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Art-ing Up Somerset West Community Health Centre. Art in Community is Community Health too!

My colleague Dan Sharp and I had a very successful installation day today on behalf of Enriched Bread Artists at Somerset West Community Health Centre in Ottawa. We had lots of positive comments, excitement and questions from the staff & folks who walked by. Art in community IS community health too! So meaningful to be able to share some of our artist’s works and brighten some walls in this important health and community service hub in our own neighbourhood.

Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) is a non-profit, community-governed organization located in the heart of Ottawa’s Chinatown and just down the road from Enriched Bread Artist’s Studios. SWCHC supports people and communities to enjoy the best possible health and well-being by providing health and social services. They do this by removing barriers to accessing services for people who are vulnerable because of their age, income, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity, and language or culture.

One of the things the Centre wanted to highlight through artwork was their commitment to diversity and ensure that their spaces reflect the communities they serve. They requested an emphasis on representation, including artists that are racialized or have experiences that align with some of their client populations (for example, folks that are newcomers or immigrants to Canada). In this aim, we extended a call for submissions to our own membership, but also to some artists in our community who are friends of EBA and who also have experiences aligned with some of SWCH’s client populations.

With the walls freshly re-hung, here are some of the artists who will be featured in their upper floor space over the next year:

Gayle Kells, selections from Rooted in Time

It is assumed that cultures will meld together, creating one national Canadian identity over time as the next generations transition to the new environment. So why do I remain so immersed in the past culture?…

…When I grew up as a young person in high school, our culture was hidden; our food was eaten only in our homes and language spoken there also. We were taught to assimilate into Canadian society as best we could; although my visual appearance, with my black, short, curly hair and dark eyebrows, was a sharp contrast to the blonde-haired, or pig-tailed classmates that I was surrounded by throughout my school years. Not until nearing the end of high school did I dare expose my culture by bringing some ‘strange’ food to school. These sentiments are common with my peers as well. 

I never learned the Arabic language as my parents only spoke to each other in Lebanese and used English when speaking with us children. They used Arabic particularly when they did not want us to understand, which reinforced the idea of integration. They felt that it wasn’t necessary for us to learn the language at the time – it was something to avoid.

There are many stories I have been told over the past 50 years or more that speak of the immigration experience and there are many thoughts and observations I would like to express using my art as a vehicle.

Biographic summary: 

Gayle Kells completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Ottawa (1995) and an MA in Canadian Studies from Carleton University (1997). She has exhibited in many group and solo exhibitions throughout North America and her work is held in private and public collections, including the City of Ottawa and the Governor General’s Residence. She has been a member of the Enriched Bread Artists studios in Ottawa for over 20 years.

Tong Shen, Grande Prairie Series

My work explores environmentalism, body politics, class segregation, and the trickle-down
system of wealth distribution, tree-planting and seasonal labour in Canada. I am also interested in
the aesthetics of secularist religion and its artistic applications.

Biographic summary:
Tong Shen is an interdisciplinary Chinese Canadian artist who creates contemporary art and craft. Her
expressive and thought-provoking work reflects the LGTBQ and female diaspora, Asian artistic
Tong (Raine) Shen is a contemporary artist living in Canada. Her father was a child soldier in the Ten
Year Revolution and the Great Leap Forward in China, her mother worked in a cotton spinning factory,
and her grandparents were professors of agriculture in Shandong Provincial University, while her other
grandparents were a farmer and factory worker in rural China.
Shen’s art was born of uprising and conflict, and delves into interconnectedness of individuals through
history, art, technology, literature, politics and labour. In her work, she explores solutions to the modern
dilemmas of global warming, racial injustice, social and financial divide, colonialism, slave labour,
gender equality and the role of AI technology.
Shen is the recipient of numerous awards including the Canadian Council of Arts Research and
Creation Fund, the Nick Tadashi Graduate Scholarship, and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts
Scholarship. Her works have been shown in China, Japan, U.S, and Canada. She was a tree planter in
rural Canada for three years and obtained her MFA from Concordia University.

Svetlana Swinimer, Canadian Autumn Landscapes

Biographic summary: 

Svetlana Swinimer lives and works in Ottawa, Canada. She was born and educated in Russia, and taught art in Russia, Africa and Canada. Her artistic focus includes humanity, cosmology, mythology, and cutting-edge science. 

Swinimer’s body of work encompasses paintings, sculptures, installations, video, inventive photography, and experimental printing. You can see her work in the Sate Darwin Museum, Moscow, Russia, in Tuzla Portrait Gallery Bosnia Gergotsevina, and in the collections of the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau. She collaborated with Jean Halstead on art in public places to create the sculpture “Alipes” for the Paramedic Service Headquarters in Ottawa. Swinimer has curated numerous exhibitions in Ottawa and Nairobi, featuring local and international artists. 

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