IMPREINT - pink balloon

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 and flawless.

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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.

Jill Stanton
Photo Credit: jstanton.ca/contact

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.

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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

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Check out the original interview here.

©VSM Photgraphy

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.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

Photo: Shirley Green

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, a part-time model, who’s also 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).

A protester holds up one of Ganzeer's stencils on February 11th, 2011. This was the day when Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak's three decade presidency in Egypt had finally come to an end.

Paint and Tear Gas: Ganzeer’s Art and Egypt’s Revolution

It was the most thrilling and exhilarating time of my life. Seeing people band together and sacrifice themselves in the face of armed troops with nothing else but their voices, and all for what? For other people, people they didn’t even know, future generations they would never meet… It was such a glorious thing to experience. The closest thing I’ve ever experienced to seeing God.

On January 25, 2011, one of the greatest days in Egypt’s history took place. Inspired by what he was seeing, a 29-year-old man decided to record the Revolution the best way he knew how —through his art. He was born Mohammad Fahmy, but today he’s recognized by another name: Ganzeer, inspired by the Arabic word for “chain”.

Ganzeer’s first work for the Revolution was unplanned because he didn’t expect to be in the crowd of revolutionaries. He describes the elated feeling he experienced that day in Tahrir Square as “the most thrilling and exhilarating time” of his life. Armed with spray paint, he climbed to the top of a billboard — his canvas. On it he wrote simple, yet powerful words over the face staring back at him. The crowd of protesters below him responded with loud, enthusiastic cheers. Down with Mubarak! The freshly painted words glistened atop the face of Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt.

It was on February 2nd that Ganzeer created his first visual reaction to Mubarak’s continued refusal to resign: a stencil of symbols that read, “Mubarak doesn’t equal Egypt”.

Eight days later, Mubarak decided to confront protesters with a defiant and pleading speech: “I am addressing you today with a speech…of a father to his sons and daughters,” he began. “Those who have committed crimes against our youth will be out on trial according to the courts and the laws. They will get severe punishments.”

The next day, Vice President Omar Suleiman briefly addressed Egypt, and the world, with important news; Mubarak was no longer president. Egyptian flags waved throughout Tahrir Square while protesters sang, cheered, prayed, and cried under the thunder of fireworks exploding above them; protesters like Ganzeer who’d been fighting for three weeks for this moment of freedom.

Ganzeer was raised in a “semi-quiet residential neighbourhood with many stray dogs [that he and other kids his age] befriended” in Ard El-Golf, Heliopolis, “City of the Sun”. There, in the northwest corner of Cairo, he admired his older brother’s Nintendo games and copied the figures from their superhero comics; influences that led him to become a graphic design artist, writer and painter years later. In college it allowed him to connect to the hub of Cairo, a source of inspiration for his work. “I am fascinated by cities and megacities and how they function,” he explains.

***

While Ganzeer was experiencing life in Heliopolis, a neighbourhood with a mix of low to high income families, Mubarak was often at work nearby in one of his presidential palaces. During his three decades of control, Mubarak ruled Egypt, unjustly imprisoning citizens and restricting freedom of speech and expression.

On Mubarak’s last day in power, February 11, 2011, the army kept watch over thousands of protesters as they waited outside Heliopolis Palace for Mubarak to leave. In the vice president’s address, he gave another piece of important news. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — a group of senior military men headed by General Tantawi at the time — would protect Egypt until elections took place. Protesters turned to them for help with ongoing changes. Removing emergency law was one of the many demands of change from the start. After Mubarak’s resignation, the army had promised to remove the law, but failed to do so.

The hopeful relationship between protesters and the military on February 11th was soon dividing Egyptians in their loyalties and making them doubt the Revolution. Chants of “Down with the army!” would soon replace the chants of “Down with Mubarak!” that had filled Tahrir Square earlier in the year. People began to march against the army’s rule.

Tensions between the military, the police and the people had reached a dangerous point by November 19, 2011. Lining Mohamed Mahmoud Street for five days, the riot police, or Central Security Forces (CSF), stood and blocked the advancement of unarmed protesters. The police threw teargas onto the road and continued to act as a human barricade, blocking the path towards Tahrir Square and the site of the Interior Ministry while the heavy haze of gas stung protesters’ eyes.

Many died during those five days. Doctors who treated the injured said that protesters suffered serious side effects from the use of teargas; either coughing up blood or suffering damage to their nervous systems. Others lost their eyes as a result of snipers’ shots to their heads.

Soon Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo would be known as “The Eyes of Freedom Street”. From north to south, art covered the walls of this street and told stories of loss beside stories of continued hope. Ganzeer also used these walls to help tell these stories and reflect the conscience of the Revolution. Working with other artists, he was determined to paint faces of martyrs of the Revolution. Ganzeer wrote about the project on his blog: “On one hand, the goal is to honour the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt’s struggle for freedom, democracy and equality.”

Many times work like this would be whitewashed under the SCAF’s time in power, but the images would always reappear no matter how many times they were cleared.

***

It’s not like doing graffiti was a totally safe game up to this point.

By the time Morsi had won the elections on June 30, 2012, and the SCAF had relinquished its power to the new president, many felt that the Revolution was coming to an end. In exhibits like “The Virus is Spreading” in October 2012, Ganzeer encouraged people to continue fighting for civil liberties and human rights. He also looked at political, social, cultural and artistic establishments and their misuse of power.

Giving individual willpower over to the will of establishments is something Ganzeer critiques as being the cause of changing opinions about the Revolution, saying, “We are in an obvious phase of pretend-adoption, void of any traces of true change, but just enough of a pretense to put revolutionary fervor to sleep.”

It wouldn’t be long until Morsi’s face appeared next to those of Mubarak and other government and military leaders on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Since July 2013, a counter-revolution between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters has continued. Brotherhood supporters have been rounded up in mass arrests by the SCAF under General el-Sisi — in power once again until the next election.

On May 26, 2011, Ganzeer was a target of the authorities for his art activism. He was arrested for leading Mad Graffiti Weekend — a movement to get artists worldwide to use their art as peaceful protest against injustice by SCAF and other authorities.

“When I was detained,” he begins, “I was welcomed into the office of a high-ranking military officer who offered me a soda and then a Nescafé. They were all eerily nice and I was released on the very same day.”

This is the opposite of recent targeting by the SCAF and authorities of the media, Morsi supporters, and anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Supporters of Morsi have tried to use graffiti as a tool to fight back against what they believe was a coup on July 5, 2013, but they may have another battle to face in the near future. A proposed law wants to make graffiti illegal, where anyone caught doing it will either be fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds (15,967.40 Canadian dollars) or face up to four years in jail.

Regardless of the situation, Ganzeer and other artists continue to use their art as a weapon to fight for change. “One could have easily been charged with plotting against the state with the type of graffiti we’ve been doing, [but] we’ll always try and do what we think is the right thing, even if the government oppresses us.”

Read the original at: markermagazine/paint-tear-gas.

Photo by Dörthe Boxberg.

Shut Down In Egypt: One Artist’s Story Of Struggle And Oppression

DURING THE 2011 REVOLUTION in Egypt (commonly referred to as the January 25th Revolution), artists in Egypt began to express themselves in ways they never had before. Their work caught the world’s attention, inspiring us all to believe in change. Ganzeer was one of those artists whose work covered the walls of Cairo, documenting the spirit of the revolution, supporting its call for “bread, social dignity, and justice.”

Fast forward 3+ years, and artists and revolutionaries in Egypt are facing uncertain times. On May 29, after a two-day election, a new leader — Abdel Fattah-Sisi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — was elected Egypt’s president. Support for SCAF has created divisions between revolutionaries in Egypt, and the leaders of SCAF have often been a focus of Ganzeer’s work.

Today, Egypt is undergoing a counter-revolution driven by the supporters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which believes former President Morsi’s ouster — as demanded by many Egyptians in July 2013 and enforced by the army — was unwarranted. This accusation has led them to be labelled as “terrorists” who are now facing mass trials and much worse. In addition, the government has been widely criticized by human rights groups for the mass arrests of protesters and members of the media.

But the ongoing revolution hasn’t stopped Ganzeer from fighting for positive changes in Egypt’s future. I interviewed him to discuss the role of art in Egypt’s struggles. He also talks about his childhood pleasures and the daily issues he faced as a resident of one of the world’s largest metropolises, Cairo.

***

Ganzeer stands to the left with a friend and fellow artist in front of one of his murals depicting a zombie soldier. Ganzeer has been critical of the role of the army and other groups in power throughout the ongoing revolution. Photo: Abdelrhman Zin Eldin

 

Did you grow up in Cairo and what were some of the best things about growing up in the city? 

Yeah I grew up in Cairo. In a little neighborhood in Heliopolis called Ard El-Golf, which is right behind the abandoned Baron Empain Palace constructed in 1911. Far from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Cairo, or even Egypt’s lifeline: The Nile River. I feel like I never really got a taste of “city life” till much later. Today Ard El-Golf is a go-to hangout area, with many popular cafes, sushi spots, and bridges and tunnels and high cake-like buildings and what have you. But back in the 80s/90s it was pretty much a semi-quite residential neighborhood with many stray dogs befriended by me and other kids my age. My school was around the block and the couple friends I made were in the neighborhood.

I feel like I only really faced the city – understood the scope of the city and all that – when I had to go to college which was in a town called Banha, a 30 minute train ride from Cairo. But I would spend roughly an hour and half in public transportation just to get to the train station. I don’t think I’m a big city kinda guy. I find myself much more comfortable in more intimate communities that are more connected with nature. But don’t get me wrong! I am fascinated by cities, and megacities and how they function. Cairo’s crazy in just the layers of history that are apparent in every facet of the city. The architecture, the food, the conversations, it’s such a culturally rich city but it’s also one that carries a lot of baggage!

What are some of the most important things that are needed for a better quality of living in Cairo and Egypt right now?

First off, about seventy-five percent less people! There’s no way any city on the planet can accommodate [over] twenty million people! The number of people living in Cairo are having such a huge toll on the transportation system, the architecture, the environment. On the urban planning front, the city just can’t keep up – it’s always much, much behind. I’d put most of the development money into the rest of the country’s towns and villages, get people to decentralize and spread out.

Secondly, private cars need to be banned. Of course, it’s difficult to get around a city and spread out in Cairo without a car, but seriously, it’s just out of hand. I understand that it’s easier for the government in the short run to let people buy cars (making money in the process), but in the long run, it becomes unbearable for everyone. The city really needs to ban cars and focus entirely on developing its public transportation options to reach capacity and maintenance.

A view of the Baron Empain Palace built between 1907 and 1911. The architecture was inspired by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and by palaces in India. (Amr Moustafa Shalaby)

A view of the Baron Empain Palace built between 1907 and 1911. The architecture was inspired by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and by palaces in India.
Photo: Amr Moustafa Shalaby

Thirdly, all this stuff should be running on solar energy or electricity or whatever. I’ve seen solar energy panels cladding the roofs of farm houses in freakin’ Germany. GERMANY … it’s cloudy most of the year. But Cairo, the sun shines bright even all winter. It’s just dumb to depend on gas the way we [all] do. It’s the only way if we don’t want our people [in Egypt] to all drop dead and die from lung disease, which by the way, a lot of us already suffer from.

And lastly, water canals. It’s ridiculous to grow up in some part of the city two hours away from the Nile, with no direct access to it and only read about the Nile and its significance in history books. If they expect to teach us the importance of the Nile and our historical connection to it, then whenever a new extension of the city is planned, a Nile artery should be the first thing in that plan. Plus, it would offer a good alternative to getting around the city, much better than overcrowded asphalt roads (which discharge so much heat throughout Egypt’s extended summer months).

Did you ever join the sit-ins in Tahrir or any protest gathering points in Cairo? What was it like for you?

I just so happened to be there on January 25, 2011 when the revolution first broke out and boy it was the most thrilling and exhilarating time of my life. Seeing people band together and sacrifice themselves in the face of armed troops with nothing else but their voices, and all for what? For other people, people they don’t even know, future generations they will never meet. It was such a glorious thing to experience, the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to seeing God or something. Indescribable.

Photo taken by Mostafa Hussein. On his blog on March 16, 2011 Ganzeer wrote this about his project to create murals of martyrs, “The goal is to, on one hand, honor the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt's struggle for freedom, democracy, and equality.” This particular mural depicts 16 year old Seif Allah Mustafa who lost his life during the January 25th Revolution.

On his blog on March 16, 2011 Ganzeer wrote this about his project to create murals of martyrs, “The goal is to, on one hand, honor the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt’s struggle for freedom, democracy, and equality.” This particular mural depicts 16 year old Seif Allah Mustafa who lost his life during the January 25th Revolution. Photo: Mostafa Hussein

When did you first realize that you enjoyed art?

[When] I was about four or five years old. My older brothers had lots of Dungeons and Dragons catalogs, and Nintendo game cartridges, and superhero comic books, and I was just always fascinated by the art in those things and would spend many hours trying to copy them.

What’s the first work you did on the walls of Cairo as part of the Revolution? 

The very first thing I did was not at all planned. Nor was it an artwork at all really. But being in Tahrir Square on January 25th when the revolution broke out, and just so happening to have a can of spray paint, I climbed an NDP (Mubarak’s National Democratic Party) billboard in the middle of Tahrir Square and spray painted what people were chanting “Down with Mubarak”. The crowd erupted with cheers and whistles.

The first “artwork” I created however, was on February 2nd – a black stencil of visual symbols that pretty much visually stated that Mubarak does not equal Egypt. This was after Mubarak’s second public speech since the revolution broke out – a highly emotionally charged one that many, many, people were actually starting to fall for.

A protester holds up one of Ganzeer's stencils on February 11th, 2011. This was the day when Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak's three decade presidency in Egypt had finally come to an end.

A citizen holds up one of Ganzeer’s stencils which expresses that “Mubarak does not equal Egypt” on February 11th, 2011 in Cairo. This was the day when Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that former President Hosni Mubarak’s three decade presidency in Egypt had come to an end. Photo: Ganzeer

Was street art common in any part of Cairo before the revolution? How did people react to it before the Revolution?

Not really. Just a hand-full of rather content-less stuff in Heliopolis and Alexandria [Egypt’s second largest city]. Very cool and pretty to look at but without much meaning to it.

Egyptian jail cells have gained a notoriously bad reputation in the world’s eyes since the Revolution began in January 2011. For your work as a multi-medium artist helping the Revolution you were briefly arrested. Would you be able to tell me about your experience and how it happened?

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to not have to set foot in a jail cell at all. When I was detained, I was welcomed into the office of a high-ranking military officer who offered me a soda and later in the day a Nescafe. They were all eerily very nice and I was released on the very same day.

This design entitled "Evil Military" by Ganzeer references "the girl in the blue bra". After a video was released online during a December 2011 protest, showing the brutal beating of a female protester – whose shirt during the beating was opened, revealing her blue bra underneath – by soldiers, the video became a rallying call for protesters demanding an end to the military's power.

This design entitled “Evil Military” by Ganzeer references “the girl in the blue bra”. After a video was released online during a December 2011 protest, showing the brutal beating of a female protester – whose shirt during the beating was opened, revealing her blue bra underneath – by soldiers, the video became a rallying call for protesters demanding an end to the military’s power.

Read more about Ganzeer’s incident in jail in his own words here.

Much of your work is critical of (SCAF) or establishments – ie. Political, Religious, Art, etc. – that oppose freedom or change and growth. Have you faced a lot of negative reaction to your work by these groups?

All the time. Hardly anything I do is not met with a negative reaction from someone [such as Ibn Salaama].

This work, Tank vs. Biker, is one of Ganzeer’s internationally recognized murals which clearly shows in black and white stenciling his opinion about the relationship between the army and the people. On the left, a huge tank rolls forwards aiming its main gun at a target. A young man riding his bike on the right carries the city on his head in place of a loaf of bread. The Arabic word for bread sounds similar to that for life. Photo: Mehri Khalil

Has the SCAF or any other group in your opinion taken the Revolution away from the people and their goals of gaining “bread, social justice, and dignity”?

Yes. Particularly SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Salafist groups.

How do you feel about the proposed law to ban graffiti in Egypt and send accused artists to jail for four years? Do you fear being a target?

Well, it’s not like the revolution itself was ever legal. It was illegal but we did it anyway. And it’s not like doing graffiti was a totally safe game up to this point either. One could easily have been charged with plotting against the state with the type of graffiti we’ve been doing so y’know… we’ll always try and do what we think is the right thing to do even if the government oppresses us. It’s always been that way anyway.

***

Check out Ganzeer’s website for more of his work: www.ganzeer.com.

For more insight, read my profile piece on his work and the events on Mohamed Mahmoud Street — a street not only recognized for its revolutionary street art but for the stories of struggles that occurred on it: markermagazine.com/paint-tear-gas.

See this interview on Matador Network: matadornetwork.com/change/shut-down-egypt-artist

Photo of Up Close dancer, Nicolas Pelletier by Paul McGrath.

Alexandrous Ballard’s RUIN/TIME: A Review

Ruin/time is a contemporary ballet that will have you struggling to feel calm (a feeling which gets you excited to see where the story will take you from start to finish) as you watch the two dancers before you engage in what seems like a disastrous yet co-dependant relationship, which can fall apart at any given moment. It’s just a matter of when, or, a matter of time. Alexandrous Ballard creates a disturbingly fascinating world where time is heightened and every moment seems crucial as well as necessary, as shadows elongate on the stage walls and colours of blood red, black, and flashes of white light moves you through each phase of this story of “…an artifact, building, or society [descending] into ruin.” But by the end of this performance, danced brilliantly by Kelley McKinlay and Reilley Bell, you realize that the director and the dancers have left you with a work of art that, as you walk away from the theatre, still resonates with you long after the show is done.

Photo of Up Close dancer, Nicolas Pelletier by Paul McGrath.

Photo of Up Close dancer, Nicolas Pelletier by Paul McGrath.

Yukichi Hattori. Photo taken by Paul McGrath.

Up Close: An Extended Interview with Alberta Ballet Choreographer and Dancer, Yukichi Hattori

Yukichi Hattori has been given the great task of changing the way people look at the arts, specifically, the art of ballet. Since graduating from the Hamburg School of Ballet, he has shown audiences across Germany, Japan, and Canada new interpretations on how ballet still has a lot to offer to our lives, not only in terms of cultural enrichment, but also as a resource for looking at how the values of commitment, hard work, and dedication can pay off when continually practiced. Now with his choreography of Temple (one dance from the three-part contemporary ballet, Up Close) being shown in Edmonton, he gives audiences a chance to witness and connect to what the rehearsal environment is like, featuring the men of Alberta Ballet.

Photo of Yukichi Hattori taken by Paul McGrath.

Photo of Yukichi Hattori taken by Paul McGrath.

What is it about the men of Alberta Ballet that brings this performance [of Temple] to life?

The females happen to be always busy. Like two years ago they had Swan Lake to prepare and this year they have Giselle to prepare. So because of that they’re not involved, but it’s not because I’m trying to be exclusive per say [laughs].

It takes two [both the audience and the male dancers] – creative dancers and creative audiences –  being in such [a] close space – you can feel the breath and things like that, that makes it so much more intense. In a bigger stage of course there are things we can do that are different and that touches people in other ways, but in an intimate setting like this, you really feel that you’re having a conversation throughout the performance… I really feel that we [the dancers and the audience] have a nice conversation with each other.

What are you hoping that audiences will take away from this performance [of Temple] in addition to having a conversation with the dancers?

This piece I’ve made is based on our daily training. Unfortunately, in North America there are a lot of people who still think that being a ballet dancer isn’t a real job. Sometimes I still get lots of questions like, “So what do you do during the day?” [Laughs] Yeah, so I have this frustration of people saying that I should get a Master’s degree in Dance or Art and things like that, and just because we didn’t go to a school that is recognized, we get labelled from people who don’t understand what we do. So [Temple] is to show how much concentration and how much discipline goes into ballet. I’m making a piece around that and I’ve combined it with Gregorian chants —which is the oldest style of European music sung by men [a long time ago] and these days there are females involved as well. [The show is] almost a religious environment; we show audiences our bodies are temples and that we have to build it each and every day through discipline and repetition.

In one interview, you mention the ballet scene in Japan is strict because it’s “bound by tradition”. You also refer to your training with the Hamburg Ballet in Germany as being rigorous. So how do both experiences influence the way you’ve chosen to choreograph Temple in Up Close?

Hmm, well I think it was very conservative—both Japan and Germany. You know, in Europe ballet is considered traditional art and as a ballet dancer, you have a very high social status, meaning it comes with great responsibility. You are expected to have a certain amount of knowledge about art and views about policies of art and education. So for myself, I feel a great sense of duty and because the people in North America doesn’t see dancers/artists in such ways quite yet –it’s not as intense as Europe—I feel that dancers here also aren’t as disciplined, but of course they’re working really hard and I’m not trying to disrespect anybody but I’m looking at the mindset which is a little bit different. Sense of duty [towards the arts] is a bit lower here: you dance because you want to do it, because you feel like it’s your calling. For me, it’s more about … [having] to make it as best as possible no matter what the circumstances are.

Ok. So there’s a bit of duty in there, but still your own freedom of expression comes through in what you’ve chosen to present as well?

Yes. We can only attain a certain freedom through proper construction in your body, and architecture in your mind.

Do you think people have responded positively to Up Close in the past [parts of the three ballets that make up the show were also performed in 2012 and 2013] because contemporary ballet relies on experiences from the world we recognize compared to classical ballet?

Definitely! I think what it is, is the setting is ideal for it. The world now is much smaller, so the theatre being smaller also matches with that too. But then again, classic ballet in the studio, it will be a little bit disappointing because you’re missing the point of view, the grand picture, the budget, that kind of stuff. But what I’m trying to say is that if we performed contemporary in a bigger theatre, we’d have to change the approach because you’re missing all those tiny details. So Up Close is I think successful because of the setting being right. That’s why in Edmonton, we’re not presenting it in the big theatre–to keep that intimacy.

So do you see yourself continuing to make contemporary shows like this in the future?

Oh definitely! In Germany, I went to Hamburg Ballet School and they had a choreographic curriculum so I’ve been choreographing since I was say 15. I just started doing it professionally around 2004 but it’s been a long process and it’s been part of my life, so I’ll definitely keep going.

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Take a look at the promotion of Up Close on Marker’s website: http://markermagazine.com/yukichi-hattori-alberta-ballet-choreographer-and-dancer/

The Great Pyramid Expedition. Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

The Photographer who Climbed Egypt’s Great Pyramid [Q&A]

You’ve probably seen the famous black and white Depression-era photo where  construction workers sit on the ledge of a crane with New York City beneath  their feet as they eat lunch. Influenced by the idea of capturing the world from  as high as “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” did, young photographers have been scaling  rooftops to take photos just as memorable.

Vadim Makharov, a young Russian photographer who helped advance this new  trend, sees “roofing” or “skywalking” as a way to make people see how big the  world really is in an age where technology and communication have made it so  conveniently small. He works with fellow photographer and friend Vitaliy  Raskalov, walking on ledges and wandering the underground to give people a view  of the world they may never have seen before. Together, they’ve gained the  media’s attention, in particular for their climb to the top of the Great Pyramid  of Giza in March of 2013.

Some criticized them for disrespecting the site and efforts to preserve it,  while others praised the art that resulted from the climb. Despite the positive  attention, Vadim and Vitaliy still apologized in an interview with CNN, saying  “we didn’t want to insult anyone. We were just following [our] dream.”

As I discovered over the course of this conversation, Vadim will continue to  live his dream, traveling and revealing secret places and unique perspectives of  the world’s iconic sites.

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You recently visited European countries like Sweden, Spain,  Germany, and France. What inspired your recent trip throughout  Europe?

It was not our first visit to Europe, but [Vitaliy and I] haven’t done  such a long-scale trip through Europe before. Our goal was to visit the most  famous places in Europe and to climb them — and we’ve done it.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

You collaborate with Vitaliy on a lot of these projects, from Egypt  to your recent trip to Europe. What’s it like to work with him?

He’s my very good friend. I’ve traveled with him all throughout Russia and  then we started exploring other parts of the world. We achieve better results  when we do photos together than alone.

Do you have a favorite or memorable image you captured from your  trip?

Most of all, I remember Cologne Cathedral and the way we climbed it. We  didn’t like the city very much, but the Cathedral was fantastic! I liked the  size and the architecture. We liked climbing the flagpole [as well], which was a  little more than 150 metres. Another memorable climb was the Sagrada Familia and  also Notre Dame. All together, these three cathedrals made our trip really stand  out.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Many of your photos are “daredevil” shots – pictures taken on the  edges of buildings and iconic landmarks, or even behind subways leaving  underground stations. Why do you take images from this view?

These are the places where people usually don’t go, so I have a chance to  make unique pictures. I have a possibility to show people the city from  different points of view, and underground it’s a completely different story.  Usually it’s hard to get there, but unlike rooftops, which you can see from the  ground, being underground is about what you cannot see — not many people are  aware of these places. In order to get there, you have to work hard and this is  appealing [to me].

Since your photos show perspectives of the world we don’t see too  often, do you think they’re historical records for the future, to remember the  world as it once was?

Perhaps one day, they’ll have some historical significance. But I don’t think  about it now in this way. In my photos — it’s my art. They’re not related in any  way to my points of view on social issues. I just want to show the way that I  visually see the world.

Egypt is one of the places I have always dreamed of visiting. You’ve  had the chance to visit in March of this year, and I think it’s fair to say that  your trip was more memorable than most people who have traveled to Egypt,  because you climbed the Great Pyramid in Giza. What did it feel like to reach  the top?

I dreamed for a long time to be in Giza and to see the pyramids close up.  Then, when I started climbing roofs [of other buildings], I realized I could  climb the pyramids. Why not? When I reached the top, I had a feeling similar to  what a mountain climber must feel, like a conqueror, reaching the top of the  mountain.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Did you find anything interesting at the top?

At the top there were words scratched in the stones in many different  languages. It means others have climbed the pyramids in the past. We are not the  first and won’t be the last. Another interesting thing we found was a book by  Moses Gates — he does a lot of traveling and climbs roofs and goes  underground.

There have been a lot of opinions about your climb [of the Great  Pyramid] — some people admire what you did and the photos you took, while others  criticize you for illegally climbing it. Why did you do it?

First, we did it for us. That’s why we don’t care about the critics. Second,  we do it for the people. We make beautiful shots that are delivered and given to  the world. I don’t think we do anything that can truly be called bad. What we’re  doing [with our photography] is beneficial work.

Have you ever run into trouble trespassing in areas to take your  photos before?

Oh yes, we’ve had some problems with the police. In Russia, we know the  process: Once you trespass on secured property, if [the] police catch you, you  pay a fine of 500 rubles [about 12 euros or 16 US dollars]. But these cases are  rare and usually nobody catches us.

Has this or any negative criticism from the media ever made you think  about stopping or changing the style of pictures you take?

I rarely encounter my work with negative criticism…I take shots from heights  because I like it. But someday in the future I’ll be tired with it. Even now, I  don’t do all my shots from the roof. My second favourite POV is commercial or  industrial plants. I like taking shots of plants, electric stations, and  different manufacturing facilities.

Where would you like to travel to next to take pictures?

Our next trip planned is Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and possibly Afghanistan.

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What are your thoughts about this new photography movement? Do you think it’s ok to break the rules in the name of art? Share your thoughts on this post or comment on my twitter @beckyhaganegyir. I look forward to reading your thoughts and opinions!

Take time to see more of Vadim’s work here: http://500px.com/dedmaxopka

See the original interview here: http://matadornetwork.com/notebook/the-photographer-who-climbed-egypts-great-pyramid-qa/#J0VYzAoMcW8cwT47.99

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Update from February 2014 :

Check out this recent vid of Vadim and Vitaliy’s climb to the top of Shanghai Tower (at over 650 meters!):