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Visually Arresting Mural for the Bala Underpass

Sep 24, 2015

Artist Rolande Souliere with her assistants installing her new mural at the Bala Underpass.

Artist Rolande Souliere with her assistants in front of her work in progress for the Bala Underpass. (All photos are courtesy of the artist.)

By Rebecca Carbin

While our public art program is building permanent art collections for our neighbourhoods, temporary arts and cultural programming are an essential part of the revitalization process. We work with many different partners to bring this activity to our sites. For example, at the edge of the West Don Lands is the Bala Underpass, an important connection to the Don River ravine trail system – and also a space that has for many years been quite unassuming and nondescript. Now, with a mural project funded and managed by StreetARToronto (StART), this tunnel will become a place to pause and reflect.

StART held a competition for this mural, seeking an artistic concept that would convey the significant Aboriginal history in the area – the Don River and its surrounding valley has been a seasonal hunting and fishing ground for nearly 12,000 years – and link the public art programs unfolding on either side of the underpass.

I was excited when StART invited me to participate on the jury. From the proposals submitted, that of Rolande Souliere stood out. She has a strong body of critically engaging work, an arresting aesthetic and her proposal was well-researched and compelling.

Crews at work installing Rolande Souliere's mural at the Bala Underpass.

Crews were hard at work this week, installing a new mural by Rolande Souliere at the Bala Underpass between Corktown Common and the Lower Don Trail.

Souliere’s proposal builds on a body of work called “Frequent Stopping, Part I and II” that toured Canada from 2012 to 2014, in the exhibition Beat Nation. The exhibition was curated by Tania Willard and Kathleen Ritter and showed at Vancouver Art Gallery, The Power Plant, SAW Gallery and Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. The proposal for the Bala Underpass uses the principle concerns and aesthetic of Souliere’s art practice to reference the historical Aboriginal trails and footpaths that crisscrossed the Don Valley, connecting with a larger network.

This image shows the detail of the mural's intricate geometric pattern.

Rolande Souliere’s mural for the Bala Underpass uses the colour symbolism of the Four Directions (red, white, black and yellow) in a way that simultaneously evokes the culture and spirituality of First Peoples’ beadwork and the visual language or barricades, police tape, urban roadways and boundaries.

Rolande’s concept for the site draws on contemporary metaphors of the road and our navigation through urban spaces. The historical narrative of Aboriginal peoples on the Don River is one in which economy, technology, trade, authority, ownership and travel are interconnected. In Rolande’s hands, these parallel threads of a continuing story are abstracted into a geometry whose potency and urgency is unmistakable and immersive.  The Aboriginal story here and elsewhere, reaches millennia into the past, but it is continuing into the future and every one of us is part of the future writing of this history.

The mural is being installed this week and we can’t wait to see the transformation of this non-descript tunnel into a pulsating visual experience.

Want to learn more about the artist’s work and practice?

Rolande Souliere will be giving a talk at Dorset Fine Arts on Tuesday September 29, at 5pm to 7pm. It will be a wonderful opportunity to meet the artist and ask her a question or two.

Click here for the event details.

post contributor

  • Rebecca Carbin

    Rebecca was previously Waterfront Toronto's public art program manager. She holds a Masters in Curating Contemporary Art from Goldsmith’s College, University of London, UK. She was previously the Public Art Officer for the City of Toronto and she is the Founder of I Heart Your Work Art Futures, an artwork production concept that brings a kick-starter approach to contemporary art patronage.