ARTFUL BLOGGER: Transformation of “Ugly Duckling” Main into Swan

BY PAUL GESSELL

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Main2 — Stuart Kinmond’s “windows” on Main Street, a future art installation (2017), which will be part of the redesign of that street

Commissioning artwork to enliven a busy commercial street is a good thing. Unfortunately, not all commissions by the city produce art that is all that suitable or memorable. Sometimes the street sculptures are too small, covered by snow in winter and, during the rest of the year, are simply lost amid a jumble of newspaper boxes, utility poles, and fire hydrants. And sometimes the art is just downright too baffling to be appreciated by passing pedestrians and motorists.

So, that’s why there was cause to celebrate when Ottawa artist Stuart Kinmond recently won the commission to add some pizzazz to Main Street, which is to be “renewed” and “redesigned” by the city starting in the spring of 2015. That work will take about two years, so don’t expect to see Kinmond’s handiwork until 2017.

The winning installation will be a new outdoor gathering place for people on Main near Hazel. This location is meant to capitalize on the pedestrian flow between Saint Paul University, the Main Farmers’ Market, and the various restaurants and businesses across the street.

Main2 - On the squareEntitled Main2 (Main Square), “the artwork will be comprised of blue and green geometric-shaped benches shaded by three, six-metre-tall towers, each framing colourful, multi-layered glass images of the surrounding landscape of Old Ottawa East: The Rideau Canal, the Rideau River, and the land between,” according to a city communique. “In researching his proposal, Kinmond looked at the community’s ecclesiastical heritage, in particular the prominent presence of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Saint Paul University. The association of stained glass with these religious institutions influenced his choice of materials.”

Before settling on a design, Kinmond rode his bike around the community, noticing some “beautiful places” he had seen before but never associated with Main Street, a thoroughfare he calls an “ugly duckling” badly in need of some pedestrian-friendly revitalization.

“When you look at the map, Old Ottawa East is a linear community with the canal on one side and the river on the other, with Main Street running like a spine down the middle,” Kinmond said in an email interview. “Very close to downtown, the community has a wide variety of housing types — a sweet place to live. However, most of the attractive features are not evident when you drive along Main Street. So the concept originated to make these features visible, like windows onto the street.Main2 - Night view

“As I became more familiar with the area, Main Street seemed to be like a diamond in the rough — a neglected thoroughfare with a beautiful community around it. The street needs a strong infusion of pedestrian-oriented activities and opportunities. There is not a single public space along the whole length of the street for the pubic to sit and gather. So, the idea of a public square seemed like a desirable addition to the street. Hence the idea of Main2 (pronounced ‘main square’). My design became a mini-public square, including the benches, the paving, and shade structures, as well as the windows with coloured glass. The three windows have images of the canal, the river, and the land between,” he wrote.

This is Kinmond’s second public art commission in Ottawa. Last year, he was awarded a commission for artwork at the O-Train stop at Carleton University.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: New book weighs in on controversial bombing of Germany

BY PAUL GESSELL

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Tim Cook’s new book, The Necessary War, is is the first vol. of his two-part series examining Canada’s contributions to WW II.

Late on July 24, 1943, close to 800 Canadian and British bombers flew from England to Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg, to begin an unprecedented four-day aerial assault by the Allies on that industrial city. during the Second World War.

By July 28, approximately 42,600 residents of Hamburg were killed and 37,000 wounded. The city was destroyed. More people in that one city were killed than in all of the six-month Blitz of Britain during 1940-41. Germany began to fear defeat.

The much decorated Ottawa author and military historian, Tim Cook, recounts the horror visited upon Hamburg in his new book The Necessary War: Canadians Fighting the Second World War 1939-43, Volume I. Much of the book deals with the still controversial issue of Canada’s participation in Bomber Command, whose daily flights over Germany killed tens of thousands of civilians, like those in Hamburg. The goal was to crush morale, decimate factory workers, and pressure Germany to move troops, which were stationed from the Eastern Front in Russia, back to protect the homeland.

The debate over the morality of Bomber Command continues. Just seven years ago, the Canadian War Museum was embroiled in a very public controversy over a text panel in an exhibition about Bomber Command. Some veterans and politicians claimed the text panel turned the airmen into “war criminals” wantonly killing civilians. The text panel was eventually changed, but only after the museum’s director Joe Geurts lost his job, becoming yet one more casualty of Bomber Command.

By Sarah Cook

Ottawa’s Tim Cook, the author of a new book about Canada’s controversial role in Bomber Command in the Second World War. Photo by Sarah Cook

And now Tim Cook has joined the debate. Cook is a historian at the war museum and a much published author, mainly on the First World War. Now he’s turned his attention to the Second World War in the first of a planned two-volume book detailing major battles and issues involving Canadian troops. The book does not claim to speak for the war museum. Yet, one can not ignore the fact that Cook is a very influential historian at the museum and has input into the way history is treated there.

Cook does not pontificate in the book. Instead, he provides facts — the reasons for the aerial campaign and its bloody effects.

In the description of the destruction of Hamburg, Cook notes that unusual weather, combined with the incendiary bombs, created a massive firestorm sucking in oxygen from streets and buildings to fan the flames: “Entire blocks were consumed in the blaze, terrified civilians were cooked alive in the streets, cowering mothers and children suffocated from lack of oxygen in shelters and even those who dived into the canals for safety were later found boiled alive. In the scorched streets, corpses were reduced to charred bones, mummified remains and coagulated human body fat.”

The result was pure horror. But one must also remember that during the bombing of German cities, the Nazis were well into their program of ethnic cleansing, which killed six million Jews, plus millions of other groups and minorities. Germany had to be stopped. And eventually it was, at least partially by the actions of Bomber Command.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Frost-bitten, Mosquito-slapping Trolley-tippers

BY PAUL GESSELL

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Horns (10 x 8 x 2.5″): mixed media: altered plastic horse, clay, gesso, colour pencil crayon, charcoal, graphite, smoke, claw — 2014

The first thing you see are the miniature horses. Then you notice the horses are disabled. One has a peg-leg. Another purportedly moves about on blocks of wood. Their mouths are open with their tongues hanging out. The tongues are removable.

Welcome to the world of Frost-bitten, Mosquito-slapping Trolley-tippers. That is the name of a unique exhibition of 18 Manitoba artists at General Fine Craft, Art and Design in beautiful, downtown Almonte, a half-hour drive from Ottawa. (While everyone knows Manitoba is home to mosquitos and frigid temperatures, fewer probably know about the province’s turbulent labour history, which includes riots, where apparently a trolley was tipped at least once).

The exhibition is the brainchild of Winnipeg artists Diana Thorneycroft and her partner Michael Boss. Thorneycroft has family in Almonte. On one trip, Thorneycroft visited the Mill Street shop of General Fine Craft, Art and Design and offered to co-curate with Boss an exhibition of the 18 Manitobans — most of whom display a wonderfully wicked sense of humours, their works varying from embroidery to funky pottery to a particularly mischievous 3-D miniature tabletop scene of anti-Harper protesters. Artist Peter Graham personally brought that piece, Harperlandia 1, in his airplane carry-on from Winnipeg.

Thorneycroft is best known these days for her photographs of dioramas containing dolls and other props that depict often horrifying incidents in Canadian history. The dioramas range from the death of artist Tom Thomson while canoeing, to clergymen abusing children.

Her newest body of work involves purchasing plastic toy horses about six inches high and then heating the animals so that the warmed plastic can be manipulated. The horses are disabled in various ways and their faces distorted so that their mouths remain open and their tongues can be removed.

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Sugar (10.25 x 10 x 3.5”): mixed media: altered plastic horse, clay, sugar, electrical wiring, coloured pencil crayon, lead weights, leather — 2014

“This allows the new owner to put something they believe to be magical in through the horse’s mouth, to eventually land in its belly,” says Thorneycroft. “The process of this activation then makes the horse the owner’s personal talisman.” (The entire process is inspired by West African voodoo.)

The disabled horses are stand-ins for people with disabilities. They encourage us to view the disabled in a respectful manner. Thorneycroft’s growing stable of horses will eventually find their way into photographable dioramas about people with disabilities.

On the gallery wall are two photographs of miniature motorcycles made of cardboard. Those are Boss’s contribution to Thorneycroft’s horses; surely a gift for the biker with everything.

One of my favourite pieces in the show is actually the cheapest. It’s a goofy doll called Muskrat Head, which has an elongated head made of fur, and the body is an assemblage of a vintage hand towel, ceramic, cotton, and stone — a creation by Dana Kletke, selling for $200.

Nearby is the most expensive artwork — a $5,000 cast glass sculpture by Ione Thorkelsson called GK41338: winged lung. Yes, it’s a lung with wings, and it’s pure magic.

Another favourite is Fox with Fiddle made of hand-modelled glazed ceramic. A rather sly looking fox, about six inches high, holds a fiddle in one “hand” while the other “hand” holds a mask close to its face. Jordan Van Sewell is the artist. Take a bow, Jordan.

Frost-bitten, Mosquito-slapping Trolley-tippers continues at General Fine Craft, Art and Design at 63 Mill St., Almonte, until Oct. 12.

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Material Witness’s “wow” factor dulled by 101′s space

BY PAUL GESSELL

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Bronchi (Take A Deep Breath, Breathe), 2014, by Karina Bergmans, tyvek hazmat suits, paint, blower, air

The individual works in a new exhibition at Gallery 101, Material Witness, have considerable “wow” factor. But put these works together haphazardly in a crowded, badly lit, grey room, and the “wow” factor melts away. Simply put, Material Witness is far less than the sum of its parts.

Material Witness is meant to highlight the ways contemporary artists are exploring and expanding “fibre art” or art that is made of textiles and other materials from the traditional, predominantly female, sewing room.

“Textile is a powerful and versatile medium put to use throughout human history for travel, clothing, agriculture, architecture, historical documentation, expression of identity, and experimental art,” says the Gallery 101 promo for the exhibition.

“Barry Ace, Karina Bergmans, Bozica Radjenovic, Mona Sharma, and Emily Rose Michaud are each occupying creative termini at the edges of fibre art. Each artist has followed the path of their artistic practice to an expression that is as logical to the heart as to the formal and aesthetic conversation of professional contemporary art practices.”

Laura Margita, gallery director and exhibition curator, chose the works wisely from the five artists for Material Witness. It’s a pity the former industrial garage that is Gallery 101 still looks like a grim, dimly lit, artphobic space.

The room is dominated at one end by an 11-foot-high, floor-to-ceiling, cloth depiction of human bronchi, in which the passageways resemble a maze of plant roots and carry oxygen to the lungs. Artist Karina Bergmans has attached a hidden blower that pumps air into the giant bronchi, making them sinuously move, as if they were alive and sustaining a body. Bergmans has nicknamed the piece “Take a Deep Breath,” although the official name is Bronchi. Last summer at Ottawa City Hall, Bergmans had an impressive solo show of oversized body parts made from different fabrics.

Bergmans’s sculpture is so large that it overshadows the intriguing photo beside it, which is part of a body of work by Bozica Radjenovic. In this photo, the artist wears a red dress, which she knit herself and covers her from face to knees. Dressed this way, Radjenovic holds in her arms a knitted red body suit, minus the body, making the suit appear to be that of a deflated person.

Pieta, 2014, by Bozica Radjenovic

Pieta, by Bozica Radjenovic

The resulting image references Michelangelo’s famous Vatican sculpture, The Pietà, showing the Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ after the crucifixion. Radjenovic’s photo is dramatic, moving, and mysterious. But surrounded by far larger sculptures, the photograph is lost. It needs to be viewed on its own in a more intimate space.

Nigik Makizinan - Otter Moccasins, 2014, Barry Ace, bound leather boots, otter pelts, velvet, capacitors, resistors, diodes, light emitting diodes (LED), deer hide, synthetic porcupine hair, cotton thread, brass hawk bells, felt.

Nigik Makizinan – Otter Moccasins, 2014, Barry Ace, bound leather boots, otter pelts, velvet, capacitors, resistors, diodes, light emitting diodes (LED), deer hide, synthetic porcupine hair, cotton thread, brass hawk bells, felt

The works of Aboriginal artist Barry Ace, best known for his beadwork, were displayed better. One of them, Nigik Makizinan — Otter Moccasins, sits in a vitrine in the centre of the room and can be viewed from all sides. The arrangement consistently drew a crowd on opening night.

Ace has taken a “found” pair of men’s brown shoes and decorated them with Aboriginal-style beadwork. Attached to the shoes are “trail dusters” — long, flowing strips of otter fur attached to beaded material. The “trail dusters” were originally meant to obscure a walking person’s tracks in the dirt. Ace has cleverly used tiny computer parts as beads, so these dusters — metaphorically speaking — can eliminate cyber trails.

The artist-run Gallery 101 has been in Ottawa since 1979. It has constantly lived hand-to-mouth, surviving numerous near-death experiences. Maybe this lacklustre space, which the gallery moved into this past spring, is the best it can afford. But couldn’t some creative minds have brainstormed a way to use the space in a better way? It is possible for art to impress when viewed in old industrial spaces. And given that the gallery was able to attract some of the city’s most daring artists to participate in Material Witness, it’s a shame the gallery could not show off these works better.

Material Witness continues at Gallery 101 until Oct. 4. 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Photographs reveal tragic history of Japanese-Canadians

BY PAUL GESSELL

Tashme Internment Camp, Sunshine Valley, B.C. (2013), photograph by Leslie Hossack, part of Registered, an exhibit at Shenkman Centre

Tashme Internment Camp, Sunshine Valley, B.C. (2013), photograph by Leslie Hossack, part of Registered, an exhibit at Shenkman Centre until Sept. 23

Shortly after the Japanese air force bombed the American port of Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, Vancouver City Council passed a resolution demanding that all Japanese-Canadians, even the ones born here, should be removed from the Pacific Coast.

The federal government agreed and ordered all 22,000 Japanese-Canadians on the West Coast to be moved inland, some to internment camps in the British Columbia interior and some to labour camps on sugar beet farms on the Prairies. Homes, cars, businesses, farms, and fishing boats belonging to Japanese-Canadians were seized, never to be returned.

Ottawa photo-artist, Leslie Hossack, has created an eerie photographic history of that shameful time in Canada’s past. Her body of work – “interpretive photographs,” Hossack calls them — reveals some of the key buildings involved in the “power and persecution” of Japanese-Canadians.

There’s Vancouver City Hall, an RCMP barracks, a huge rural barn turned into apartments for the internees, a Japanese language school, Japanese-Canadian-owned businesses and, perhaps most shockingly, the back of the Livestock Building in Vancouver’s Hastings Park.

Concerning the latter — about 3,100 Japanese-Canadian women and children were housed in animal stalls, still stinking of manure, in this rambling building in 1942, before being shipped eastward. The back of that building is shown in a seven-foot-long photograph in Hossack’s new exhibition, Registered, in the Trinity Art Gallery at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans.

For Hossack, history is not just found in books. It is also found in buildings. And the buildings depicted in Registered contain the DNA of an entire generation of Japanese-Canadians.

“Buildings are an accessible part of our history – we can touch the handrails, climb the stairwells, wander the hallways,” says Hossack.

City Hall, West 12th Ave. and Cambie Str., Vancouver, B.C. (2013), photograph by Leslie Hossack, part of Registered, an exhibit at Shenkman Centre until Sept 23

City Hall, West 12th Ave. and Cambie Str., Vancouver, B.C. (2013), photograph by Leslie Hossack

Hossack specializes in photographs of architecture. Previous bodies of impressive work include Stalinist architecture in Moscow and Nazi architecture in Berlin. Her photographs of the buildings are manipulated to create idealized images as unsettling as an Alex Colville painting. There’s a sense of the hyper-real, hauntingly bathed in a soft light.

“I am drawn to buildings associated with major events of the 20th century,” Hossack says in an artist’s statement. “In fact, my entire body of work is held together by my fascination with monumental architectural structures built to convey status and wield power. I take great interest in researching the history of the locations and the events that I explore, and the written descriptions that I compose form an integral part of my artistic practice.

“My photographs are interpretive, not documentary. I am captivated by what an architect creates when putting pencil to paper. My intention is to fashion an image that reveals what I imagine the architect originally designed, minus the chaos and clutter of contemporary life. I feel compelled to deconstruct historic buildings – to take them back to the drawing board.”

Along with the photographs, Registered includes framed copies of Japanese-Canadian registration cards, which internees were forced to carry until 1949, four years after the war’s end. As well, Hossack has framed collections of newspaper clippings from those days about the Japanese-Canadian situation.

Next year, the exhibition will resurface, at dates yet to be set, at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Association in Burnaby, B.C.

Registered continues at the Trinity Gallery in the Shenkman Arts Centre until Sept. 23. 

 

 

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: First World War-era feminist pioneers’ sculptures

BY PAUL GESSELL

This worker stands ready to pour molten iron into a mould. Wartime shells and domestic tools — as well as this bronze statue — were made in moulds. By emphasizing the figure’s powerful stance, Canadian sculptor Florence Wyle captures the strength required to do this kind of work. Notice the way the ladle bends under the weight of the liquefied iron. A Moulder Sculpted by Florence Wyle between 1918 and 1919 Beaverbrook Collection of War Art Canadian War Museum 19710261-0424

A Moulder
Sculpted by Florence Wyle between 1918 and 1919
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art
Canadian War Museum 19710261-0424

Frances Loring and Florence Wyle were two American-born, impoverished sculptors living in Toronto when the First World War began. Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery of Canada, commissioned the two women to create sculptures honouring those labouring on the homefront while the country’s young men went overseas to fight. The career of the two sculptors took off.

“The First World War was probably the best thing that could have happened to Florence Wyle and Frances Loring,” Elspeth Cameron writes in a joint biography in 2007 of the two women, And Beauty Answers.

The two artists created 17 sculptures for Brown. Some were exhibited in Toronto almost a century ago. Some were later shown in the National Gallery. And now, nine of their sculptures have been resurrected from the vaults of the Canadian War Museum to dominate a new exhibition, Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times.

The Shell Finisher Sculpted by Frances Loring between 1918 and 1919  Beaverbrook Collection of War Art Canadian War Museum, 19710261-0414

The Shell Finisher
Sculpted by Frances Loring between 1918 and 1919 
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art
Canadian War Museum, 19710261-0414

The nine bronze sculptures, each about two feet high, sit in the main foyer of the war museum, replacing for almost two years a series of painted portraits of soldiers over the ages. The Wyle and Loring sculptures are like 3-D portraits, mainly of women working in munitions factories. These are women, often dressed in trousers and other male attire, who appear strong, confident and heroic.

“They have so much energy,” says Laura Brandon, the museum’s curator of war art.

Wyle and Loring are often written out of Canadian art history because they stuck to their neo-classical roots and did not embrace modernism. Along with being artists, the two were early feminists. They believed in equality of the sexes and felt that women could do anything that men could. Those beliefs are reflected in the way they conducted their own lives and in their artwork.

The money received for the First World War sculptures allowed the two women to purchase a rural property near Toronto. The home, a former church building on the outskirts of the city, was transformed into a studio where the two artists could be seen often wearing trousers and handling large stone and bronze sculptures that far daintier ladies would never have tried to budge.

There has been much speculation over the years as to whether Wyle and Loring were lovers or merely close friends. Acquaintances such as the late Eleanor Milne, the longtime Dominion Sculptor on Parliament Hill, has described the women’s relationship as platonic. Cameron’s detailed biography does not definitively answer the question. Anyway, does it really matter?

Wyle and Loring both have work within the collections of the National Gallery and war museum — perhaps the most visible of their work in the city is Loring’s three-metre-high bronze statue of former prime minister Sir Robert Borden on the western slope of Parliament Hill at the corner of Wellington and Bank.

The two sculptors, known for years as “The Girls,” met a sad end. Both died in 1968, within three weeks of each other, confused and restrained in separate rooms in a Toronto-area institution for people suffering from dementia.

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times continues at the Canadian War Museum until February, 2017.

ABOUT THE TWO SCULPTURES

A Moulder
This worker stands ready to pour molten iron into a mould. Wartime shells and domestic tools — as well as this bronze statue — were made in moulds. By emphasizing the figure’s powerful stance, Canadian sculptor Florence Wyle captures the strength required to do this kind of work. Notice the way the ladle bends under the weight of the liquefied iron.

The Shell Finisher
This sculpture shows a woman carefully balancing two shells, one on each shoulder. Handling explosives was dangerous work. A dropped shell or a wayward spark could mean disaster for a munitions factory and its workers.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Whitney Lewis-Smith’s aesthetic — albeit creepy — marvel

By PAUL GESSELL

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Whitney Lewis-Smith, Minoo’s, Photograph, Large format glass plate photography. Pigment Print on archival cotton rag paper.

The black and white photographs are like windows into the past — the Victorian-era or perhaps even further back to Dutch paintings from the 17th and 18th century. Captured in these prints are artfully arranged vases of flowers and other plants.

But look more closely. The cut flowers, vases and tabletops are crawling with insects — pretty butterflies, but also grasshoppers, poisonous scorpions and stinging centipedes purchased, already dead, from insect farms in various countries around the southern hemisphere. And could that dead bird in one photo be just ordinary Canadian roadkill?

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Whitney Lewis-Smith, A Gift of a Bird, Photograph, Large format glass plate photography. Pigment Print on archival cotton rag paper.

Whitney Lewis-Smith had also purchased some live snails to let loose upon her still life creations. But the snails were not still enough. Slow as they are, the snails’ movements would wreck the picture, which requires that everything must remain motionless due to the long exposures necessary for Lewis-Smith to shoot her creations using an old-fashioned 8×10 studio camera.

The vintage camera and specific darkroom techniques give the photographic prints an antique look. The camera captures images on glass plate negatives, which are coated with emulsion over a three-day period in the darkroom. The images are then contact printed and scanned so they can be tweaked to remove the unglamorous, such as the pins holding the dead insects in place.

The results are an aesthetic marvel, with just a soupcon of creepiness from the insects to generate a slight shiver as you stare intently upon the arrangements of objects that were surely stolen from some eccentric’s cabinet of curiosities. This new body of work called A Collection of Natural Fascinations is on exhibition at La Petite Mort Gallery until Aug. 31. This is an exhibition not to be missed.

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Whitney Lewis-Smith, Specimen, Photograph, Large format glass plate photography. Pigment Print on archival cotton rag paper.

Lewis-Smith is one of those young talents SPAO — the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa – has been unleashing upon the world for the past few years. Actually, artistry is in Lewis-Smith’s genes. Both her parents are artists: Mom (Dodie Lewis) is a portrait painter, while Dad (Neville Smith) is a graphic artist.

So far, Lewish-Smith is best known for her photographs of taxidermy animals. They look so alive. Yet you know they are dead. There’s that creep factor again. The images are unforgettable.

Come November, Lewis-Smith is off to Mexico for a one-month residency in the colonial city of Puebla, where she will have daily access to specimens in a local natural history museum. Mexico is the perfect place for Lewis-Smith —  a country that celebrates Death like no other in its art and customs. There will surely be endless sources of inspiration for Lewis-Smith rummaging through cabinets of curiosity in Mexico.

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Whitney Lewis-Smith, What Came In With The Flowers, Photograph, Large format glass plate photography. Pigment Print on archival cotton rag paper.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Monia Mazigh’s new novel unveils portraits of Muslim women in Ottawa

BY PAUL GESSELL

Monia Mazigh, the author of Mirrors and Mirages, released by House of Anansi Press, July 11, 2014

It’s a pity that Monia Mazigh did not win the riding of Ottawa-South for the NDP in the 2004 federal election. Imagine her in Parliament today, a smart, principled, fearless MP in a hajib firing questions at Stephen Harper and his cabinet. She could have made Question Period a whole lot more interesting.

 

Well, we didn’t get Monia Mazigh the MP, but we do have Monia Mazigh the author. Her newest book, Mirrors and Mirages, has just been launched in English. It’s a novel about a handful of Muslim families in Ottawa and how they — the mothers and daughters especially — deal with the pressures that come with being Muslim in Western society. It’s a rare opportunity to hear these issues discussed frankly, albeit in fiction, from the viewpoint of a Muslim woman herself.

 

Mazigh first became a public figure in her role as the wife of Maher Arar, the Ottawa engineer who, despite having committed no crime, was essentially kidnapped by American authorities in the United States in 2002 and sent to Syria for a year of torture and imprisonment. Arar’s courageous spouse took on the authorities in Canada, the U.S., and Syria and eventually marshalled enough pressure to secure the release of her husband.

 

But Mazigh is much more than a loyal wife. She has a PhD in finance from McGill University in Montreal and is the author of two books, both written originally in French and, more recently, both translated into English. The French version of Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband Maher Arar, was a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award in 2009. Then came the novel Mirrors and Mirages, which was shortlisted for the Trillium Award as the best French-language fiction in Ontario in 2011. Now we have the English translation by Fred Reed of Mirrors and Mirages.

 

9781770893597

 

The Trillium jury, in shortlisting Mirrors and Mirages issued this statement: “With a surprising touch, Monia Mazigh achieves a tour de force in this novel: showing us the true faces of individual Muslim women, most of them young, she makes it impossible to shunt them into the category of ‘the Other,’ hostile and disturbing. Though they have not renounced their faith and embraced secular modernity, they are contemporaries of their fellow citizens and part of our common humanity whose dreams and passions they share.”

 

Although billed as a novel, Mirrors and Mirages is really a series of parallel stories about Muslim women in Ottawa. Some of the stories intersect and others stand alone.

 

One story is about a family of Pakistani immigrants in Ottawa. Contrary to stereotype, the family does not pressure their teenage daughter to wear a hajib or other conservative clothing. Instead, the daughter has fallen under the influence of fundamentalist imams on the Internet and has decided to wear the niqab, the head-to-toe covering with only eyes showing. The parents are shocked. Things get really hot when the daughter’s boyfriend, a seemingly fine, upstanding young man, is arrested on terrorism charges.

 

Another story deals with a Québécoise mother opposed to all religions whose daughter converts to Islam. Family tensions ensue.

 

And then there is the young Muslim mother in Ottawa forced to flee an abusive marriage. While establishing a new life for herself, she manages to land her dream job with a company in Dubai. She moves there and is a great success in the corporate world. But her happiness crumbles again when her Dubai boss wants to begin a romantic relationship.

 

By the end of Mirrors and Mirages, each of the main characters must make an important decision. We will, one hopes, get a sequel to see the aftermath of those decisions.

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: “The Financier” — best Odyssey Theatre performance in 28 years

BY PAUL GESSELL

Photo by Glen Hartle

The Financier, performed by Odyssey Theatre at Strathcona Park, from Tuesday to Sunday at 8 p.m., and weekend matinees at 3 p.m. Photo by Glen Hartle

 

The very stylized form of theatre known as commedia dell’arte is an acquired taste. And, heretofore, I had not acquired a taste for costumed, masked actors preening and strutting on stage like it was the 16th century. But if all commedia dell’arte was like the new Odyssey Theatre production of The Financier, I could become an addict.

The Financier is the best thing I have ever seen performed by Odyssey in its 28 years as Ottawa’s prime outdoor theatre troupe. The set and costumes by James Lavoie are dazzling. The perfectly timed physical comedy, including some wacky dance numbers, is hilarious, thanks to “baroque choreographer” Marie-Nathalie Lacoursiere. The madcap storyline is totally ridiculous. (And that’s a compliment, by the way.)

Laurie Steven, the director of the play and the founder of Odyssey, surely deserves much of the credit for this winner. Of course, it helped that Steven had a great cast, notably Alanna Bale, who played the dual roles of chambermaids Marine and Lisette. Bale stole every scene in which she appeared. Her two roles demanded exaggerated gestures and overly dramatic delivery of dialogue and Bale was so polished that she often left her fellow actors in the dust.

The plot is a comedy of manners by Alain-Rene Lesage and first performed, in French, in Paris in 1709. Fans of Moliere’s Tartuffe will undoubtedly love The Financier or, as it was called in French, Turcaret.

At the centre of the story is The Baroness, played by Chandel Gambles. The Baroness is poor, but beautiful — and an outrageous flirt. One minute she is cozying up to the rich, ugly financier, M. Turcaret (Andy Massingham), and the next moment all her attentions are lavished upon the handsome impoverished The Knight (Atilla Clemann).

All players, including the servants, are greedy schemers, trying to determine the easiest way to fleece M. Turcaret. A diamond ring, a love letter, an IOU, and other props are constantly appearing and disappearing and being tossed from one character to another like hot potatoes. And then a long-lost wife appears and the plot takes off like a rocket into outer space.

In the laugh-a-minute second act, The Financier becomes a total farce. The set is demolished. Actors remove their masks and rip off their costumes. They suddenly look very contemporary. The greedy schemers, they seem to say, are still among us.

The Financier continues outdoors at Strathcona Park in Sandy Hill until Aug. 24. Performances takes place Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. Tickets from $24. Pay-what-you-can on matinee weekends, which start at 3 p.m. Wise members of the audience bring their own lawn chairs or at least a cushion for the hard wooden bleachers. And arm yourself with insect repellent against the mosquitoes.

Visit their site for more info.

 

Photo by Glen Hartle

Photo by Glen Hartle

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: “Have a great Latter-day!”

By PAUL GESSELL

The Book of Mormon

There is nothing sacred in The Book of Mormon.

Likely Ottawa has never laughed so hard. There’s a campy Christ; a Hitler disco-dancing in Hell; a murderous African warlord with a name too racy to repeat here. OMG!

This Tony Award-winning musical from the company Broadway Across Canada, and which is currently playing onstage at the National Arts Centre from July 15-27, is perhaps the most politically incorrect production to pass through town since the tart-tongued, cross-dressing Dame Edna Everage last visited, tossing gladioli and insults at the audience. Mormons are mercilessly caricatured in this musical. Ugandans are racially stereotyped. Baptism assumes sexual overtones.

It is difficult not to feel guilty laughing at all the jokes. After all, the jokes are mainly at the expense of people who are pretty serious about their religion.

I kept thinking: What would a Mormon think of this? So, once home, I Googled that very question and found news stories quoting some supposedly important Mormons as saying that the success of The Book of Mormon during the last few years has increased interest in the religion and people are now more likely to answer the doorbell when two fresh-faced, young men in white shirts and black ties come calling with promises of everlasting paradise. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has even been known to buy ads in playbills of The Book of Mormon.

“People will become more aware that we’re a Christian church, that we’re not a cult, and that we don’t force our views on anyone, but that we’re happy to share them with those who are interested,” Elder Steven Bennion, a top church official, is quoted as saying.

Now, that makes me feel better. It’s great to have a religion with a sense of humour — which isn’t always the case. Back in 1979, there was outrage from various pockets of the Christian community over a movie caricaturing the life of Christ in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And we all know about the sense of humour demonstrated by fatwa-invoking Muslim ayatollahs.

The plot of The Book of Mormon involves two naïve young American men — Mormon missionaries — who are sent to rural Uganda. The Ugandans aren’t interested and the missionaries make no converts until one of the young Americans spices up the evangelizing by adding elements from science fiction and The Lord of the Rings. For example, sinners in Mormonland get sent to The Fires of Mordor. The Ugandans become intrigued. They get baptized. And that’s when the problems really begin for the two Mormon missionaries.

In the end, this is a feel-good musical in the vein of Hairspray — except in The Book of Mormon, it’s a fat boy, not a fat girl, who emerges as the hero.

It is simply a perfect production. The songs are catchy. The dance numbers rock. The set changes are magic. Everybody leaves happy. As fat-boy Elder Cunningham would say: “Have a great Latter-day!”

The Book of Mormon