Project brings artists from different communities together to collaborate, learn and share
The goal of The Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba’s (ECCM) eight-month project was to build bridges between different ethnocultural and Indigenous communities in Winnipeg, and give artists an opportunity to enhance their skills and share their work at ECCM’s Stronger Together dinner, held annually in December, and at the project’s Showcase in February 2023, at the Ukrainian Labour Temple.
In fall 2023, Mohammad Mahdi Sultani, coordinator for the Inclusion through Art, Culture, and Heritage Project, launched the initiative by promoting a call for participants over social media and reaching out to more than 20 ethnocultural communities connected to ECCM. The call received a surprising amount of interest, and of the many who applied, 20 were selected to form a cohort for the project.
Most of the participants immigrated from other countries, including Nigeria, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. One participant arrived from Ukraine just two weeks before the project began.
The artists first gathered in November 2022 at one of two orientation sessions, where they learned more about the project and connected with each other. They began collaborating during an artists’ gathering held at the Edge Gallery later that month.
Damhat Zagros, a Kurdish mixed media artist, is studying human rights at the University of Winnipeg and is interested in advocacy through art. He says, “When they told me about the project, I was like ‘Yes, this is the type of work I like to do.’ This has a message focused on an issue happening in the community.”
Zagros met Mckenna Hampson, one of three grade 12 students from Collège Miles Macdonell Collegiate taking part in the project, at the gathering at the Edge Gallery. Hampson began beading about three years ago, reconnecting to an artform that was important to her Métis great grandparents. “My great grandma would bead all the time and it had kind of gotten lost,” says Hampson.
Zagros thought Hampson’s beadwork would complement his visual art style, so they collaborated on a t-shirt design to convey a common message. The design features a stylised silhouette of a woman with a long braid surrounded by yellow rays. The woman is wearing a beaded red earring shaped like a dress and a beaded hair tie at the end of her braid. The red dress is a recognized symbol of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit People, and the hair tie melds Hampson’s beadwork with traditional Kurdish colours.
Women play a significant role in Kurdish and Indigenous communities, and it was important for Zagros and Hampson to highlight the strength of women and recognize the oppression that both communities have endured while focussing on hope.
During the project Zagros and Hampson discovered their cultures had a lot in common. Zagros, who is originally from Syria, explains the Kurdish community is an indigenous nation in the Middle East whose lands were also colonized, and whose culture and language have been eroded. “We have different experiences, but at some point, have something that we can both relate to,” says Zagros. “We have experiences that help us understand each other.”
“I have another perspective,” says Hampson, “It was really cool to understand that other people also have the same issues and difficulties even though they’re not in Canada.”