This post is contributed by UFV Bachelor of Computing Information Systems student Prabhjot Kaur.
Racism is a pandemic too! #BLM
I am an international student enrolled in the Bachelor of Computer Information Systems program at UFV. I am currently involved in a work-study position focused on web design and community engagement with CityStudio Abbotsford. Part of my work includes shadowing a new art project centered on the Black Lives Matter social movement.
Being part of this project gives me a sense of peace and inspires me to be more involved in the community.
We’re all living through the COVID-19 pandemic, but another age-old pandemic is racism. If people have to fight for equality even today, then all the massive developments in this world are useless. We need to work on our basics. With that perspective in mind, the CityStudio Abbotsford team along with two UFV professors, Shelley Stefan and Cherie Enns, are working with four local artists and a cultural mentor to paint canvas art that will spread awareness of the Black Lives Matter message. The project is entitled The BLM Social Justice Art Project. All four artists are coming together from various backgrounds to show their support for Black Lives, and all are representing the BIPOC community. The idea is to send this message to the community through creativity. Everyone is putting a lot of effort into bringing this project to life. It’s not just a project but these are the feelings and emotions of people which these artists will portray. The artwork is being created and will be displayed in virtual CityStudio HUBBUB in April 2021. A live launch of the four-canvas exhibit is anticipated to take place in early summer.
The four BIPOC artists bring their own unique perspectives to this project.
Michelle Msami is a UFV student and an Abbotsford-based artist. Born and raised in Botswana, Africa, she completed her GCSE in 2016, and then went on to graduate from the International Baccalaureate diploma program at Westwood International School in 2018. While at Westwood, Michelle explored conceptual art, shaping her as an artist in how and what she uses to make art. Her works and sketches are an exploration of the shadow selves. Using acrylic paint, she incorporates collage and layers of oil paint, glitter, and graphite. She likes to explore multiple ways of making art look real, from short and quick strokes to well-blended hues, shadows, and highlights. She does not research or plan her works often, but appreciates the spontaneous flooding of ideas that come to her. While creating, she likes to remove herself from art, so only the art exists. When she dissociates, she becomes a tool for art to create itself. It feels like she is collecting the emotions and the messages from the outside, with no biases.
Bangladeshi born Faria Firoz is studying in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at UFV. She has completed her Advanced Levels in Arts and Design from Cambridge International Examinations. Faria is a contemporary realist painter whose art practice deals with culture and identity. She has participated in numerous art exhibitions over the past few years. Her painting “Hurricane” is published in the Hebrew Learning for 8th Graders. She has designed multiple book covers for Ruddur Publications and is currently working on children’s book illustrations.
Rain Neeposh is a two-spirit, Cree artist. His family moved from the Eeyou Istchee, to Secwepemcúl’ecw where he was raised as a member of the Williams Lake First Nation surrounded by wild animals and boreal forest. He comes from a family of Indigenous artisans, and the bead-working he learned from his grandmother is how he celebrates and continues that legacy. He is bringing that traditional knowledge to his paintings.
Dona Park is an artist and graphic designer living in Abbotsford, BC. Born in South Korea, she grew up living in between Canada and the United States and working internationally. Park also works intensively on art for peacebuilding initiatives in Cambodia as a Creative Peacebuilding advisor. She pulls artistic inspiration from personal and cross-cultural experiences, particularly from interactions with nature and women from all over the world. Most of her illustrations capture a magical element and strength of youth, women, and nature from everyday moments to envisioning hope for humanity. Whether it is heartbreak, unexpected periods, or self-evaluation of our stretch marks, Park enjoys exploring her own effervescent and ephemeral youth and adulthood.
Desirée Dawson — Cultural Mentor, Black Lives Matter Social Justice Art Project
Desirée Dawson is a queer recording artist, songwriter, producer, and yoga teacher from Vancouver, BC. Desirée is passionate about music’s role in collective healing, and encourages listeners to find a connection within themselves, the people, and the land around them. A CBC radio favorite, Desirée has been featured on numerous CBC programs.
“I am honoured to be a mentor for the BLM Social Justice Art Project at UFV. I am very passionate about art’s role in social change and social justice. I believe that big changes come when we amplify BIPOC stories and creations and create space for the complexities of BIPOC healing, rage, joy, growth, and more. As someone who grew up in the Fraser Valley, I am very aware of the racism that still exists here. I feel hopeful that this project and these talented artists will be a beautiful way to shed light on diverse stories and experiences and most importantly, to empower BIPOC humans here in the Fraser Valley and globally! My hope is to offer open and honest support with my unique perspective and to learn from these gifted artists!”
Along with supporting this project, Desirée will be meeting with the UFV Social Geography 241 class to share her insights on the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Students from this class will be writing blog posts on social justice art and placemaking.
Desirée’s songs are in regular rotation and she was the recipient of the CBC Searchlight contest in 2016. Her single All In premiered on Billboard Pride and was featured in an episode of Wynonna Earp, in August 2020. Her most recent single, To Be Me is available on all major streaming platforms and is a song about self-empowerment and reclaiming our identity during difficult times. Desirée was born, raised and is currently residing in “Vancouver” on the traditional, unceded lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓ əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl ̓ ilwətaɁɬ / sel ̓ íl ̓ witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations, and can often be found sharing her music internationally. Whether performing solo with her baritone ukulele, in harmony with her band, or leading sound-healing workshops, Desirée’s music is made to get us feeling and healing.
Shelley Stefan — Art Mentor for the Black Lives Matter BLM Social Justice Art Project
Shelley Stefan (she+they) is an artist and associate professor of Painting, Drawing, and Community Arts Practice at UFV. Born in Chicago and a member of the LGBTQI2+ community, Shelley has taught Visual Arts at the university for more than 15 years and believes art is a tool for social change and a vehicle for social and poetic justice. They are Standing Committee Chair for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Human Rights in the UFV School of Creative Arts (SoCA) as well as a member of the UFV Race and Antiracism Network (RAN), the UFV Senate, and the UFV President’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Stefan lives, works, and makes art on the traditional territory of the Stó:lō people and neighbouring Scowlitz, Leq’á:mel, and Sts’ailes First Nations. They are dedicated to centering the voices of BIPOC artists and are participating as an artist mentor for the Black Lives Matter BLM Social Justice Art Project at UFV. The artwork is being created now and will be displayed in a virtual CityStudio HUBBUB in April 2021. The live launch of the four-canvas exhibit is anticipated to take place in early summer.