Walking through the streets of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve these past few weeks, you may have noticed some familiar faces plastered on the sides of buildings and in storefront windows.
Feeling isolated in her Montreal apartment, Katya Konioukhova had long been searching for an excuse to get back to her photography. When she found out the Maison de la culture Maisonneuve and Maison de la culture Mercier were looking for artists, she finally saw her opportunity.
Teaming up with fellow Montreal artist Marin Blanc, Konioukhova took to the streets of the borough, in search of residents to speak to.
Throughout the month of November, she photographed people who live and work in the area, and asked them how they've been getting through the pandemic.
Blanc then used those photos to create collages.
"I lived in isolation myself for a few months because I live alone and I think it was really interesting to meet other people and to talk about how it was, how they were experiencing isolation and how people managed the feelings of loneliness," said Konioukhova.
Konioukhova was surprised by how quickly some people opened up to her, telling her stories of their health struggles and personal lives.
Many, she said, spoke of their newfound love of long walks and their close bonds with their pets.
"This man I met was walking his family dog and he lives with cancer so he spoke a lot about how he was living with this isolation that was really different than for most people," said Konioukhova.
Konioukhova and Blanc used a small quote from each of their encounters to present a snapshot of each person.
The result is a colourful portrait series, dubbed Portraits d'Hochelaga, that lines the streets of the borough.
"Usually, I work with some colour but there's always a bit of a darker theme to it. With this project, because the climate is already so heavy with the pandemic, I wanted to make something bright," said Blanc.
Blanc is accustomed to having an exhibit or showing of her work at least once a year. But since the pandemic started and galleries across the province have shuttered, she and other artists have had to rely on the internet to showcase their work.
This latest project gave Blanc the opportunity to see her art in a whole new light — outdoors for the first time.
Born and raised in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Blanc was also grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with people in her neighbourhood.
"The portraits reconnect people with others," said Blanc. "Even when we pass each other in the streets, with our masks, we don't talk, we don't see each other, we can't even smile."
That's why Blanc hopes to continue the series with Konioukhova. They hope to meet with more residents and tell their stories on a more in-depth level over the coming months.