Tagged: Canada

Schoolin’ Life: Gisele Jobateh

In the final installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator Gisele Jobateh.

Gisele Jobateh

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
Being a queer person of colour society left me feeling generally negative about myself. Add on to that a bunch of body image issues and it was a rough couple of decades for me. My skills were usually questioned or downplayed, as well as my intelligence. Thankfully, I did get to meet some people who helped me through these stigmas: high school teachers and the few long lasting friends that made sure I knew I was valued.

What was your first job like?
It was fast-paced and tiring. I worked as a camp assistant for local art summer camps for children. But this summer job did teach me patience, to an extent, as well as being around minds that engaged with things with complete earnestness and interest (if you could keep their attention on the task at hand, of course).

In what ways did your friendships change?
Over time, I stopped making friendships based on social survival and instead on actual common interests. The amount of abusive friends I had diminished greatly when I started to recognize my worth and dropped anyone who tried to diminish it in my eyes through “playful” bullying and name calling, especially of the racial kind.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
I learned that I don’t like cis men, and that I am decidedly gay. Also, that I would rather be alone than with someone who I didn’t like out of some sort of romantic necessity.

How did your relationships with your family change?
I’ve become a little more open to understanding them and recognizing that they have their own private lives. As I grew up, I saw them more as individuals who are learning and growing themselves, instead of as a unit that I was also a part of. I am still close to my family, but there’s also a comfortable distance between us.

How do you feel society viewed you?
Generally negatively, considering the demographics I am a part of. I feel you can gauge your place in society based on how grating you find advertisements, and I’m pretty much the mirror image of the kind of customers most corporations want to appeal to, especially since I no longer desire to change myself to fit that image.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?
I think I’ve become calmer. I still have bad days where I get anxious, but it’s no longer to the point that I’m incapacitated by it. I also like to think I’ve matured emotionally.

How did you change intellectually?
I’ve shifted away from book smarts and more towards people smarts. I’ve gotten better at interacting with people socially, sometimes even volunteering to meet new people and even do public speaking. In the past, I’d much rather be the person doing the behind the scenes work, mainly research, or nothing at all, just watching and learning.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
In many ways. I feel more self-confident, as much as the world around me tries to bring me down. I’ve gotten out of the habit of asking for permission to seek out my ambitions and happiness.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
As much as my inner confidence has grown, my confidence with the outer world has diminished. I feel slightly more jaded than I did when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I still have some hope for the future, but it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that the people in power got their power by cheating, and they will keep it with more cheating. It’s frustrating to think about.

Who was your biggest influence and why?
There wasn’t just one influence on my life or my drive towards success. My mom is a big one, of course. I’ve known her all my life, and although we’ve had a couple of rough patches, I still see her as an inspiration.

My former Media Studies teacher from back in high school, who taught me the foundations of critical thinking, was also a big influence. Her classroom was always open and she let me hang out in it during lunch because I preferred quiet, secluded places to eat. She leant me a lot of books and even gave me a couple, believing in my intelligence. I would return most of them thoroughly read and we would have short book club meetings about them.

And then there was my high school English teacher, who was a black woman and helped me connect better with one half of my race. She taught me about the past and present civil rights movements, and although I didn’t understand the importance of these lessons at the time, looking back she gave me a very important foundation upon which I am now building myself up.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I often tweet about my regret of going to university at all and wasting all that money on tuition, considering that I’ve been developing a skill that can be self taught and is my main source of income. But even though I feel silly for sinking 30K and 5 years of my life into two degrees, I can’t fully regret it, considering it is what has made me the person I am today. I like what I had become.

Schoolin’ Life: Fiona Smyth

In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator/painter/cartoonist Fiona Smyth.

fiona smyth at 24 and now

Quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a feminist artist whose practice includes drawing, painting, illustration, and cartooning. I’m into zine collecting, comics, and snacking! I teach illustration and cartooning at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) and the Art Gallery of Ontario. I’m the illustrator in collaboration with writer and sex educator Cory Silverberg for the picture book What Makes A Baby and the newly released follow-up Sex Is A Funny Word from Seven Stories Press. My first graphic novel, The Never Weres, was published by Annick Press in 2011.

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I graduated art school in 1986 but I was already exhibiting my paintings the year before. My expectations were to spread my work internationally and live off my art. I managed to establish myself as an artist, illustrator, and cartoonist in Toronto and get a bit of a reputation beyond Canada.  Sometimes there were day jobs and there was a brief stint on welfare.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I was inspired by what was happening in New York City’s Lower East Side’s art scene- fast creators and ever present artists like Keith Haring. Toronto was a real boys’ club in art and comics. I knew as a woman artist (in Toronto and beyond) I was an exception and so was the content of my work/what I had to say. I was creating sexy, in your face, colourful work. I was driven to show my work often, and also outside the gallery system through posters, murals, clothing, and zines.

What was your first job like?

My very first job ever was when I was 15 at a deli/café named Sweet Gallery but later in my twenties my day job was working the candy counter and ticket sales at a repertory cinema. I was doing illustration commissions, painting clothes and murals, and making comics during the day. I worked with Reactor Art & Design for illustration, Vortex Comics, and Weller-Potovsky Gallery in Toronto.

What was your first apartment like?

I lived in the basement of a student rented house. There were at least 4 other roomies. I had a studio at the time that was shared with 3 other artists. At some point I decided to get a cat, which the roomies were not psyched about.

Did you experience any big life changes?

My family moved to Nova Scotia and I was on my own for the first time in Toronto. It was a much bigger adjustment than I realized- freedom but also dealing with emotional issues.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I knew a lot of people but had a handful of close friends. I got into a bad habit of finding “surrogate parent” friends, or troubled and depressed folks like myself. There were many bad decisions in relation to friends, living situations, and partying during those days.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

There weren’t romantic ones until I met my partner (of now 23 years) when I was 28.  Before Craig Daniels entered my life, it was drug addicts, alcoholics, and genuine jerks- territory that was familiar.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Distance and time helped me build healthier boundaries and self-esteem (plus the stability and support of my relationship with Craig, and therapy).

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a woman artist society tends to judge your work in relation to what you look like in a way that doesn’t happen to male artists. When I was younger, folks were often surprised by my demeanour in relation to the sexy, violent, outrageous content of my work and they also made assumptions because I was a punk rocker. I find now as an older artist, folks are surprised I don’t look like a punk rocker. I can’t win!

Also you can be pigeonholed as a particular kind of artist- for example for years I’d have art directors say something like: “We love your work but we don’t want erect penises or flaming vaginas in this kids’ illustration” –well, duh!

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

At the time I was making bad decisions and acting out in ways I wouldn’t understand until years later. I’ve gained understanding and empathy for my younger self since then.

How did you change intellectually?

When I first made a name for myself as an artist I was afraid of the F word. I would call myself a humanist. That didn’t last long, I am a feminist artist and fiercer about that stance the older I get. Personal experience and feminism opened my eyes.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I discovered my art acted like an alter ego and that was an okay way to deal with being in the world.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

My worldview was becoming more and more fatalistic, especially with the occurrence of family illness.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Apart from not calling myself a feminist for a time? Being 15 minutes late for a friend’s wedding for which I was the “best man”.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

There was a chance I might have gone to NYC as part of a studio residency. For many years an established artist teacher/mentor of mine would bemoan the fact I hadn’t gone but in retrospect I often think of it as missing a bullet not an opportunity. I needed the stability and slowness of Toronto to discover my healthiest self and my visual voice. I think I would have been burnt out on drugs and the fast pace of NYC, I don’t think my 20’s self would’ve survived.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Punk rock and hip hop DIY culture (this was pre-Riot Grrrl and Queercore) which taught me to be wary of the establishment, not give a fuck, and promote and disseminate my work outside the gallery system. Keith Haring showed the way in creating populist iconic work fast and effectively, and including social justice themes. He taught me the personal is political, and can be accessible and universal.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

The murder of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989: I remember hearing the news, being in denial thinking they were murdered because they were engineering students- and having the nauseating realization they were murdered because they were women.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I wish I’d done more comics- I pursued art more fervently but comics travel in the world better.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I had some adventures in Detroit- showing art, and visiting with Craig and his band, The Leather Uppers. The grit and rawness of this dystopic American city was juxtaposed with an amazing music scene (The Gories). This culture was at its most punk and resilient, grounded by broken glass and burning cars.

Dame of the Day: Kaltouma Nadjina

Kaltouma Nadjina

Today’s Dame of the Day is Kaltouma Nadjina (November 16, 1976-). As a student, Nadjina showed promise as a sprinter; when she got older, a grant from the International Olympic Committee allowed her to leave her native Chad and move to Canada to train full-time. Nadjina holds the Chadian records for the 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters.

Schoolin’ Life: Annie Koyama

In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet publisher Annie Koyama.

Annie-1

 

Photo credit: Robin Nishio

Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a publisher of alternative comics, art books and zines in Toronto, Canada. I love working with and promoting emerging artists as well as more established artists. I am trying to curb my workaholic ways by taking at least one day a week off to appreciate nature and bad movies with my fantastic partner.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I was probably too busy just trying to get by since I’d left home during high school. Although I had already ruled out social work after doing some volunteer probation officer work, I was hoping to find some work in the arts. I was enjoying being a set painter for the National Ballet of Canada and Canadian Opera Company.

 In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I was the eldest of six kids and a visible minority. There was an expectation to excel for sure.

What was your first job like?

My first job when I was of legal working age was in a women’s clothing store in a suburban mall. I certainly didn’t fit in as the store sold spongy, synthetic clothing to middle-aged women. Customers would pee in the dressing room wastebaskets and I’d have to take the wastebaskets downstairs down a long, dark corridor to get to the washrooms. I was making some of my own clothing at that time so needless to say, I never used my employee discount.

What was your first apartment like?

I left home during high school and found a roommate to rent a cheap two bedroom apartment in a mixed industrial/residential area of town. I had to take two buses to school. The two most lasting impressions were that I learned to co-exist with cockroaches and silverfish. And the local cookie factory was nearby so there was a sickeningly sweet smell to the whole area all the time. To this day, I can’t eat those cookies.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I finished University, where I studied arts, languages and criminology; then I got a chance to travel with my sister and a friend of my father’s in Europe. I discovered that social work was not for me, which saddened me, but at least I could move on. I discovered that while I am a competent painter, I was not a really creative painter. However, I got a job at the National Film Board of Canada, which turned out to be my entrance into the world of film production. I loved working in film and felt as though I had found my niche. I’ve stumbled into virtually every job I’ve had in my life. My 20s was the decade where I tried out jobs in different professions allowing me to eliminate the ones that were not for me. However, being an A-type, decisive personality and a person who didn’t want to do a job unless I could excel in it, I was pretty merciless in terms of evaluating my skills.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I kept in touch with some friends from university, but there was no social media in the 80s so some people fell by the wayside when I met new groups of friends. People moved away for jobs afterwards and it was harder to keep in touch.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Whoo boy! What didn’t I learn? I learned that I’m good at cutting my losses in general which has helped me in other parts of my life. I often felt like the protagonist of “My Brilliant Career.” I turned down a few marriage opportunities that decade.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Growing up, I was close to several of my siblings, partly because, with six kids, we had to share bedrooms but having a bit of distance wasn’t a bad thing either.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I definitely experienced racism and sexism from an early age, but you have to begin to think about how you are going to engage with others during those instances. Being one of two female set painters and feminists in a union shop full of men was challenging but once I was able to prove myself as the job involved quite a bit of physical labor, things leveled off a bit. In North America, we tend to be viewed by what our profession or job is. It’s a narrow view and it’s always bothered me that there is more to people than what they do for a living.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

Because no job I’ve ever had was planned, I just stumbled into a variety of kinds of work. I guess you have to keep growing as you take on new challenges but I don’t recall that much changed emotionally. I feel as though I grew much more emotionally in my 30s.

How did you change intellectually?

As an avid reader and one who mostly enjoyed school, I had to continue to go from book smart to street smart. When you have the safety net of a tight family, you may be protected from making more mistakes. On your own, you fall more often but if you learn from each fall, I think you get smarter in a way that is more valuable. I still feel that you should surround yourself with people who you believe to be smarter than you in as many disciplines as possible. You can’t help but learn from them.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

As an eldest child in a large family, I always felt that I had to lead the way. I felt an affinity to the arts and figured that I’d somehow end up working in some art-related job as it was where some of my skills lay. What I didn’t notice consciously was that my organizational skills were becoming strong and that basis has served me in everything I’ve done since. I certainly became way more independent in my 20s.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

It’s difficult to avoid becoming cynical when you see injustice around you. I’m not a born optimist, so it’s really easy to become disillusioned by the shitty state of the world. Both my parents were interned during WW2 and their families lost everything they had and had to build again from scratch in a hostile environment. It would be easy to carry a chip on your shoulder after that kind of traumatic experience but, to their credit, they chose to go on with life. That kind of fortitude influenced how I try to endure the terrible things that take place in the world.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Since none stand out, there must have been too many of them!

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

Probably realizing that I wasn’t destined to become a really good painter. That experience taught me to move on and not look back.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

I didn’t really have one in my 20s. I was certainly inspired by writers as disparate as Doris Lessing, E.M. Forster, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Yukio Mishima, John Knowles, P.G. Wodehouse, Fritjof Capra and John Berger. My mom was a music lover and took us to concerts even when we were pretty young, she instilled a love of music that I’m sure all of my siblings carry today.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

Maybe the beginning of the AIDS crisis. I lost many friends to AIDS related deaths. It was unexpected, confusing and unbearably sad.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I try not to look back but sometimes I wonder what would have transpired had I’d accepted a scholarship to a university arts program that was offered. I will always regret not travelling more due to lack of funds. You could travel pretty cheaply back then. I wasn’t as comfortable travelling alone then and if you waited for a friend, it wouldn’t happen.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

They’d all involve sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, so nothing original, sadly.

Dame of the Day: Kenojuak Ashevak

Kenojuak Ashevak

Today’s Dame of the Day is Kenojuak Ashevak (October 3, 1927 – January 8, 2013). After Christian converts murdered her father, Ashevak and her family took over his hunting and fur trading business. While her relatives taught her traditional crafts, Ashevak became one of the first Inuit women to draw extensively. Her work appeared on Canadian stamps, coins, and even in the form of a stained glass window.

Dame of the Day: Leila Josefowicz

Leila Josefowicz

Today’s Dame of the Day is Leila Josefowicz (October 20, 1977-). Josefowicz began studying the violin at age eight. As a teen, she juggled high school homework and college coursework with a rigorous touring schedule. While she mastered the classics, Joseforwicz championed contemporary works by Adams, Knussen and Adès. In 2008, Joseforwicz received the MacArthur Fellowship for her experimental efforts.

Schoolin’ Life: Vicky Wu

For today’s Schoolin’ Life, we check in with the awesome Vicky Wu.

Your Body LoRez

I’m not sure how I made it through my twenties. Scratch that, I know too well: lots of drinking, lots of pot, lots of cigarettes. It’s actually quite boring, the story of my self-medication. Nothing too crazy, no hitting rock bottom, just lots of lonely nights trying to numb away the pain. Sorry for being so morose, and I promise that I’m not just going to whinge about being miserable. But I’m hoping that I’m not the only who feels incredibly alienated by inspiring stories of perseverance against all odds. Actually, there’s no reason the story of my twenties shouldn’t be inspirational.

If I allow myself to admit it, which unfortunately I’m not good at doing, I can recognize that it took a hell of a lot of strength to go through everything I went through, and that I can still draw on that strength. I’m so much more comfortable with myself now than I was in my teens. Then, I was a shy math nerd living in the suburbs of a conservative area of Canada, a not-yet-lapsed Catholic who listened to classical music, someone who dreaded gym class, and didn’t think much about politics. I didn’t really have anyone I could talk to about anything that was important to me. Now I’m a literature scholar who’s lived in New York City for almost ten years, who’s more or less atheist, more or less Marxist, who’s not exactly gregarious, but who definitely isn’t shy.

I’ve met tons of smart, funny, sensitive people, including a few stars (at least within the academic world). I have friends I love fiercely. I know tons of obscure things about art, literature, philosophy, history, and music. I’ve run miles, marathons, and ultramarathons, faster and farther than I dreamt would be possible. However, I’m not the total opposite of my teenage self. Even at that time, I desperately wanted an aesthetic, literary education, and I still think math is pretty cool and would definitely consider myself a nerd. What was so hard about all of this? I’ve avoided talking about my biggest life change, which I’ve done partly I’d rather see myself, and have other people see me, as the person I’ve just described than somebody who’s thought of primarily for what I’m about to talk about. When I entered my twenties, I was–it feels strange to say this–male. Lots of trans folks say that for as long as they can remember, they knew that their body didn’t match their self-image. Not me. It took years.

Up until my teens, I never thought of myself as anything but a boy. Once I hit high school, I knew that there was something different about me, so I assumed I must be gay or bisexual. I remember trying to see guys as sexually desirable, which worked to some extent, since my sexual orientation is fairly flexible. (Isn’t most peoples’?) By the time I was in undergrad, I started feeling really awkward in social situations. With guys, I felt uncomfortable; with girls, I felt more comfortable, although I was constantly aware of not being one. Growing up, the only trans people I was aware of were the ones on mass media–crazy freaks (and not in a good way), drag queens, and tragic, isolated figures. The image I had was of a miserable-looking middle-aged frump wearing way too much make-up and a hideous dress. I had no idea that trans people could be cool, intelligent, attractive, politically enlightened.

By the time I was in my early twenties, I had begun identifying as queer and began seeing myself as feminist. I grew out my hair, always had my nails painted, and carried around a leopard print bag that had a picture of a smirking cat with “Pussy Power” written around it. Liberating as this was, feminists, lesbians, and gay men can be even more transphobic than society at large. People who got “sex changes” were just self-delusional gay men with a conservative and binaristic view of gender. A fairly major feminist academic, for example, wrote this in 1994: “At best the transsexual can live out his [sic] fantasy of femininity–a fantasy that in itself is usually disappointed with the rather crude transformations effected by surgical and chemical intervention.”

One day a friend of one of my roommates stopped by our apartment and said she’d just come back from a trans feminist workshop. This was an eye-opener. So being trans meant you could be pro- and not anti-feminist? You could be a trans woman (not a transsexual) and lesbian? I often think about how much easier it would have been to figure this out if the internet was better developed. I could have just googled “transgender” and I’d have been able to get non-phobic, non-sensationalized information. As it was, I finally began transitioning at 23, which I guess is still pretty young. I was 24 when I moved to New York for grad school, and it’s that first year that I’m really not sure how I made it through. At that stage, not too long after hormones and before I got my face lasered, it was obvious I was trans. I got harassed on the street pretty much every time I stepped outside. I was pointed at, laughed at, confronted, occasionally threatened. The only member of my immediate family who accepted me post-transition was my brother, and he was in Singapore. I didn’t know anybody in New York. I was totally strapped for cash and there was a delay in processing my student loans. Besides starting grad school, I was teaching two English composition classes, a workload which I would still find burdensome, and I had zero teaching experience. I cried a lot that year.

By the time I was in my late 20s, I was “passing” most of the time, and the biggest complication from being trans (the gift that keeps on sucking, I like to call it) was wondering if, when, and how to tell people I was trans, which for most people wasn’t much of a question since I could just not talk about it and everything would be fine. I cut down on drinking, and quit smoking. I presented at a few pretty major academic conferences, and had an article accepted for publication. You could have told the young me that things would get better, and you would have been absolutely right.

Nevertheless, the last thing I want to do is make this into an “It Gets Better” narrative. I’m glad that the project exists, but I think it’s also incredibly problematic. The major critiques that I’ve heard are first, that for many queer folks, especially trans folks of color, “it” simply doesn’t get better, and second, if “it” gets better, it doesn’t happen because your situation magically improves, but because of hard decisions you’ve had to make, hard work you’ve done. It’s only quite recently, though, that I’ve been able to put my finger on why telling somebody that things will get better can make them feel worse. A book I’m reading now suggests that optimism can involve “a disavowal of what’s unbearable.” The U.S., I find, is a pretty optimistic place. Telling somebody things will get better can just be a way of expressing one’s inability to process the negativity of that person’s position, and the person who’s being given optimistic advice can feel like since their position is unbearable to other people, they themselves are unbearable. I think when age comes into the picture, it-gets-better-ism can become even more damaging. Obviously, a teen who gets told that it will get better might feel patronized.

However, for so-called grown-ups, queer or not, I believe there’s a tremendous pressure to feel like it has gotten better, and that if it hasn’t, then it’s your own damn fault. So when I say that drinking myself stupid was what got me through tough times, it’s not that I necessarily recommend that as a coping mechanism, but I do want to acknowledge the genuine shittiness of the situation when things–people, family members, institutions, employers, media personalities, religions, strangers, academics–are actively or passively involved in making your life worse. What’s gotten better for me is that at least now I know a few people who are capable of recognizing that shittiness instead of blaming you for not being optimistic.

Dame of the Day: Elodie Ghedin

Elodie Ghedin

Today’s Dame of the Day is Elodie Ghedin (1967-). As an expert in molecular parasitology, Ghedin hopes to find cures for diseases like sleeping sickness, elephantiasis and river blindness. In 2011, she became a MacArthur Fellow.

Meera Sethi: Upping the Aunty

It’s a cloudy Tuesday in NYC, so to brighten the day, we turned our attention to Meera Sethi’s “Upping the Aunty” project. Typically, street style blogs cater to a young audience and highlight youthful subjects. Flip through photos from New York Fashion Week and you’ll find the representation of older fashion plates to be rather sparse.

Sushma Aunty, Toronto, Canada

Sushma Aunty, Toronto, Canada (Meera Sethi)

Sethi, on the other hand, recognizes that many women receive their first exposure to fashion through these older generations. The New Delhi-born, Toronto-based artist explains that in South Asian culture, children refer to friends of their mothers’ as “aunty,” a term of reverence and respect.

Maya Aunty, Toronto, Canada

Maya Aunty, Toronto, Canada (Meera Sethi)

“Upping the Aunty” is a collaborative photo series dedicated to honoring these women and their important impact on the generations that look up to them. Not only do aunties serve as style icons, but they are also confidants, mentors, and friends.

Gita Aunty, Mumbai, India

Gita Aunty, Mumbai, India (Meera Sethi)

In addition to snapping photos, Sethi encourages women from all over to submit photos of their aunties and contribute to the narrative. How beautiful!

Bhoopi Aunty, Toronto, Canada

Bhoopi Aunty, Toronto, Canada (Meera Sethi)

To check out more of Meera’s photos or to submit one of your own, visit her Tumblr or check out her website.