As an artist, Chrystene Ells is used to going out and creating new work with her neighbours in Regina. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has kept her indoors, glued to the news, she has started a project to make and share art based on what she’s been seeing on TV and online.
“I started to become obsessed with the news around the protests, and then the backlash against the protests, and all these incidents I just found alarming and overwhelming,” she said.
That’s when a friend suggested she start a journal and write about what she was feeling.
“And I said, OK, but I don’t think I’m going to write. I’m a visual person — so when I see some of these images in the news or on Twitter or elsewhere, they’re seared into my brain.”
So Ells picked up her pens and paper and started drawing — trying to limit herself to 20 or 30 minutes at a time, working on a small enough scale that she sometimes needs magnifying glasses to see the details.
As an American by birth, and with friends all over the United States, she has often chosen to focus on the protests and political events happening in her country of origin.
“The first picture I did, which was so shocking to me, [was] of federal agents gassing moms in Portland.… I was just in Portland visiting friends six months ago,” she said.
“And then the next day I posted another one. That was the day the bolt of lightning hit [near] the Statue of Liberty and somebody caught it on video.”
The idea of lightning striking the iconic statue, she said, “was such a great metaphor for what’s happening right now in the United States.”
Now, she says sharing her art and hearing from other artists in turn has become a way for her to process the overwhelming pace and scope of current events.
“It’s been like group art therapy for me, because so many people are engaging with it and sharing my work, making comments and adding comments of their own,” she said. “There’s conversations. And there just seems to be a lot of care and support.”
Ells says she is one of many artists who are looking for new, physically distanced ways to engage with issues in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her art, which she has been posting on social media, has inspired responses from friends and strangers — everything from other pieces of visual art to poetry and commentary.
“I think there’s kind of a mini-pandemic right now of artists not knowing what to do,” she said.
“Since quarantine, there’s been this sense of helplessness — like the world is spinning out of control in ways we can’t really grasp.… I think artists are really struggling right now with how to serve, how to be helpful, how to apply what they do.”
And Ells thinks anybody who is struggling to keep up with the news these days could benefit from taking a step back and engaging with it from a new, creative perspective.
“I think everybody is, to some degree, more anxious this July than they were last July,” she said.
“But these drawings I’ve worked on over the past couple of weeks have helped me to process all this information and not feel so overwhelmed. It brings it down to a bite-sized thing that I’m looking at.”
The art of compassionate care – Sherbrooke Record
Thanks to a very generous donation from an art gallery in Montreal, Grace Village is giving out thousands of dollars-worth of art this week as a way of saying thank you to its staff members for their hard work over the last six months.
“They are dedicated, committed, and have really sacrificed a lot,” said Andrea Eastman, the home’s interim executive director, explaining that the donation was arranged through a board member following a discussion about how the community could recognize the work of the staff during the pandemic. “The board had been trying to come up with a way to thank the employees and do something that is a little bit different.”
The artworks have been put on display for the residents to enjoy, and workers are being invited to come and select a work of their choice over the course of the week, based on their seniority.
Looking back on the last few months, Eastman said that the word “challenging” only scratches the surface of the realities that people working in retirement communities and long-term care homes have been facing.
“Our focus has been on keeping our residents safe and healthy,” she said. “That has guided every decision about what we needed to do.”
Eastman underlined the importance of clear communication and trust as key pillars to the success of the Grace Village community since the start of the pandemic
“It’s a shared responsibility with employees, residents, their families and other people in the community; You have to have trust in each other,” she said. “The more you communicate about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, the clearer it is that we’re all in this together.”
Asked whether the home has faced the same sorts of difficulties with people failing to respect rules and guidelines that have been reported at other care homes in the region, the interim director said that there have certainly been cases where people needed to be reminded of the reasons why things are the way they are.
“We’ve remained quite strict, but we’re trying to be as sensitive as possible,” she said.
In matters ranging from employee scheduling during a time when multiple days off in a row might be needed for a test, to figuring out how to offer residents enrichment when gathering together is largely off limits, Eastman said that her key word has been optimism.
“I try to focus on what we are able to do, rather than what we are not able to do,” she said, adding that the support and commitment of the whole team plays an important role in making a challenging situation more feasible. “What they are doing goes above and beyond what their employer is asking of them.”
This Magazine → Black art matters – This Magazine
Shaya Ishaq’s work moves fluidly between mediums—words, ceramics, fibres, jewellery—while maintaining a central locus of honouring Black lineages and sparking light toward liberated Black futures. Tenacious and ever-evolving, Ishaq walked away from journalism school and signed up for a hand-building course at a pottery studio in her hometown of Ottawa. “I really fell in love that winter,” she says. “It was pretty magical to come into the studio first thing in the morning to see my work come out of the kiln or even just how the clay would change when the pieces would air dry before firing. I was totally enraptured by the many stages of the medium of clay.”
Now, Ishaq masterfully combines ceramics and fibres to create ornate and intricate wearable art pieces. On the origin stories of these designs, she says, “At their core, [these materials] come from the earth (before mass production and industrialization, before creating synthetic versions) and I am very dedicated to working with them to see what connections arise. Both invite a meditative process that has saved me time and again.” She started bridging relationships between ceramics and textiles when she began art school in Halifax, going on to continue her studies in Montreal. “It’s only been in recent years that some kind of visual vocabulary has emerged.”
Ishaq’s wearable art possesses a distinct aesthetic that plays with the juxtaposition of hardness and softness, gloss and matte, the whimsy of tassels and sharp curves of ceramic. That aesthetic is visible in her Holy Wata collection, showcased on her online portfolio, and her most recent solo show Mirror Mirror, exhibited at the Anne Dahl Concept Studio in Ottawa.
“Some of my stylistic choices are definitely informed by Black and Afro-diasporic futurist and Indigenous aesthetics,” she says. “More and more, I am trying to find inspiration from my own cultural background in East Africa … which requires a lot of digging, but is ultimately worth it because it brings me closer to myself in a way, by allowing me to reconnect with an em bodied sense of self.” Ishaq is also inspired by people who express a certain kind of “unfuckwithable energy,” including characters like Lauren Olamina from Octavia E. Butler’sParable series or Ketara from Avatar, and performers like
Moor Mother, Debby Friday, Backxwash, and Kelsey Lu.
Themes of Blackness in regards to identity, craft, culture, and liberation are integrally woven into Ishaq’s spatial design, as well. During a month-long residency at Halifax’s Khyber Centre for the Arts, she created Black Libraries Matter, for which she reimagined the gallery space by creating a Black library by inviting community members to donate books by Black authors.
Soon after, she had a collaborative exhibit, Reconcile/Overcome, at the Ottawa Art Gallery. It consisted of a handwoven sculptural textile piece and written work reflecting on the consequences of the transatlantic slave trade and labour of enslaved Black people on the foundation of Canada and the United States. Her written work from the exhibit includes this excerpt: “Made by my Black hands in celebration of Black spiritual resilience in all corners of the world. Not all our struggles are alike yet we are gold. We are nuanced and yet are gold. We are resilient and we are gold.”
In reflecting on the intersections of Blackness, fashion, beauty, and culture, Ishaq understands that Blackness and popular material culture are also deeply entwined. “I believe this includes Afro-diasporic cultural production as well. I really believe that materiality is political and omnipresent.” Black culture, she says, “is celebrated yet the people who create it are oftentimes disregarded, treated as disposable, only celebrated when they are dead or in moments like this where the world has to recognize the deep systemic patterns at play. There are so many case studies of appropriation that intersect Blackness, fashion, and beauty.”
In its variety of mediums, Ishaq’s practice seeks to centre Blackness and move closer toward creative sovereignty, despite continued appropriation of Black art and culture. “Ultimately, the more we are able to lean into our own creative sovereignty, the more authentic our creations can be. That sovereignty can look like not fighting for ‘a seat at the table,’ detaching ourselves from Eurocentric symbols of success but really doing things for us and by us.”
Newmarket resident finds therapy in chalk art drawings (7 photos) – NewmarketToday.ca
Kim Egan had purchased the 12-pack of sidewalk chalk on a whim.
“I was at the Dollar Tree in Newmarket, where I always go for arts and crafts supplies,” said Egan. “They were being sold for only $1.25. It was very much a spur of the moment thing.”
Chalk in hand, Egan had walked to Newmarket’s Haskett Park and had found a secluded stretch of pavement on which to draw. Her Victorian-inspired artwork, a brightly coloured vase of flowers, was finished 14 hours later.
The experience, she said, took her completely by surprise.
“I suffer from anxiety and depression, something that’s been especially challenging for me — and a lot of people — during the pandemic,” said Egan. “But art, drawing, was therapy. It helped me relax and forget my problems.”
Egan again returned to chalk art when her grandmother, Rose, tragically suffered a stroke mid-August. Already stressed from the isolation of quarantine and unable to visit her due to strict post-COVID-19 hospital restrictions, Egan’s mental health was struggling.
To help ease some of her anxiety, Egan took to the pavement outside her Davis Drive apartment and designed a special homage to her grandmother. Throughout the painful few days preceding Rose’s passing, working on the drawing gave Egan a small — but much needed — sense of control.
“The artwork I drew for her was a big pink heart that said ‘Rose’ in it, with roses on either side and a crown, flames, and cross atop it,” said Egan. “I came to learn afterwards that what I drew is actually a religious symbol, representing Christ’s heart. It was odd, because I didn’t know it at the time.”
Egan’s latest chalk drawing, a floral scene inspired by her love for nature, can currently be seen on the outdoor stage at Riverwalk Commons. As rain and wind can wash her art away in minutes, the stage’s overhead awning afforded Egan rare protection from September’s wet weather.
Yet despite the unique challenges her chalk art can bring, from being at the whim of the elements to scraped and sore knees, Egan is confident she’ll stick with it. A lifelong art lover, she has dabbled in mediums as wide-ranging as embroidery, handmade jewelry, flower pressing, painting and more. With chalk art, the most committing of the bunch, she just may have found her calling.
“When I was a kid, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say an artist,” said Egan. “Art is something I’ve always been so passionate about. And now, late in my life, I have a burning desire to explore my creativity more. It’s something I have to do, before I die.”
Apart from using chalk art as a personal source of happiness, Egan is also hopeful that its positivity will spread.
“I hope people get some pleasure or happiness from seeing it. I hope it’s a bright spot in their day. It’s been great sharing my creativity with others.”
Egan is happy to report that the reaction to her artwork has, so far, been overwhelmingly positive. With each drawing, she’s gained the courage to venture out more and more into the public eye.
“Because I’m out there drawing for a few days, I get people out for walks who will stop to talk and take pictures,” said Egan. “They’re very encouraging. It’s been nice.”
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