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Looking Back on the First Waterfront Artists in Residence

Dec 6, 2021

a collage of images from the Waterfront Artist Residency

The Waterfront Artist Residency created connections between the artists and organizations across the waterfront community to help bring to life the many projects BSAM Canada created during their residency. 

By: Sarah Askett

This month, the inaugural Waterfront Artists in Residence, the Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM) Canada, will be winding down their 16-month residency and preparing to pass the torch onto the next artists in residence for 2022. Commissioned through a partnership between Waterfront Toronto and the Waterfront Business Improvement Area (BIA) in October 2020, BSAM Canada worked through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with flexibility, playfulness, and ingenuity. 

Inspired by the works of Octavia Butler, BSAM Canada advanced a multi-faceted project called Earthseeds: Space of the Living, which used a range of mediums to explore the timely ideas of wellness, healing, and change. They used the residency opportunity to create works that focus on fostering connection, harvesting restorative energy, and opening spaces for introspection to plant seeds of change. 

Throughout the 16-month residency, they organized interactive events, exhibitions, and installations along the Toronto waterfront. Here we look back at the many pieces of art BSAM Canada produced as a part of the Waterfront Artist Residency. 

Instagram Takeover and Virtual Panel 

artists from BSAM Canada perform

Stills from BSAM Canada’s Instagram takeovers in November 2020. 

With public health restrictions in place at the beginning of the residency, a large public launch event was out of the question. Instead, BSAM Canada used their creativity to launch their residency project, Earthseeds: Space of the Living, through a series of Instagram takeovers leading up to a virtual event. “It felt like we were on the cusp of something big and very much in alignment of our individual beliefs and organizational values,” said Queen Kukoyi, co-lead of BSAM. Each of the three posts made in these takeovers featured a different question to prompt introspection and our connection to the water. During the takeovers, their work was featured on several Instagram accounts, including Waterfront Toronto, the Waterfront BIA, CultureTO and The Bentway

Nico Taylor, co-lead of BSAM remembers, “We were nervous, but hopeful that the limitations we were experiencing while we were getting ready for our launch in November and December, would not be as severe. I think a lot of artists, including us, had to get really creative about how to strategically do public art during a pandemic.” These Instagram takeovers were used to draw attention to the virtual launch event, which took place in December 2020. The panel and performances at the virtual event featured award-winning artists, activists, and the founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network. 

Kemetic Yoga series 

yoga sessions along the waterfront

The Earthseeds Kemetic Yoga series focused on connecting our bodies to the environment and water around us, creating space for mental peace and calmness during a time of uncertainty. Images courtesy of Celene Tang. 

To help restore mental calmness, BSAM Canada released a Kemetic Yoga series with five sessions to inspire mindfulness and reflection during a time of mental upheaval and uncertainty. These sessions were filmed along the Toronto waterfront to showcase the view of the water, offering mental peace and serenity for participants. Along with connecting our bodies to the environment around us, the series, facilitated by Vonnette Forde from Higher Love Yoga, also included introspective journaling. 

"Typically, an exercise class is something you want to do in person to be able to motivate your participants and set the tone for the room. We had to really think about the visuals, and the tone and styling that would activate those same feelings, even though we could not be there physically with participants. We ended up creating something that people can interact with and really be transfixed by, because the visuals are powerful and invite you in,” reflected Taylor. 

Olamina 

a collage of images from the Olamina art project in East Bayfront during summer 2021

Olamina drew visitors from across the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and beyond to Toronto’s waterfront to experience the head-turning installation in person. Image courtesy of Celene Tang and Eloya Williams. 

Later in the summer, BSAM Canada installed a larger-than-life temporary art piece in Aitken Place Park. Taking its name from the main character of Butler’s novels, Olamina encouraged conversations about our relationships with water, earth, and community. While on the water, Olamina drew attention from visitors near and far to the waterfront - even encouraging a group of parents to bring students from the Parkdale area to do a workshop with BSAM and another group, with family members from Vancouver, visited Toronto’s waterfront to see the beautiful sculpture.  

“Olamina is the first installation we created since we became a cultural arts organization, and it is one that carries both loud and quiet lasting impact. The fact that she’s blue and sparkly makes it very hard to miss her, and if you see her on a sunny day, she’s quite breathtaking. But when you interact with her, like taking part in our Plant Exchange workshop, that has a quiet impact. During that workshop, participants set hopeful desires and positive intentions, then hand them over to Olamina by placing plants on the shelves that make up her headwrap. That interaction can be profoundly meaningful,” said Taylor. 

While this art piece is no longer on the waterfront, it’s not gone forever - keep an eye out for where Olamina will appear next! 

Rahyne 

people on the street watching Rayne playing on a video truck

Rahyne played on a video truck at various waterfront locations, including Sugar Beach, The Bentway, Harbourfront Center, and the Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre.

Taking the opportunity to create inspiring pieces using a variety of mediums, BSAM Canada created Rahyne, an animated short film that was released in November 2021 and played on a video truck at various locations across the waterfront. Bringing this film to life across the waterfront brought together a variety of businesses and stakeholders in the waterfront community who offered their space for the film truck to project the film. The film follows Rahyne, a young Afro-Indigenous, non-binary youth experiencing life in the midst of the chaotic instability felt during the pandemic and how they look to the water to heal and provide guidance. 

Creating the short film required help from a variety of artists and voice actors, enlisting both BSAM co-leads, Queen and Nico, and even one of the actors from The Broadway tour of Disney’s The Lion King musical! Reflecting back on working with a variety of artists on the film, Kukoyi shares, “it was such a restorative, healing and informative experience for us to collaborate with so many brilliant minds. As an organization we operate on the African philosophy of Ubuntu, "I am because we are,” which is our framework for reciprocity and collaboration on a project. It is a strength-based approach to understanding how when you support the individual it adds to the collaboration, and the collaboration adds to the individual.” 

Animated Quotes 

The final piece forming the Earthseeds project is a series of animated clips. These animations were created as a way to embed the teachings and words of Octavia Butler into the Earthseeds project and make more people familiar with the wisdom that the artists gleaned from her. The audio for the quotes played during BSAM Canada’s launch event for the residency in December 2020. “Then we realized that they were so great, we could probably make them into minimalistic animations that could feature plant-life found in Ontario and in Canada to draw connections between the quotes and our Earthseeds project - which is all about planting seeds for the betterment of the future, creating holistic spaces, and fostering wellness,” said Taylor. 

Keep an eye out for the final few clips in 2022, which will keep the Earthseeds project alive beyond the term of the residency. 

Love Letters 

an interview being filmed on the street next to a public art exhibit

BSAM co-lead, Queen Kukoyi, talking about Love Letters for Global News. 

While the residency provided the opportunity to create temporary art for the waterfront, the connections the artists made through the residency created opportunities for the artists outside of the residency. One of these was creating artwork for the construction fencing around York Street Park (Love Park). Love Letters is a multi-sensory art piece that uses augmented reality to create unique moods and experiences for each letter in the word love. These larger-than-life letters will remain displayed on the construction fencing along the foot of Queens Quay West and York Street until the park’s completion in 2022. 

“The amount of support and relationships we built was vast. The residency enabled us to build new organizational relationships across the waterfront. It was amazing that we could expand on opportunities to fund things we always wanted to create,” said Kukoyi. 

A lasting benefit of the residency has been the connections that grew out of it. Not only did the residency create connections between the artists and businesses and organizations across the waterfront, but it also strengthened the connections these various waterfront groups have with each other. Cultural organizations, businesses, operators of public and private spaces, all came together to host these projects in the spirit of working together collaboratively to increase programming and create a better waterfront for all! 

The Waterfront Artist in Residence program is part of Waterfront Toronto’s commitment to bringing interactive arts programming and activity to waterfront neighbourhoods throughout the year. In collaboration with the Waterfront BIA, keep an eye out for our announcement of the next Artist in Residence for 2022. 

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