Artists come together to spark community "Conversation"

·4 min read

Lillian Michiko Blakey sees a silver lining in just about every cloud.

For her, art is a healing path, and it can also help chart a path forward.

Her art piece, Silver Linings, dominates almost an entire wall, showing black and silver drops raining down on a monochromatic image of a young Japanese girl – her sister.

“Silver Linings is a statement about nuclear war and how it should never happen again,” she says, noting that the piece was, in part, inspired by survivors of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. “Three days later, it rained and it rained black rain on the people again – and this is also about the pandemic and how it has come down on us. The silver in the piece suggests there is a silver lining; as my people got through the worst times in their lives, so we shall survive as well.”

Silver Linings is one of two large works that take pride of place on the second floor at Town Hall as part of The Conversation, a group exhibition and sale hosted by the Aurora Cultural Centre, in conjunction with the Uxbridge Studio Tour.

The collective work, which was installed last Thursday and Friday, is being shown through an online exhibition with plans to open up the doors of the Cultural Centre’s temporary exhibition space at Town Hall to the public as soon as health restrictions allow.

Representing several different media, participating artists joining Ms. Blakey are Lynn Bishop with Tom Loach, Ann Cummings, D. Ahsén:nase Douglas, Jean Eng, Fly Freeman, Dorsey James, Bert Liverance, Lynne McIlvride, Francis Muscat, Christl Niemuller, Mark Puigmarti, Saundra Reiner, Ernestine Tahedl, Gayle Temple, Judith Tinkl and co-curator Carmel Brennan, who came up with the “In Conversation” theme.

“In my experience, I found various forms of art, and some of them are unapproachable, you don’t know what to ask, what to know, and why the artists are doing what they are doing,” says Ms. Brennan. “The whole point of this is The Conversation. I was looking for people who have real substance in their work, who are growing consistently, and these are the people who are in here.

“I sent out questions to each artist [for our catalogue] and each artist had six questions, different ones, asking them about where they got their ideas, how they came about, what makes them think about different forms of art and that is what we started with.”

Art brought together to spark this conversation includes paintings created in memory of the more than 1,000 Indigenous children whose bodies have been recently discovered in unmarked graves near former sites of residential schools, sculptural pieces, art made from reclaimed materials, a cabinet of curiosities and even a lamp!

In continuing her healing artistic exploration of the Japanese-Canadian experience, particularly during and immediately after the Second World War, Ms. Blakey’s second piece used paint to create more than 22,000 grains of rice to represent the number of Japanese-Canadians who were interred or displaced due to the conflict.

“My father always used to say you shouldn’t waste a grain of rice, so I decided to use the rice image because… you don’t waste a single person, either,” she says. “There’s no record of the number of people who died during the interment. My parents always taught me not to hold any anger [but] I don’t want this to happen to any other Canadian citizen.”

Essential to this is dialogue and that is exactly what the Aurora Cultural Centre hopes to foster through The Conversation, whether virtually in their online gallery and video interviews with participating artists, and, if health restrictions are loosened prior to the exhibition’s close on October 23, in person at the gallery.

“I hope our audience stays and adds to this because it is called The Conversation and a conversation can’t be fulsome without that two-way collaborative point with the audience,” says acting gallery manager Stephanie Nicolo of the Aurora Cultural Centre. “I want the audience to be able to feel they are participating in it. We will have an opportunity [to do so] with our virtual component and all comments will be relayed back to the artist so they can answer back to it.

“There are so many points of conversation starters. This exhibition can really be the start of multiple conversations: from the environment to Indigenous affairs, to residential school, recycling, going through the experience of trauma in the past year of COVID – so many themes that we can participate in. That is what I would hope comes from our audience members.”

To join the conversation about The Conversation, to tour the virtual gallery and enjoy video Art Bytes, visit auroraculturalcentre.ca/event/the-conversation.

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran

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