worked to make Canada a place of possibilities; that they have done this with their sacrifices, ambitions, and even, at times, their own affirmative actions taken because of that sadly lingering feeling of not really belonging.

They are the stories of people like my parents and grandparents who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, making a home in Canada while not fully knowing how their lives would play out. They are the stories of people like Azzeddine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabiti, Mamadou Tanou, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, and Ibrahima Barry.

And I believe these are the stories of many Canadian families. So, I challenge Canadians to believe that white supremacy and it’s spurring on of Islamophobia and hate and the dishonest and terrifying narrative that Canada is for an “exceptional” few is, very simply, dishonest. Our stories tell us differently.

But we also need to share more of our experiences, and have honest conversations about what it means to be Canadian (and the ways people have been, or currently are, excluded from this because of their identity, history, heritage, and so many other areas.)

Canada doesn’t need to be made “great again.”

Its evidence is in getting to know your neighbours. In gathering at celebrations of humanity; at mosques and centres of learning—like the Cultural Centre that was terrorized in Quebec City.

Still, there’s a lot of work to be done. To continue being present, and continuing to confront and engage with the status quos of the world. And with the negative ways in which Islam is often presented. To dissect the tumor that may linger in minds, which whispers “most terrorists seem to be people of colour,” or “people who are Muslims.” And, if the old logic continues gaining strength, well, the actions of the shooter—a white man!—who terrorized the Islamic Cultural Centre should—if you yourself are willing!—help to remove that blindfold and reveal a new and honest truth:

That we are all working to define our daily struggle, between our inner-graces and darkness, and the world that sees our bodies, faces and the melanin it holds, or withholds, in peculiar and difficult ways. And that we should all be offered opportunities to live fully and fearlessly beyond the burden of prejudice and hate; and, to the benefit of everyone, it may one day become unconditionally true.

However, in our fight against Islamophobia and hatred today, we are still struggling with a very real and dark truth: that because they loved Islam, in an instant, six people were killed.

Portraits: An Interview With the Artist, IMPREINT

In a perfect world we would all be happy with our “imperfections” and celebrate their uniqueness. But when we have a difficult time appreciating our individuality and understanding how it connects us to others in our imperfect world, artists so often act as our muse, our advocates, and our advisors, showing us new outlooks on ourselves.

Since December of 2013, the UK-based artist IMPREINT has set out on an ambitious collaborative project with the global public. People send in photos of themselves holding a single prop: a balloon. Why a balloon? Well, IMPREINT once painted 1000 balloons and although from a distance they seemed similar, eventually, he started to notice that in addition to their different sizes, shapes, and colours that they also had marks and “flaws” which made each one stand out. And now, this shared reflection between the balloons and people is what has made the images in Portraits so very beautiful.

***

IMPREINT - Don't take things too seriously - August 2010

IMPREINT – Don’t take things too seriously – August 2010

Being an artist, how has art shaped the way that you interact with and understand the world?

Didn’t change my way of thinking, seeing [of] things, or interact but [art] made me more complete as a person.

Your recent project, Portraits, has had a lot of positive response and involvement from people across the world. What does Portraits say about the way we see and understand ourselves as people in today’s age?

I understand that Portraits represents for [those] who participate a way to stand for something that they care about. Interesting, because even if everyone has his personal feeling about his own portrait or the reason why he has made it, the result when you look at them is that we appear all the same. So basically this project talks about the need of the people of the world to share and feel united in our diversity.

IMPREINT - I’m a temporary exhibition - October 2013

IMPREINT – I’m a temporary exhibition – October 2013

“I’m a temporary exhibition.” This statement greets visitors to your website and Facebook page. Does this heightened awareness of time allow you to look at issues (such as homelessness in your project Cut Off and perceptions of beauty seen in Portraits) with a more critical eye?

With a more conscious eye. This statement came as an “answer” to all these proclamations that society and the art world propose as important. It was presented for the first time during the Frieze Art Fair in 2013. It’s a reminder of how our life is fragile and how [it] would probably be better to change attitudes and reconsider what is really important.

You engage and collaborate with the public to create work. But are there any artists you’d like to collaborate with in the future?

No one in particular [just] whoever feels that we can do something together.

IMPREINT - Portraits - December 2013

IMPREINT – Portraits – December 2013

Check out more photos from Portraits on tumblr and Facebook and explore some of IMPREINT’s other projects at www.impreint.com.

City Dream: An Extended Interview with Artist, Jill Stanton

January 24 to May 3 features the works of Albertan artists as part of the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art 2015, Future Station. Jill Stanton is one of the artists whose work is on display this year. Her mural City Dream No.5: Virtual Reality evokes a dreamlike wonder about the world while playing with the biennial’s theme of a post-industrial landscape. I had the opportunity to speak with Jill about her last mural which was displayed at the Art Gallery of Alberta called Strange Dreams during the summer of 2014. From that interview, it became very clear that no matter where Jill takes her art or how it develops in the future, it will always have a playful spirit in it. One that comments on the way society sees and understands itself in a “post-industrial landscape” that is constantly under development and trying to realign itself with the ethics of people in our societies. In honour of her current work at Future Station here is the extended version of our conversation.

***

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Your current exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), Strange Dream [March 5 – December 31, 2014], “inspires questions of how we look at our environment and how our environment can affect one’s subconscious” according to the AGA. How did the idea for Strange Dream come about?

Jill Stanton: My work is very detail-oriented. As a kid, I’d spend hours reproducing Where’s Waldo drawings, fascinated by how a single two-page illustration spread could command a viewer’s attention for so long. These drawings — made with the tiniest, thinnest black pens I could get my hands on — certainly formed the basis of how I approach my work today. I make extremely detailed drawings with an element of narrative in them, whether that exists in actual, text-based narrative (in my comics), or implied narrative, in a drawing with several characters and secret pockets that are only noticed by the viewer as they stare at it for a period of time. I want to hold the viewer’s attention; I want them to weave a narrative out of the visual clues I leave in the drawing.

I only recently started to work large-scale. Historically, my drawings have been the size of a single sheet of paper, the largest being around 22” x 30”. In the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to work on a larger scale for other pieces and freelance jobs, and it sparked a bit of an epiphany; the larger the work, the more detail I could include, and the more the viewer will be sucked into the drawing.

Strange Dream (excerpt) 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Strange Dream (excerpt)
Digital
2013
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Strange Dream was a culmination of my mural projects and my comic projects. I wanted to create a very large-scale environment that featured several hidden characters and suggested narratives. Creatures and questions pop out the more you stare. After a minute or two, secret eyeballs are suddenly noticeable; they’ve been staring at you the whole time. Where is this place? Who is the girl in the colour nest, why is she there?

Becky Hagan-Egyir: What environment has the most impact on how you get inspired to make art?

Jill Stanton: I’m a bit of a plant nut, thanks to my mom’s early greenhouse and gardening brainwashing techniques (I love you mom!). In 2011, I travelled to Vancouver Island for an apprenticeship to learn how to start and operate a 10-acre market organic farm; I was there for the entire 9 month growing season: building crude greenhouses and cabins, seeding, transplanting, weeding, driving the tractor, harvesting, farming. It was initially supposed to be a break from art in general, but the natural environment and the experience of real, solid hard work was rewarding and stirring. I ended up making a small series of comics about life on the farm, worked on advertisements and newsletters and posters for the farm and other businesses in the small town of Duncan (the closest town to the farm), and painted several crude farm signs with latex paint advertising our produce. Those comics were pretty dumb and not very well drawn, but they were the impetus for all my recent graphic narrative projects, including the subscription-based comic book, Headspaces. Even now, in my tiny downtown apartment, I’ve got a small jungle of 50+ houseplants. They just make me feel better about living back in the city.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Your art work shows a true appreciation for comics and their alternative, dream-like worlds. Often the real world can seem dream-like too — especially when you turn on the news and see all the transformative as well as heart-wrenching things happening out there in the world. Do political and social events in the world ever play a role in how you approach your work?

Jill Stanton: The first major works I completed after completing my BFA were pieces that responded to injustices related to food, food security, and food politics. These issues were part of the reason why I moved to the farm in the first place — to learn how “sustainable” food production works firsthand. Food and its surrounding issues have always been a focal point for me; I’ve struggled with it on a personal and political level for many years.

From Headspaces II Ink, digital on paper 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Nothing is Chasing Me But it Sure Feels Like There Is (exerpt)
From Headspaces II
Ink, digital on paper
2014
Photo by: Jill Stanton

I was a vegetarian for much of my adult life (farm life has since changed my relationship with animals, their environment, and meat). I drew a lot of hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and melty cheese, because I was fascinated with the seductive quality of these foods even though they were inherently disgusting and awful and immoral. I was drawing my way through thinking about these issues. First: Why do people want to eat these things? Why did I want to eat these things even though I “knew better”? Did it make me a fundamentally better person because I didn’t eat factory meat or even meat in general? And then, later, on the farm, surrounded by ethically raised meat and dairy: Is a “vegan” salad made from a head of lettuce and cucumbers produced on a poorly-managed farm in China or California with migrant, underpaid workers any better than a steak sandwich made from locally produced, grass-fed beef? Worse?

Three times a day (ideally for us lucky and privileged people), we navigate through the ethics of food politics; with each ingredient within a single meal, we have the potential to either harm ourselves (the health value of the food in question, or our financial position to choose a better option, or not), harm an animal (through animal welfare questions related to meat, dairy, eggs, etc.), harm the environment (pesticides, clear-cutting, fish farms, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, etc.), or harm someone else we are peripherally unaware of (where the food was produced, by whom, and under what variables and terms of employment). What used to be a fairly straightforward thing –– even 100 years ago, before such rampant globalization –– has turned into a real minefield. We all have to eat, that’s what makes food questions so all-encompassing and awful.

…I still refer to these ideas from time to time in my work, though less lately since I am feeling increasingly as though I have less of the answers I once thought I held so firmly. I still think hot dogs and cheeseburgers (etc.) are incredibly interesting and powerful tropes in society, but I like them more as ways to introduce a kind of cognitive dissonance into a narrative or drawing, rather than a guilt trip. It’s a constantly evolving relationship.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: One of your recent works was creating the cover design for local Edmonton rapper and performer, Mitchmatic’s new album. Do you often support Edmonton artists with their own creative projects?

Jill Stanton: Working with musicians and locally owned venues has been a real cornerstone in my practice. Gig posters in particular are among some of my favourite projects; Craig at Wunderbar has let me make dozens for him over the past years for various shows, and I’m forever grateful. Posters give me a public platform and a low-stakes deadline that I can use to experiment with different imagery, compositions, and techniques. Drawing a little bit every day and throwing in challenging variables for myself is so important to how I work out future ideas.

FREE Mural For FREE Advertising company Latex paint on wall 2013/14 Photo by: Jill Stanton

FREE Mural
For FREE Advertising company
Latex paint on wall
2013/14
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Becky Hagan-Egyir: What have been some of the most memorable times this has happened for you?

Jill Stanton: Some of my favourite drawings are still some of those Wunderbar posters. Absolutely! Especially the ones where I liked the poster I made but the show was even better. I have also done a handful of improvised, live-drawing sessions for a variety/comedy show hosted by comedian Jon Mick. Basically I bring ink and pens to the bar and whip up drawings on the spot based on a topic that Jon picks. Generally the drawings are making fun of Jon. It’s weird for me because I’m not a performer but I enjoy it! I like thinking and drawing quick on my feet —most of them turn out pretty alright, though some of the results of these shows are pretty awful!

Becky Hagan-Egyir: How has the Edmonton artistic community influenced your own work?

Jill Stanton: Edmonton is home to a big batch of really talented artists and musicians. It’s a pretty tight, small-ish community, considering the population size of the city in general. The closeness of this community is interesting because it creates an environment where everyone is pretty open and supportive of one another. But it’s also competitive, since there are only so many real, solid opportunities available in a city where arts is maybe not quite as important or revered as say, hockey. It’s a cocoon in a way. It also means you have to be very conscious of what other artists within the city are doing, and that your work stands on its own.

It’s nice to feel like if you work hard and place value [on] your peers and connections, you absolutely can do great creative things within the city. Edmonton has a weird small town vibe for a relatively large city, which makes it feel as though you can tackle things that you might not feel as though you could tackle in, say, Vancouver or Toronto. I’m impressed and inspired by start-up creative initiatives like Chelsea Boos’ Drawing Room space downtown, and Brittney Roy and Connor Buchanan’s Creative Practices Institute in the 124th street area. Also, running the printmaking program and working with clients at the Nina Haggerty Centre [an art centre for adults with developmental disabilities] on 118th avenue has been a really excellent experience for me personally and artistically.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: If you could collaborate with one artist right now, who would that be and why?

Jill Stanton: Josh Holinaty, local illustrator extraordinaire. We’ve been meaning to collaborate for a few years now, I think. He’s moving to Toronto, but I think we’ll finally get a chance to doodle a bit together while I’m out there this fall for a residency I’m doing at Artscape Gibraltar Point.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Growing up, did you ever imagine that you would be a different type of artist? A singer or comedian maybe?

Jill Stanton: No, strangely, I never even wanted to be a marine biologist or doctor or dinosaur or whatever kids traditionally think want to be when they grow up. Just ask my mom. I just [wanted] to draw things.

Manning Hall, AGA Ink on Paper 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Manning Hall, AGA
Ink on Paper
2014
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Where do you do you see yourself heading with your work five years from now?

Jill Stanton: I don’t like to think too far into the future with my work. I think making five or ten year goals is a little dangerous because often it puts a specific idea of yourself up on a pedestal that you continually strive for under the impression that if you don’t reach it, you’ve somehow failed. This mindset doesn’t allow for natural creativity and following tributaries and branches from ideas and projects you work on in the present.

If I had a five year plan for myself five years ago, I might have been a successful illustrator living in some large city, but then again, maybe not. But in the process of working towards that goal, I might not have followed the stream of ideas in directions other than exclusively illustrating for widespread publications, and likely never would have made the work I’ve made thus far. I probably wouldn’t have gone to the farm. Maybe I wouldn’t have been drawing comics. I certainly wouldn’t be making 1800 square foot ink drawings.

I think it’s more interesting not to plan too closely and let things happen and opportunities present themselves. Work and art gets stale and boring if you don’t let yourself mess around in hopes of accomplishing some pie-in-the-sky goals. The most important thing to remember is to just keep working. Relentlessly.

Iceland Dream Screenprint on Paper 2013 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Iceland Dream
Screenprint on Paper
2013
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Stay up to date with Jill’s work:

twitter.com/scenic_edmonton

jstanton.ca

***

Check out the original interview here.

Michael Franti

Michael Franti and the Spearhead’s first album, “Home” from 1994 has a song in it called Piece O’ Peace, in which the first line says: “Every million miles ya haffe tek a first step”. The idea of peace is often something that seems elusive, and maybe even unachievable in our time, but then there are artists like Franti who fight this idea by living and sharing a peaceful life with people he meets; whether it’s those in an audience doing yoga with him before his show, or people in Iraq after they welcome him into their homes to share laughter, tea, and stories about humanity. These are just a few of Franti’s steps towards achieving peace at home and throughout the world with the help of music.

***

Your life and your work seem very poetic. What is it that drives you to reach out to people and spread the message of creating a peaceful world?
Well what drives me is that I have a desire and a belief that all of us have this unique opportunity in our lives — and that opportunity is to each day learn to better get along with each other and to make the world a little bit better then when we got here. And music is a really great way of doing that because music is something that accesses the soul, the heart, so when our bodies become tired — like mine is today [laughs] — and our minds become taxed, it’s our souls that opens all of us and [says] “you know you can go a little bit further, you can try a little bit harder, you can love a little bit more”. And that’s when things really change in the world, because [people] get run down and as they get run down, it’s often when their souls close off and they lose their empathy, they lose their compassion, they lose their wiliness to try and reach out to others, or to try to do something for others. And music is one of the things that accesses that part of us and I love music for that reason.

For your documentary [I Know I’m Not Alone] you went to Iraq, Palestine, and Israel. As an activist, how do you support change from here, at home?
One of things that I learnt when I was in Iraq, and in Israel and the Palestinian Territories was that everywhere I went, I met people who were risking their lives each day to achieve peace. I met Iraqi families who would take me into their homes where they hid during the bombing and [I met] soldiers who said, “I came here a day after September 11th. I signed up to join the army because I though Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, that he was involved in 9/11. And I got here and found out it was all lies” you know. And I met Israeli and Palestinian families who had lost family members in the conflict there and in the occupation and who said that we don’t want our family member’s deaths to be used as a cry for war, we want it to be used as a cry to end all wars. And that they don’t want the pain that they felt to be experienced by anyone else on the planet.

So as a communicator of that, I realized that you don’t have to choose sides – you don’t have to choose sides based on nationality — that you can choose to be on the side of the peacemakers from which ever country you come from. And in every country, there are people that are willing to go to great lengths to achieve peace. … In the case of the Palestinian-Israeli situation [where] you have people that are living under occupation for a long time, you know some people since right after WWII and other people since 1967, and living with everyday soldiers in their lives breaking into their homes, barricading, and you know blocking them off with a wall from their own land and it’s suffering and enduring incredible hardship and they fight back. And in doing so, you have people who living in Israel grow up in fear that if they were to walk into a supermarket or café or were to get into a bus it might blow up. And so I think that the way to really best communicate is to try to listen to both sides and to be respectful of the loss of both.

Michael Franti-03_VSM Photography

©VSM Photgraphy

And when we start comparing and counting and saying a hundred people were killed here and two hundred people were killed here and oh a thousand were killed here and a million were killed here and twenty million were killed…we don’t get anywhere. So, I wrote a song Bomb the World that says “you can bomb the world to pieces but we can’t bomb it into peace” and I really believe that — that the more political violence that we enact, you get more in return. And it doesn’t matter if it’s next week or the next generation. You use political violence to try and solve a problem; you get more political violence back at ya. When we use peace, and we use music, and we use food, we share land, and we share resources, and we create jobs and opportunity and health care and education for people, then they’re a lot less likely to strap a bomb onto their body and walk into a supermarket.

You briefly lived in Edmonton when you were in grade nine. Coming back to the city [for Folk Fest], how has that connection influenced your performances?
Well you know it’s always emotional for me to come back here because I remember being in grade nine — which for everyone is one of the most difficult parts of their lives [laughs] — and so I have great, very positive, and glowing memories of this time and I have emotions from a very dark place in my childhood. And so it’s always healing to come back here and to see things that are familiar. Like I was out in front of this hotel and there was this clock that’s got these great winding gears on it and I saw it today and I remembered seeing it when I was a kid. And seeing the river and seeing some of the things that haven’t changed. And then you see things that have really changed like the skyline and just how far it is — I remember to get to the airport there was nothing to the edge of the city for miles and miles or kilometers I should say [smiles]. So you get to the airport and now it’s like the city almost goes out to the airport. It’s just neat to come back and see all that.

Read the original here.

A Remedy for Living: What Fair Trade in an Edmonton Cafe Taught Me

“CHANA MASALA!”

Remedy Café seemed like an informal language school as Indian and Pakistani food orders were increasingly yelled out.

Sohail Zaidi, better known as Zee, is Remedy’s creator. He sat calmly before me, clearly used to all the noise and bustle. “The orders are yelled out because then you hear it and you learn how to say the names. People become educated and they know what dahl is instead of calling it lentils,” he said.

Abra King makes a chai at Remedy’s downtown location on Jasper Avenue.  Many employees have worked at Remedy for years. To Zee, his employees, like Abra King, are the next generation of business leaders. Photo: Becky Hagan-Egyir

Abra King makes a chai at Remedy’s downtown location on Jasper Avenue.
Many employees have worked at Remedy for years. To Zee, his employees, like Abra King, are the next generation of business leaders. Photo: Becky Hagan-Egyir

He continued to tell me about the café’s most popular feature, its worst kept secret: Remedy’s chai. “My chai is made from thirty-five spices,” the coarse spices struggled to slip through his fingers, getting caught as he passed them from one hand to the other. Chewing on a dark brown bead of cardamom, Zee encouraged me to follow his lead. It tasted unexpectedly like mint as it dissolved in my mouth. Zee continued his lesson, breaking down his chai’s ingredients even further.

“All of the herbs are organic, no preservatives,” he began. “The teas come from Kenya, India, and Bangladesh. I always make sure it’s Fair Trade and organic.” The use of Fair Trade and organic products encourages customers to share in creating a better world in Zee’s opinion.

***

Days earlier, I had left Blush Lane Organics (a grocery store specializing in global Fair Trade and Albertan organic produce) for the first time. Both hands swung bags full of Fair Trade and Albertan organic produce like Holy Crap: the world’s most amazing breakfast cereal (pun intended), Cheeky: Be the Sassy Banana salted toffee and banana organic dark chocolate bar (perhaps no pun intended?), and a couple of green mangoes the size of the Hulk’s fist.

A profile of Michael Zelmer, an activist for Fairtrade who explains the connection between buying local and Fair Trade products as this: “When you’re buying local it’s not fair to think ‘it’s from nearby so that makes it local’. Buying local is about security—making sure we have the necessary infrastructure to grow our own food and to support local farmers. Those same principles are in play when it comes to Fair Trade.” Photo:Fairtrade International Canada

A profile of Michael Zelmer, an activist for Fairtrade who explains the connection between buying local and Fair Trade products as this: “When you’re buying local it’s not fair to think ‘it’s from nearby so that makes it local’. Buying local is about security—making sure we have the necessary infrastructure to grow our own food and to support local farmers. Those same principles are in play when it comes to Fair Trade.” Photo:Fairtrade Canada

When I visited the store that day, I’d chastised myself for not bringing reusable bags with me. But in the end, there was no need for worry. The paper bags they provided me with were certified triple threats: renewablecompostable, and recyclable. Those words and all the ones which stood out on boxes and containers in the store, spoke of a current movement to change the world by producing sustainable, healthy, and overall fair food. As I criss-crossed through narrow aisles, I couldn’t translate the language I was reading all around me. How did the words fit within the narrative of my own life?

A few days later, an appeal for me to not give up on Fair Trade stood out from a chalkboard sign, arguing: Buy Fair Trade because it will improve the world! The words were proudly displayed by the front doors of Ten Thousand Villages on Whyte Avenue for all to see.

In the late 1940s, an American named Edna Ruth Byler — the founder of Ten Thousand Villages — felt that it was time for the principles of business to change after she’d travelled to Puerto Rico and saw unfair business practices put into place there. Edna returned to her home with a vision of how business profits should be used to make people stronger and to weaken injustice and poverty. Edna began a business selling the crafts of artisans from around the world in her basement, and large profits were sent back to the original creators.

Now, Fairtrade International [which is different from the term “Fair Trade” as this refers to the movement to buy products created through sustainable, fair business practices and “Fairtrade” refers to the organization itself] follows a similar message as Edna. Fairtrade works to decrease the power of the middleman who plays a part in getting products from the farmer’s fields to our kitchen table. By decreasing or even eliminating the middleman’s role, farmers and artisans worldwide can have a larger share of the profits they earn with their products.

Messages like the one in front of Whyte Avenue’s Ten Thousand Villages are promoted throughout Edmonton businesses. The owners are people like Edna with a vision to make their community a better place. I was rushing to meet one of them, who owned a cafe with “Edmonton’s worst kept secret” as the businesses’ twitter account boasted.

***

The world had been brought into Remedy café with images of nature on its vibrant walls. The pictures were close ups of purple and yellow Hawaiian flowers taken by Zee himself. At other times in the year, local artists have exhibited their work on his café’s walls – just another way that Zee supports local business.

Remedy’s interior décor is also a reflection of Zee’s worldly experiences. This became clearer as he continued talking about his life moving through dusty alleyways in Pakistan, to cramped apartment living in Germany, and finally, dreaming big while looking at skyscrapers from the driver’s seat of his yellow New York taxi — all these experiences eventually lead him to settle down in Edmonton, Alberta where he bought a sandwich cafe and turned it into Remedy.

While we laughed and contemplated his coming of age story, Zee explained why he loved to travel so much as a young man. “Travelling teaches you so much…when you see how people live elsewhere, you’re thankful for your life and the people in it.” Zee has been drawn to the Fair Trade movement’s philosophy because he himself was once less fortunate. “I know what poverty is and how hard people work, so I totally support Fair Trade.”

Talk of poverty soon turned to his disappointment in inequality between people in the world who are all trying to make a living. After all, as he expressed, “we all bleed the same”.

***

Despite our common trait of being warm blooded humans, it doesn’t stop people from taking advantage of one another.

Michael Zelmer, an activist and communications coordinator with Fairtrade Canada, told me excitedly over the phone a couple days after I met Zee that Fair Trade is meant to help people live lives where poverty doesn’t dictate the quality of life they lead. I asked Michael if he thought being involved in Fair Trade made it less likely for a farmer or artisan to be abused by unfair business practices. The answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

There’s no clear way of knowing, Michael responded. However, there was a silver lining. Michael then explained that Fair Trade could never become a new “dictator” to farmers and artisans like the middleman by controlling farmer’s resources and opportunity to one day become powerful in their own right.

Butter chicken and rice with a cup of Remedy’s chai. With Fairtrade’s help, profits from plantations and farms where the teas and spices are cultivated are shared equally amongst farmers. Wages have to be either equal to or higher than the regional standard. It’s hoped that the regional standards will be improved and influenced by the Fairtrade model. Photo: Becky Hagan-Egyir

Butter chicken and rice with a cup of Remedy’s chai.
With Fairtrade’s help, profits from plantations and farms where the teas and spices are cultivated are shared equally amongst farmers. Wages have to be either equal to or higher than the regional standard. It’s hoped that the regional standards will be improved and influenced by the Fairtrade model. Photo: Becky Hagan-Egyir

“The key thing to understand,” Michael stressed, “is that it’s [Fairtrade’s mission] about allowing farmers [and artisans] to become powerful above and beyond Fair Trade…. The relationship to people… is that we’re supporting them, and not in a charitable manner with donations, but by making smart choices. We may be paying a bit more for those smart choices but they support all these transformative things that are happening out there in the world.”

At Remedy while witnessing smiles and laughter shared over hot drinks and food, I could already see some of that change happening.

The café was its own community. The world was reinvented once you entered through its front door. Hipsters, Chanel accessorized women sitting next to proud mothers of soccer kids, solemn studious types intently staring at glowing laptop screens — all of them surrounded me, eating food made with Fair Trade and even local organic ingredients. Regardless of whether or not the customers knew that they were tasting Fair Trade inspired recipes, they were still supporting a farmer somewhere in the world simply by consuming Remedy’s food.

I finished my visit to the café by drinking some chai and eating butter chicken. During the meal, my idea of Fair Trade shifted from the thought of making the world a better place to the practice of living better in the moment.

As the scents of garlic and cumin wafted towards me and the taste of minty cardamom lingered in my mouth, some of Zee’s final words crossed my mind: I think people appreciate the little things we do.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Lance Parker’s Ideas About Acceptance in the Beautiful Game

Who are you? Such a simple question seems like it should also have a simple answer. But instead, they’re three words which reflect so many possibilities about your character, appearance, beliefs, sexuality and gender, and much more. The world as we know it hasn’t always been accepting of all people — the world of sports is no exception to this rule. We’ve all seen how people can use ideas of what makes us who we are to set us apart from others. But then there are events like FIFA World Cup matches which allow us to have a glimpse of what acceptance can look like as so many nations come together to celebrate the game of football/soccer.

In this interview, I talk with one of Edmonton’s well known players of the game, who’s the goalie for the FC Edmonton team in the North American Soccer League (NASL): Lance Parker. Through his own life experiences and ideas about the game he loves, the role of identities including sexuality and gender and even racial issues in the beautiful game, are explored. His answers let us see the core of who Lance Parker is: a person. Complex, like you. And we also get a sense of what topics need to be pushed forward in the beautiful game’s future.

***

Becky: You once said in an interview that your father is your hero. So what was it like growing up with your hero to guide you?

Lance: My father is an artist [and] an art teacher. Growing up my mother was at work a lot, in the office — so my dad taught from the house. He had a studio that he built at our house and he was around for most of the time. So growing up, pretty much everything I learnt was from him. He started me on work in the yard, work in the house, and I learnt a lot of common sense knowledge from him — growing up, he taught me a lot.

Becky: Did you ever do art yourself?

Lance: [Laughs] No not really. I can draw something if I’m looking at it. But if I just sort of close my eyes and imagine something there’s no chance! But as I mentioned, my family is a very artistic family. My dad’s a professional artist. He’s been doing that all his life. My mom after she quit her [accounting] job with the office, she became a professional photographer. My sister graduated from college with a degree in computer animation. So I’m kind of like the black sheep of the family.

Becky: Reading interviews about how you and your FC teammates get along, it almost seems like you’re all family. What are some of the best things for you about playing with the guys on your team?

Lance: [The relationship] usually differs from year to year. Some players get traded and some people retire. But usually, you still have the same core from year to year…and then, the new guys come in and they throw in their own personality both off field and on field. [Every] year you get a different atmosphere off the field and on it — and this year’s team, we’re a really tight knit group of people.

Becky: Do you ever play pranks on each other?

Lance: [Grins] Yeah, every now and then — nothing serious.

Becky: Can you tell me about a moment when you first realized that you wanted to be a football/soccer player?

Lance: It was when I was twelve years old. There was a team that was put together of all these guys from Oklahoma [where Lance grew up] to go over to England to play a tournament. It was my first time in England and we were there playing in a tournament and we got to go to a couple games. Seeing the atmosphere, witnessing the culture that Europeans surround around football culture — it was just absolutely incredible! And that’s when I fell in love with it and thought: This is what I want to do for a job. I want to be a professional soccer player. So from age twelve I quit all the other sports I was playing — I was a little kid playing everything: basketball, baseball, soccer. I decided at twelve to quit everything and focus on soccer.

Becky: How did your family react when you first told them that you wanted to be a professional soccer player?

Lance: I’ve been extremely lucky to have parents that support me. They never forced me as a child to do what they wanted… I see a lot of (especially growing up) dads [who to them] their kids were invisible. [Their kids] don’t want to play baseball but they make them practice for like twelve hours a day — they’re trying to I guess live a dream through their kids, and I’m so lucky that my parents never made me do that. They told me that whatever you know you want to do, you can do it. So you can play soccer, you can do this, you can do that.

Becky: I think gender roles are more flexible, less structured, in our world today than they were a century ago or even during our parent’s times. But in your opinion, what does it mean to be a man in today’s world?

Lance: In what terms — to be a man versus a boy, to be a man versus a gentleman, to be just a man with a manly presence?

Becky: Let’s go with a man versus a boy.

Lance: [Pauses] Being a man versus a boy, for me, that has to do a lot with maturity. There’s definitely a lot of grown — grown males I should say — that aren’t men. They’re still boys. The way they act, the way they behave, present themselves in public, [the] kind of actions that they take, the way they present themselves, carry themselves — that I would consider them boys. A man, he’s gonna think before he acts, he’s careful of what he says, there’s just more thought process about how he goes about his day. And boys they just tend to act without thinking, he’s just spur of the moment, and he gets in trouble a lot.

Photo: Shirley Green

Photo: Shirley Green

Becky: How has the game of soccer helped to develop your personality as a man?

Lance: It’s helped me to be able to work well with others in a game setting. So whether that’s having to get along with people at work, or at school, or a team project, it’s helped me to be really good at that. It’s also helped me develop a leadership role with all my former teams: college, club, high school — you kind of figure out the best ways to deal with certain people. Different people act differently to different scenarios, [I’ve seen how] some people you get the best out of them by really giving it to them, being pissed off, yelling at them. Other people they shut down on you. You know, so you have to know ‘hey, I’ve got to encourage this guy.’ [Give] positive criticism and [be] a little more soft spoken. Some guys might get embarrassed if you call them out in front of the team. So it’s helped me to read people better, to know how to interact with people, and to get the best out of them. And as I said, it’s helped me to grow as a leader, as an individual.

Becky: There can be times when celebrities are leaders who set examples for us to follow. Some sport celebrities, recently like Michael Sam from the NFL, set the bar high for others to follow. [Michael Sam is now the first openly gay player in the history of the NFL.] Do you see sports as a place that openly accepts people regardless of their background?

Lance: No. No, I don’t.

Becky: That was a very quick response, and very honest. Why not?

Lance: Because sport has been around for a very long time. Since the beginning of different sports, the mentality of everything like that was very hush-hush and some players think things like if you’re “too feminine” you can’t play sports. Or guys might be extremely homophobic and think: ‘I can’t have this guy on my team because he’s going to be looking at me funnily’. Or it makes them uncomfortable. So yeah, it’s definitely not accepted yet in sports.

Becky: Do you foresee a time when it might be accepted — even though it’s hard to predict when exactly?

Lance: Yeah I do. It’s probably going to take a long time though, especially with more of the “macho” sports where you have to be a “real man” to play the game. And that’s sad because your sexual orientation shouldn’t determine how good of an athlete you are, how smart you are, or anything like that.

Becky: When I was a girl, I had a dream of being the first girl to play beside players like Jordan or O’Neil in the NBA. Do you think pro- mixed gender teams could ever become a thing in the soccer world’s future?

Lance: Never.

Becky: Never? Why not?

Lance: I actually had a conversation about this last week with my friends. [There are] professional women’s and professional men’s soccer, but I don’t see them combining them…. Women can be extremely gifted technically. Like my friends in college had played with soccer women and their technique was flawless, amazing. But you can only get so far with that. If you have a five foot six girl and a six foot guy going up against each other for a head ball, you know the girl’s not likely to win that. And even if you say, ok well if the girls are quick enough to move the ball around the guy and get a couple of the guys [on her team] to get to it, or even if she has enough time to take a shot, it just won’t be as powerful as potentially another male to get the ball by the goalkeeper. In some instances though you don’t need that! In some instances, you need to pace it around a goalkeeper, and yes [women] are perfect for that, but then there’s other times when you just gotta rip it as hard as you can. So there’s just genetic things that you can’t leave behind.

Photo: M31

Photo: M31

Becky: Can I ask what brought about the conversation between you and your friends?

Lance: It was actually because I did an appearance and there was a guy that came up to me at the appearance and he [didn’t know too much] about soccer. He was a big hockey fan. But he asked me a very similar question. He was like: ‘Hey! So did you know that a female goalie for the Oilers came in and trained with the team?’ And I thought about it for a little bit and … I can see a female playing hockey because I believe goalies can’t be touched in hockey right? And so, it’s all about quick reaction…. So he had asked me that question and then I was talking to my friend afterwards [about it]. I’d never been asked that question before, so on a whole, that’s good to be discussing it in society. And yes some females are [really good] but I just don’t think they’d be better than some guys in terms of [females] being more technical and less physical.

Becky: What can be done to help promote the idea of equality between all people regardless of their background – whether that’s gender, religion, race, etc., in sports?

Lance: I think there have been steps taken towards some things. Race has been a topic that been [worked on] throughout previous decades. Religion has come about [in Edmonton] with a Muslim player that had to go through Ramadan and I thought that [would be the most difficult thing], because you’re a professional athlete, so you have to train. But you’re not allowed to fuel your body throughout the day…. But the coaches did well with it, accommodated him, which I thought was really cool! So I don’t think religion has been a big thing [in Edmonton]. Some teams still pray before games and if you are or aren’t religious you can take it for what it [means to you]. And I feel that no one gets upset about that anymore. And with homosexuality it’s just coming to light and there are guys that are coming out and I honestly think that the reception on that has been taken extremely well by most of the general public. But you still definitely have people that don’t agree with it. And for me I think that’s kind of how they’ve been raised — and until you get the majority of people that believe in [their sexuality not mattering] then things still have to be worked on.

Becky: Have you ever heard bad statements made from viewers in the stands at games towards the players about things like race, or negative comments about sexual orientation, etc.?

Lance: No, nothing like that has ever happened. They chirp at the other teams all the time. But I haven’t personally heard them say anything about race or religion, homosexuality, or anything like that. But the players are getting wise and learning how to deal with situations like that. Like — I forgot who exactly this was — but a soccer player was about to take a corner kick and this literally happened about a month ago and… somebody threw a banana at him. So the guy played it off amazingly. He got the banana thrown at him, so he goes over and he picks it up, he peels it, he takes a bite of it, and then he goes in [to the field] and he’s the guy that gives the assist to beat the other team. And he jokes and says that the banana gave him energy to build the assist to beat that team. So he dealt with that really well. But yeah there’s still definitely stuff that goes on like that. In my experience, I haven’t witnessed anything like that and I hope I don’t have to.

[The player was Dani Alves. Watch his reaction in the video below.]

Becky: Final question: FIFA, 2014, Brazil. Which team are you rooting for?

Lance: [Chuckles] I’m rooting for the US obviously. But if I have to be honest, I’d be surprised if they make it out of their bracket… Whoever wins the semi-final game — which I think is going to be Germany versus Brazil — is going to win the tournament.

***

This interview is a part of the series “Identity Games” on The Times For a Feast.

Keep up to date with Lance. Follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/lanceAparker), Facebook (facebook.com/LanceAParker21), and Instagram (lanceAparker).