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Olamina: A New Face in Aitken Place Park

Aug 10, 2021

Olamina installed at Aitken Place Park

Olamina installed at Aiken Place Park.

By: Sarah Askett

Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM) Canada, the inaugural Waterfront Artists in Residence, recently installed a 6-feet-tall thought-provoking sculpture in Aitken Place Park, which will be featured in the space until late October. This piece forms part of Earthseeds: Space of the Living, a project created by BSAM for the Waterfront Artist Residency opportunity made possible through a partnership between Waterfront Toronto and the Waterfront BIA.

Earthseeds: Space of the Living is a public art project that focuses on creating community healing spaces for people to consider the seeds they are planting in their own lives. It is a way to reconnect our natural environment and meant to offer spaces for people to ground themselves and contemplate the idea that while the world is moving forward, how do we take care of the earth and ourselves?

About Olamina

The inspiration for Olamina comes from two places. The first being Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series, taking its namesake from the main character of Butler’s novels, Lauren Oya Olamina, whose name makes symbolic reference to Yoruba culture. The piece also draws inspiration from African folktales and is an embodiment of the African water spirit, Mami Wata. The ideas of change and transformation are themes often associated with water spirits in African and Afro-Caribbean folklore. Like Mami Wata, Olamina intersects both earth and water and both Mami Wata and Olamina represent the dualities of elements and forces in life.

Workers carefully installing the headpiece and artificial topiary hair for Olamina in Aitken Place Park.

Workers carefully installing the headpiece and artificial topiary hair for Olamina in Aitken Place Park.


Inspiring contemplation

Olamina’s placement by the Toronto waterfront calls attention to what it means to be by the water and inspires contemplation about our role in the vastness of land, water, and air. Water a powerful source for spiritual and physical healing and stimulating calm. “Like water, Olamina is an affirmation for an exchange of energy. She represents regeneration, abundance and alignment,” says BSAM Canada Co-lead Queen Kukoyi. Water is also very malleable and can be a wise teacher when it comes to thinking through how we might adapt or find a way forward. The Earthseeds project conceives water as a connector, it creates highways to carry us from one location to another, and bridges different communities together. Olamina is a public art piece that encourages conversations about our relationships with water, earth, and community.

Carefully shaping artwork



Olamina after the CNC carving process. Video courtesy of BSAM Canada.

Creating this artwork was not an easy feat, taking four weeks of production to complete the sculpture and 10 months of conceptual design and planning. The face of Olamina was created with a foam base that was shaped using a method called CNC carving. This process took four weeks to ensure the shape was exactly right. The foam was then coated with Polyurea hard coat and finished with semi-gloss epoxy paint on the face and headwrap. Artificial topiary that resembles a boxwood hedge was used to create the hair for Olamina to reinforce the sculpture’s connection to earth and water.

Lastly, on top of the plywood base is a quote from Butler’s Parable of the Talents: “Consider – we are born not with purpose, but with potential.” This quote serves as a reminder that we all have the potential to create great things and purpose is something you discover and harness through life experiences and interactions. “I think the way in which the pandemic made us all slow down really created an opportunity to re-evaluate what our purpose is, especially as we emerge into a world that looks quite different than the one we knew two years ago,” explains BSAM Canada Co-lead, Nico Taylor.  

BSAM Canada was selected as the inaugural Waterfront Artist Residency following a jury review of 32 applications. Through the residency, these artists have been exploring ideas of healing through various events and multimedia art along Toronto’s waterfront. They plan to use this opportunity to create works that focus on fostering connection, harvesting restorative energy, and opening spaces for introspection to plant seeds of change.

Stay tuned as BSAM Canada continues to transform the waterfront through their art during ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021.