Exhibition commemorates courageous racialized women from Toronto

Mar 16, 2023 | Culture, Life

The Women of Courage Project: All of Our Stories exhibition is commemorating the stories and experiences of racialized immigrant women across Toronto this spring.

The project was created by CultureLink, a community organization that focuses on connecting cultures to build stronger communities. Their services and programs are catered towards refugees, youth and seniors.

The organization’s Anti-Racism Action program held a storytelling workshop in which 75 per cent of its participants were women.

Through conversation and collaboration among the women came the inspiration to create the organization’s first-ever Women of Courage art exhibition with plans to tour gallery spaces across Toronto this spring.

The exhibition started its tour at Todmorden Mills Heritage Site in Toronto on Feb. 15 and will be making stops at the Scarborough Museum and Gibson House Museum before ending at Montgomery’s Inn on June 4.

Christina Chu, the manager of special programs for CultureLink, said they were impressed with the stories the women were creating, and thought the exhibition would be a great way to inspire women.

Chu said a great deal of outreach work was done in order to connect with the women who wished to share their stories.

“We had gone to arts community centres, unions, non-profit organizations, and immigrant-serving organizations, that’s how we brought all these folks together,” she said.

The exhibition is composed of four installations that showcase various aspects of the artist’s experiences.

One of the installations was the Women of Courage Mosaic Film.

The film features interviews of the artists discussing their experiences with migration, the struggles they’ve had to overcome, as well as their victories throughout their lives.

The film was produced and edited by Henry Mak. He was assisted by Alana Beyonce, Massuco Ricalde, Zohra Safari, Fabiola Escalante and Esther Mbabane, all of which are youth artists.

Various sound installations are also on display to provide viewers a peek into the women’s sonic memories.

Artist Carmen Gao’s sound installation tells a three-generation family story of the past and present.

Gao’s sound piece starts with the voice of her father giving a speech at her wedding in 1994. It then transitions into the sound of a sewing machine where her fashion-designer daughter, Benita, is sewing her newly-designed pair of pants. The story then moves along to the voices of Gao and her son practicing the lines for his next audition.

Gao’s story, along with the other sound installations can be found on CultureLink’s website and on the SoundCloud page.

Another artwork display was the Land Acknowledgement installation, which was created to reflect the women’s understanding of settlement on Indigenous land.

The last installation is the Wall of Grievances, a wall filled with written stories, paintings, photographs and other forms of artwork that voice the oppression, racism, loss, homesickness, and victories that the artists have experienced.

One of the stories on the wall was written by Rabia Qoraishi. It details the tale of a pregnant woman’s experience taking the TTC to go to her English class in the evenings.

Beside the story stands a photograph of a TTC bus stopped at a street intersection on a winter night in the city.

The stark image beside the story brought to life the dangerous realities that pregnant, immigrant women face while trying to navigate new settings at vulnerable moments in their life.

Chu said the exhibition is not only a way for the women to voice their experiences, but for deeper, intergenerational work to be done.

“The creation of this opportunity is important for intergenerational work to allow understanding to happen between generations and remove regrets,” she said.

Chu said the project gave the women the opportunity to find themselves again and move forward.

“Some women who have been writing put their pens down for many years to deal with life, now they are able to pick the pen up again,” she said.

Chief Executive Officer of CultureLink’s Settlement and Community Services, Jemima Sabapathy, said in a statement the exhibition allows racialized immigrant women to come together in a safe space to understand each other’s experiences in Canada.

Sabapathy wishes the exhibit will create discussion surrounding racism and discrimination.

“We hope that their personal stories will spark self-reflection and dialogue around racism, discrimination and inclusion, issues that touch all persons in Canada,” she said.