I had the pleasure to work with the Métis artist Justin Berger a.k.a. Justice over the past couple months photographing his marvelous mural paintings. Him and I had a chance to talk about some of the issues he tried to capture with his artwork from structural violence, loss of identity to climate change and corporatism. His paintings are incredibly potent - combined with his hard work and talent, he has a crucial message to give out to the world.
If you like to know more about him, here is an interview he's had with CBC a while back:
He also has a well-known mural painted at 96th Street and 105A Avenue in Edmonton.
Day and night, lost and found, between the sea and the land.
I wished you were here with me today.
I longed for your soul as much as your body.
I wanted to tell you jokes and laugh together at the sillyness of our circumstances,
We found ourselves living in.
I wished to hold your hand and not let it go.
We could dream of better days or freeze moments from the past.
You felt so near yet so far away.
Away from your house, your family and your memories.
You were stuck in time,
Neither could travel in the past nor the future.
And I was in that place with you,
Will still be forever waiting.
I wanted to explore the various emotions we wear as masks every day. Emotions can be temporary, subjective or deceiving. They can also have long-term effects and impact how we perceive reality and make daily decisions. They are absolutely a vital part of our lives. However, how we respond to our emotions and handle them in pressing situations is one of the main struggles of human spirit. Emotions distinctly affect human motivation, learning, communication with others, nervous function, and physical acts. One of the most explicit ways to describe them is through colours. Colours respond to emotions and moods intuitively and can alter our state of mind. Through using a series of colours as masks, I held a number of objects representing certain emotions. The images are an interpretation of my personal relationship with both concepts. What emotions do you experience as you look at them?
Masks are a universal cultural link found in most societies all over the world. They represent a silent language that defines the essence of human expressions and emotions at various levels – spiritual, psychological, and material. Behind every mask there is a face and behind that a story. We wear masks on daily basis to filter through our experiences and coexist peacefully in spite of our differences. For some masks are a survival tool used to hide loneliness, failure, anger, shame, or grief. Masks can bring us together or isolate us from each other. In today’s world I believe selfies are the pretend masks of our age. The tradition of expressing the self has become an obsession that surpasses cultures, boundaries, and generations.
11 days ago, after 11 years of living in a foreign country on my own I obtained my Canadian citizenship. For this part of the world it is just a piece of paper. But for someone like me, a minority in her own native country at the center of political chaos, social disruption and discrimination, it means independence, safety, mobility, freedom of expression, respect to human rights and dignity. It means that I can travel wherever I want in the world and proudly introduce myself without any eyes scrutinizing me from head to toe disgracefully. It means that my words will be taken into account and that I won't be pushed to the end of line to get assistance or just to merely ask a question based on my accent or nationality. The sad truth is there are much more tragic stories out there of racism and discrimination happening to people daily ever since they were born. People like you and I are being forced out of their countries and only if lucky some get to visit after decades of separation from family and friends. Refugees are not always the poor, uneducated and the unfortunate in the society. There are many friends that I know who are doctors, journalists, academics, artists, government workers, and people with many other interesting passions and interests looking for a way out of systematic oppression and injustice in their home country. I feel lucky to be part of the Canadian society that values cultural inclusion and diversity. I know things are not perfect here and each place in the world has got their own pros and cons. Though it is time that we celebrate everyday heroes in our community who have made a long way to get where they are now and don't take anything for granted which someone else is fighting for.
My dearest grandma, the shape of my heart. To this day, she continues to amaze me with her perseverance, joie de vivre, humour, curiosity towards all that contain life, and never ending energy. She has been the back bone of the family through decades of storms. She always says that she is afraid of nothing but two things in life: that she is left alone without the loved ones around and that she is left without work because she loves to keep busy and has always been a provider. She is also one of the most enlightened people I have ever known in my life...she might not feel comfortable with changing her daily routine but she is always so eager to learn, visualize, create, and wander. I owe it to her for who I am today...she has taught me the art of storytelling, rebuilding life throughout my biggest struggles, preserving the old, and always embracing the new.
My grandpa is the yin to her yang...they are quite opposite in a lot of ways but complete each other beautifully. His presence always gave me a sense of comfort and safety. He is by far the funniest person you would ever meet. He was and still is the only man who to this day calls me his princess.
This is an ongoing project through which I will be documenting my grandparents' house (Sarah & Rafael Bensuseoglu) and their every day lives. Grandparents are a gift and I am extremely lucky.
Home. What an intriguing word. For some, home is a place where you spend all the days of your lives while counting on many generations passed by and proudly can say you are one of the last standing and never moved away. I moved out of home - in my case city and country - when I was eighteen. I left a family, a broken heart, tons of friends, and a city full of living memories behind. Leaving your culture takes something away from you. It strips the very attachments you feel in everyday life as the familiar reflection you are used to seeing all your life starts to fade away when looking at the mirror. First you think you sound funny with the accent, you are somehow always left out by how things work, then you start to scrutinize everyone around you based on your cultural equilibrium: your so-called values, traditions, mindset and all the survival-kit experiences you have brought along from a perhaps less developed country. It takes you many years to realize that you don't have to be in a constant anxiety mode all the time over your safety, basic needs, and concerns about future. You somehow become more "civilized" by managing to distance yourself from the battlefield called "home" and rather try to focus on opportunities for personal growth and contentment. Your days start to look like a crossword puzzle to be solved everyday. You live with a sense of wonder and excitement as you are always presented with an overwhelmingly number of choices to make. Still you always tend to carry a very discomforting heart as to when you will be seeing your family next and ask yourself all types of "what if" questions...playing typical immigrant mind games.
Istanbul, my home is a city full of many faces, mixed identities, opposing beliefs, unifying humour and never-ending melancholy. It is like a bad romance or a love-hate relationship in which you constantly lose yourself while trying to stay as objective as you can to be able to see the bigger picture of the world. Istanbul is for lovers as much as Paris is. Istanbul is also for fanatics, extremists, political rebels, and revolutionaries. Istanbul, all in all, is a beautiful woman with at least 1,500 years of history, tradition, dialogue and dignity. If the walls of the city could talk it would describe life in three words: forgive, forget, and move on.
Sailing to Byzantium
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.