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Concordian Ashley Raghubir wins 2020 Canadian Art writing prize – Concordia University News



Concordia Master of Art History student Ashley Raghubir is the winner of the 2020 Canadian Art Writing Prize.

Raghubir’s award-winning essay explores the depiction of water and air in the works of Afrofuturist artist Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum and the poet Nathaniel Mackey. The Paris Review literary magazine recently featured both Phatsimo Sunstrum and Mackey.

“I was thinking about water; I was thinking about air and breath. And I was writing this essay toward the end of June, so I was very much thinking about George Floyd’s death,” Raghubir says.

“Nathaniel Mackey was responding to Eric Garner’s death in 2014, who uttered the same words about being unable to breathe.”

Raghubir notes that there is a deeply sad series of connections in this portfolio.

“My essay was thinking about those ideas and incorporating different theorists and writers and other poets whose work informed my master’s research.”

A different take on the Middle Passage

Artist and writer Gelare Khoshgozaran, a member of the prize jury, described Raghubir’s writing in a press release for Canadian Art magazine.

“It departs from the blue of painting to navigate water and air through their material and symbolic connections to Black diaspora breath,” Khoshgozaran notes.

“Framing Sunstrum’s new and recent paintings as ‘a representation of thrivance,’ Raghubir posits care and protection as constants that define the past and future of Black diaspora life and kinship.”

The prize, offered annually by Canadian Art, is meant to encourage new contemporary art writers. Raghubir will receive a $3,000 award and will be commissioned to write a feature story for a future issue.

For Raghubir, there are meaningful connections between the works she explored in her essay — particularly in Sunstrum’s depictions of her subjects near and sometimes created out of water — and the two pieces she’s focusing on for her thesis. South African Afrofuturist artist Mohau Modisakeng’s Passage and American photographer Ayana V. Jackson’s Take Me to the Water are at the core of her current research.

Both pieces engage with the Middle Passage, the forced transatlantic voyage of enslaved Africans. Modisakeng’s series of three projections depicts three Black characters in small boats that are eventually submerged by black water. Jackson’s portrait series captures Black women in regal dress against a pitch-dark background.

“I’m looking at how these artists are representing the Middle Passage in an Afrofuturist way through focusing on the concept of ancestral Black waters. I’m also looking at the use of dress in both artists’ work, the apparel and adornment, as a way to examine the Afrofuturist representations of these historical traumas,” she explains.

“I’m really interested in these works as artistic interventions into Black diasporic histories. I think that through Afrofuturism, there’s a very clear historic intervention. But it’s also a way to understand the origins of present-day contemporary anti-Black racism and violence.”

Launch of the new Afrofuturisms Research Collective

Raghubir adds that the archive of those passages is incomplete and doesn’t meaningfully reflect the stories of African men and women who experienced them, contributing to the erasure of their personal histories.

“In a way these artists representing something like the Middle Passage or other events in Black diasporic histories is a way to intervene in the representation of history that in some ways has been denigrated and not explored.”

Raghubir points to the way Modisakeng and Jackson afford their subjects the power archival records may have denied them by portraying them looking directly at the camera “in a way that conveys self-possession and agency, resistance and resilience.”

Her work is supervised by Alice Ming Wai Jim, professor of art history and Concordia University Research Chair in Ethnocultural Art Histories. Raghubir is also a core member of the Ethnocultural Art Histories Research (EAHR) student group, where she’s helped host exhibitions, galleries and public talks with Black, Indigenous and people of colour researchers.

This year, Raghubir launched the Afrofuturisms Research Collective under the EAHR’s umbrella, with fellow Concordia graduate students Ojo Agi, Anastasia Erickson and Olivia McGilchrist. The collective is hosting a virtual public lecture series during the fall and winter, and they’re considering writing together.

“We’re collaborating and supporting one another’s work through a collective practice,” Raghubir says.

“There’s clear synergy among our individual practices, and it was a really beautiful idea to come together, launch a public lecture series and really formalize what we’ve begun to do over the last few months. We’re trying to activate different theoretical frameworks on Afrofuturisms and different artistic practices.”

Find out more about Concordia’s
Afrofuturisms Research Collective and the Ethnocultural Art Histories Research Student Group.

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Wine View: Art and wine are a perfect fit – Beach Metro News



Andy Warhol’s label art for the 1975 Chateau Mouton Rothschild.


Wine and the world of art are a perfect fit. While some may say that winemaking is a craft, others, myself included, put it plainly in the category of creatives. Both are symbiotic. They share an affinity.

Wine is often depicted in both secular and religious paintings. From Renoir, Monet and Cezanne to biblical references of Jesus and the wine press.

After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Baron Philippe de Rothschild started a tradition of commissioning artists annually, using their labels as canvas, to create illustrations of their own imaginations. This has continued to this day with artists from across genres. From Jean Coctu to Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol to Prince Charles, Lucien Freud and Jeff Koons, to name a few, all have created what are now collectorʼs items.

Randall Grahm of Bonnie Doon fame in California has done the same with his quirky sense of humour and love of play on words. He has garnered many accolades for his wines over a 35 or more year history. I remember when his Cardinal Zin came out. It was such a wonderful play on words yet captured our imaginings for the cross reference to a biblical term and the incredible artistʼs rendition. Humour. Randall was radical!

He too has artists that he collaborates with each with their own stylings and fun machinations. Even a fellow from Toronto, Gary Taxali.

In Niagara, our own Henry of Pelham Estate have been supporters of the arts.Bobbi and Paul Sr. Speck, parents of the Speck brothers, have a long affiliation with artists. As it says on their website: “During the 1970s, our parents offered free studio space to a number of Canadian painters and sculptors who passed through the Annex area of Toronto, where we lived growing up. We now proudly display their art throughout the winery buildings and offices, including upstairs from the tasting room, and invite our visitors to enjoy their work.”

More recently, November of last year, 13th Street Winery opened their first art gallery on their vineyard site.The Manns, like the Specks, are also supporters of Canadian artists from painters to sculptures, and all have a home in Niagara.

Lakeview Wine Co., in honour of the 50th anniversary of the McMichael Canadian Art Gallery in Kleinberg and to celebrate our Group of Seven Artist, have labels depicting their incredible interpretations of our distinct Canadian landscapes.

Then thereʼs Rudy Kurniawan who appeared on the wine auction scene as a young, hip guy with loads of dosh, a wealth of wine knowledge, Burgundy in particular, with apparently good connections. Check out the documentary Sour Grapes.

Another cohort, Hardy Rodenstock of the book The Billionaireʼs Vinegar claim to fame, was selling bottles of wine from great vintages as well as bottles owned by President Thomas Jefferson.

Now, these two “artists” were part of a different kind of art….the art of the scam!

Hereʼs to the spirit of adventure!


Jacqueline Corrigan is a Certified Sommelier (graduate George Brown College Sommelier Program); a Member of the International Sommelier Guild; and a graduate WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust – Britain).

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Just Art auction for Iranian refugee family an opportunity to give 'a gift with meaning' –



A family of recently arrived refugees from Iran is learning that art is vitally important to any new home, not because something is needed to go on the walls but because, in their case, art in a sense “is” the walls.

Art will help put a roof over their heads and shelter around their sides and keep them warm through a cold Canadian winter.

The people in this city who paint and create and sculpt and so forth are artists because of the way they see and are they ever seeing this holiday season, seeing to the needs, those critical first-year needs, that refugee families find themselves facing as they adjust to a new life. Housing, health care, language classes to name a few.

So the Just Art online art auction that starts Friday, Dec. 4, could not come at a better time for an Iranian family of three — a mother and her two grown daughters who have arrived since September, after waiting five years in Turkey, and were among the first refugees allowed into Canada after a six-month suspension of immigration resulting from the pandemic.

“Guide and Lights” by Mike Kukucska.Mike C Kukucska

The impetus for the auction was, interestingly, furnished by an artist, Rachel Hawkes Cameron, who was in the process of leaving Hamilton as the new family was arriving, almost as tough they were passing each other on opposite ways through the door.

Hawkes Cameron did not want to leave without contributing to the fundraising part of a larger effort she had wanted to help with, the sponsorship of the family by a team of volunteers connected with St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church on Locke Street (a team from the church had already sponsored a Syrian family earlier this decade).

But how do you fund-raise during a pandemic? This, says sponsorship committee volunteer Sarah Wayland, was the frustrating riddle.

"Full Moon and Waves" by E. Robert Ross.
“Full Moon and Waves” by E. Robert Ross.E. Robert Ross

“So many small businesses are tapped out,” she says. “We decided to focus on the art.”

It was Hawkes Cameron who donated an abstract painting of her in the absence of anything else she could give and that started a great momentum.

Now more than 40 Hamilton area artists, both established and emerging, have contributed almost 60 pieces, in a wide variety of price ranges, to the online auction that will run from Friday to Dec. 10.

Some of those featured are Sylvia Simpson, E. Robert Ross, Tom Wilson, Lee Munn, Sandee Ewasiuk and Gordon Leverton.

Once the call went out, especially through the Kirkendall neighbourhood hub Facebook page, the creators stepped up.

"Looking on the Brighter Side" by Lee Munn
“Looking on the Brighter Side” by Lee MunnLee Munn



“Just Art resonated significantly with me, as my art subjects are homes, and I attempt to capture the beauty of the home in the community they serve. I’m proud to participate, knowing that all proceeds will support this refugee family of three women settle in our community,” said Hamilton painter Gordon Leverton.

The public is invited to bid on works between those dates, Dec. 4 and Dec. 10, by visiting

Wayland says that the team conservatively estimates that the family’s first year costs will be $46,000.

“Rents alone — they’ve really gone up (in Hamilton),” says Wayland.

“This is an opportunity to give gifts with meaning.”

Cannisters by Louise McCann
Cannisters by Louise McCannLouise McCann

Jeff Mahoney

Jeff Mahoney is a Hamilton-based reporter and columnist covering culture and lifestyle stories, commentary and humour for The Spectator. Reach him via email:

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Pandemic blues? Online art therapy might help you work through your feelings –



It doesn’t matter where they are in the world. Most of Michelle Winkel’s patients are struggling with the exact same thing right now, and that’s anxiety.

“It was a significant problem before the pandemic,” says Winkel, clinical supervisor at the Virtual Art Therapy Clinic and co-founder of the Canadian Institute for Art Therapy (CIIT) in Victoria. (In fact, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health issues period, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.) But recently, says Winkel, the problem “has absolutely magnified” at the clinic, and the reason should be as plain as the three-ply reusable mask on your face. 

COVID’s impact on mental health is occasionally discussed as a sort of shadowy bonus pandemic, hitting everyone differently — but affecting everyone, just the same. In May, a crowdsourced study from Statistics Canada reported that 88 per cent of respondents had experienced anxiety symptoms — things like “feeling nervous, anxious or on edge” — sometime in the two weeks before they were polled. And nearly a quarter said they had “fair or poor mental health.” (Compare that to a similar survey from two years prior: back then, a mere 8 per cent were feeling similarly meh.) 

“Obviously with COVID, life is pretty stressful,” says Winkel. Since April, her online clinic has provided support to patients working through their anxiety or depression or stress. And it’s one of several virtual resources that offers a space to heal through art.

So … art therapy? What does that mean exactly? 

“I believe that art-making is therapeutic,” says Winkel. But there’s a distinction between chilling at home with pack of Crayolas and engaging in art therapy. Per the textbook definition on the Canadian Art Therapy Association (CATA) website, the practice mixes psychotherapy with art-making. (“Using imagery, colour and shape as part of this creative process,” they say, “thoughts and feelings can be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.”) And it’s facilitated by a certified art therapist, someone trained in the field at a graduate level.

“Usually clients come because of a pain point,” says Winkel. “We may use some art-making to explore that.”

Absolutely no experience is required. “They do not need to be artists or feel artistic at all,” says Winkel. And during a session, the art therapist might guide a creative exercise. It’s not always about making a picture or a painting, she explains. A common prompt might be something like: “Show me what you’re struggling with.” 

“Let’s say it’s a feeling of anxiety. Well, you could choose an animal that feels like that. Express it in some kind of image.”

By making art, and reflecting on the process, the patient is working to get a better handle on what they’re experiencing. “For a lot of folks these days, it’s about communicating with themselves first,” says Winkel. “How can I tolerate the anxiety of this scary, scary stuff that’s going on in a way that’s a little bit healthier for me?” Insight can change how they’re able to negotiate those feelings going forward. And the art therapist’s there to guide the process.

“Having someone there to facilitate, to develop a safe and trusting environment to be able to make art is the healing piece, we think.”

Michelle Winkel (left), clinical and academic director of the Canadian Institute for Art Therapy and clinical supervisor for The Virtual Art Therapy Clinic. (Cheryl-Ann Webster)

Is online therapy the right fit?

Art therapy has a variety of applications, but sticking to the example of what Winkel and her team are doing at the Virtual Art Therapy Clinic, she says most of their participants face she calls “daily challenges in living.” They aren’t arriving with a doctor’s diagnosis, but maybe they’ve been feeling anxious or low or isolated. (The website encourages folks in crisis to seek other treatment.) “It can be as simple and humble as that they’re feeling a bit stressed and they’d like a few sessions to explore stress management. And that would be a very suitable thing to deal with in art therapy.” 

The clinic’s sessions are open to both adults and children, and they’re led over Zoom by senior students at CIIT. (So, special art materials aren’t required, but a working webcam is.) Before the first appointment’s booked, participants go through a free “meet and greet” assessment. They get to talk about their needs and ask any questions they might have. The sessions themselves are offered on a pay-what-you-can model, starting at $10. Continuing with further sessions is up to the participant. “We have many who just come for a handful, get what they need, and then stop,” says Winkel.

OK, so where else are people doing it?

The Virtual Art Therapy Clinic is, of course, just one option. To find an individual therapist offering virtual sessions, Winkel recommends searching directories like the one on the CATA website. Or, you could try something altogether different, like an online Art Hive

An Art Hive?

Yep. They’re a network of community art studios that welcome folks of all ages and abilities. The concept originated at Concordia University in Montreal, which runs multiple Art Hives through its campus — and in the Before Times, these spaces would welcome anybody and everybody to gather and create (using a stash of free materials). Since March 20, the Concordia chapters have been hosting meet-ups on Zoom, and at least 21 Canadian Art Hives are currently active online. Some focus on visual art-making. At Concordia, they also run regular Art Hives for music and movement. And while these sessions aren’t necessarily presided over by a certified art therapist, Rachel Chainey, national network coordinator for Art Hives Network, says that the project’s guiding philosophy is “rooted in art therapy.” 

Each session has a facilitator, she says, who’s there to make everyone feel welcome and free to create. “The Art Hive seeks to bring people together around a common idea, which is creativity and art-making,” she says. “Importantly, in terms of mental health, it creates a safety net. People often, you know — not everyone will go to therapy. And not everyone has access to individual therapy or even group therapy, whether for financial reasons, whether it’s for cultural reasons. The Art Hive forms a community around a person. […] There will be a community of people checking on them.”

Some pre-pandemic art-making at the Canadian International Institute of Art Therapy. (Cheryl-Ann Webster)

What do people get out of it?

Marguerite Dorion, 76, is a recent Art Hive convert. Pre-pandemic, she was aware of the IRL locations in Montreal, but as a busy YMCA volunteer, she never really took part. Now? “My gosh, it’s nearly my whole day,” she says, and because the programming’s online, she’s been exploring Art Hives beyond the city. “It’s very casual, very welcoming,” she says, and of all the things she loves about the experience — including the joy of painting and learning new things — it’s the community aspect that’s most important to her. “In French we call it ‘en réseau,’ which means a link between many people.”

Making art with a group, albeit over Zoom, felt novel to Alexandra O. Carlsson when she joined her first Art Hive. But week over week, she says, “you start to recognize faces, and almost feel a kind of camaraderie.” A 33-year-old occupational therapist from Kingston, Ont., Carlsson takes part in a virtual session run through the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University. At first, she was there out of professional curiosity. “But I slowly realized that it was actually very therapeutic for myself,” says Carlsson. “Every time I finished Art Hive I was like, ‘Wow, that was something that I did today that I didn’t even know I needed.’ Self-care is such a trendy term, but it felt like such a wonderful creative outlet for myself. And it really helped me decompress after a busy day.”

“People there, they break their social isolation,” says Chainey of Art Hives. “They find a place of belonging. It helps them find meaning. Often creativity is connected to finding purpose, meaning, self worth, feeling proud of oneself. So these are all things that contribute to enhanced well-being.”

That last Art Hive … it’s run by a museum?

Yes, some museums host virtual Art Hives, too. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, for example, is developing its own online version, and Stephen Legari, the museum’s program officer for art therapy, says it should be live in the next few weeks. It’ll be the closest facsimile to dropping in on the MMFA’s real-life Art Hive — the only one of its kind in a museum. It is, of course, closed due to COVID-19, but pre-pandemic, people were free to make arts and crafts with support from on-site educators and art therapists. Legari says 2,500-3,000 visitors made use of the studio each year. 

And beyond plans for that aforementioned virtual meet-up, there are other resources available on the MMFA’s website. In the spring, Legari produced a bunch of short videos that lead the viewer through different art-therapy exercises inspired by pieces from the museum’s collection. More are in the works, he says, and they should arrive in the New Year. 

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But are any of these online options a substitute for the IRL thing?

Both have their pros and cons. There are the obvious practical challenges: technology opens these services to people living anywhere, but there are still folks who get left behind. Some people struggle with computer literacy. Others can’t afford the right hardware. And beyond all that, maybe Zoom just isn’t your thing.

Since May, Winkel’s been studying the effectiveness of online art therapy, specifically as it pertains to treating anxiety. Nine therapists have been following 36 clients at the Virtual Art Therapy Clinic. At the beginning and end of each session, these patients are asked to rate their anxiety on a scale of zero to 10, and going off her findings so far, virtual sessions have merit. “What we’re noticing is about a 38 per cent improvement from the beginning of the session to the end,” she says. “So, it’s a very sizeable improvement, meaning that the clients feel a lot less anxious at the end, even if they spend one hour working with someone.” The research, however, is still ongoing.

Chainey acknowledges there are some things that are missing from the virtual experience, especially when it comes to her real-life Art Hive venues — community hubs that are crammed with craft materials and artwork. “It’s such a rich environment, so nourishing for people’s creativity,” she says. “You cannot replicate that online, however hard you try.” But the fundamental spirit is still there.

“I notice that often people attend an Art Hive because they want to feel seen by others. That’s why they choose to come instead of creating in isolation,” she says.

“I think that this sense of feeling connected, supported, seen […] that happens online.”

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