Articles Tagged ‘Paul Gessell’

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Terry Fox, Alex Colville, and a room full of selfies


The Marathon of Hope van provided Terry and his companions with more than transport. It serves as bedroom, office, billboard, mileage calculator, equipment locker, clothes hamper, kitchen, warehouse, washroom, windbreak, jukebox, and fortress of solitude. © Canadian Museum of History

The Marathon of Hope van provided Terry and his companions with more than transport. It serves as bedroom, office, billboard, mileage calculator, equipment locker, clothes hamper, kitchen, warehouse, washroom, windbreak, jukebox, and fortress of solitude. © Canadian Museum of History

What would Terry Fox be like if he had not died at age 22 in 1981?

Would he still be a national hero, but one now in his 50s? Would he have become a great motivational speaker, an author, a politician or paralypian? One has the feeling he could have succeeded in whatever field he wanted.

I suddenly started thinking about the “what ifs” of Terry’s life upon seeing and talking to some of his friends and family who came to Gatineau to participate in the opening of an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History called Terry Fox: Running to the Heart of Canada.

These friends and family have all naturally aged since they were first catapulted into the national news in 1980 alongside Terry when he started his Marathon of Hope, his fund-raising run for cancer across Canada.

So what would Terry look like today? Would the curls be gone? A paunch have developed? Would there be a bionic leg to replace the absolutely primitive looking prosthetic he used and is on display in the exhibition?

Terry’s prosthetic leg was built by prosthetic specialist Ben Speicher of Vancouver, British Columbia. © Canadian Museum of History

Terry’s prosthetic leg was built by prosthetic specialist Ben Speicher of Vancouver, British Columbia. © Canadian Museum of History

Those who die young remain young forever in our hearts. But wouldn’t it be great if Terry came back, even just for a day, to pose for photographs with the 1980 E250 Econoline Ford van that was turned into a camper and was his “home” during the 143 days he ran — more of a hop really — from St. John’s, NL to Thunder Bay? That was where the run ended. The cancer that claimed his right leg caught up to him again, this time in his lungs, forced an end to the run and caused his death some months later.

The Ford Motor Co. had donated the van for Terry’s use. When the run ended, the van was sold to a London, Ont. family with the surname Johnston. A member of that family was Bill Johnston, who moved to Vancouver and used the van to tour the country with his heavy metal band Removal. In 2005, Doug Coupland, the celebrated author, artist, and friend of the Fox family, attended a party in Vancouver where someone told him the van was in the city. With Terry’s brother Darrell Fox, Coupland tracked down the van and the Terry Fox Foundation took ownership. Ford has restored the van to the way it looked in 1980.

The van is like the Holy Grail of Canada, a symbol of goodness and generosity and bravery. It is the centrepiece of an exhibition that is bound to leave anyone in tears who can remember Terry’s run and his death and the impact he had on an entire country. The van is surrounded by letters, cards and film clips of people talking about how Terry inspired and helped them. Thirty-five years after his death, we still mourn him.

The exhibition continues until Jan. 24, 2016.

Living Room by Alex Colville

Living Room by Alex Colville

If you go to only one art exhibition a year, visit Colville

Images of Alex Colville’s paintings have been reproduced so extensively over the years on posters, book covers, and other paraphernalia that they have become as familiar as photos in one’s own family album.

You have seen your Colville relatives (and their animal friends) in such familiar paintings as To Prince Edward Island, Horse and Train, Church and Horse, and Dog in Car. These are all snapshots of the menacing, mysterious parallel world of “Colville moments” that lay just beneath the surface of our everyday Canadian lives and threaten to erupt at any moment.

About 100 Colville works, including many of his most famous paintings, have been assembled for an exhibition running from April 23 to Sept. 7 at the National Gallery of Canada. Simply titled Alex Colville, the show ran last summer at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and attracted 166,406 visitors, the largest number ever to attend a show of Canadian art at the AGO.

The exhibition was mainly organized by the AGO’s Andrew Hunter, who focuses on the relationship between Colville’s paintings and the much larger world of pop culture. Example: The late American film-maker Stanley Kubrick personally selected four reproductions of Colville paintings to hang on the walls of sets constructed for the horror film The Shining. The first Colville seen, Horse and Train, appears early in the spooky film at the home of Danny, the boy with the supernatural power called “the shining.” Danny’s father, played by Jack Nicholson, is soon to go wildly insane chasing Danny with an axe. We always had a sense of foreboding with Horse and Train. We just never knew it could presage an axe murder.

Actually, many of Colville’s paintings exude the feeling that something horrible is about to happen. Call them “Colville moments.” The Coen Brothers film No Country for Old Men is filled with “Colville moments,” most involving a psychopathic killer (actor Javier Bardem) patiently waiting for the right moment to unleash what we know will be another bloodbath. Colville, who died in 2013 at age 92, was a fan of the Coen Brothers films. The National Gallery show will explore this Coen-Colville relationship.

Colville’s career as an artist dates back to the 1940s, including a stint as a war artist, and a visit to the newly liberated Nazi concentration camp Belsen. Some of the war art, including horrifying Belsen work, are in the National Gallery exhibition.

We also get to explore Colville’s relationship to his late wife Rhoda, who was a model for many of her husband’s paintings. Their intense 70-year-long marriage is another focus of the exhibition.

If you go to only one art exhibition a year, visit Colville. Think of it as a family reunion of sorts. Colville was the quintessential Canadian – patriotic, polite, and humble. But he was also a regular visitor to that sometimes frightening place the show’s curator calls the town of “Colville.” It’s that town of “Colville” that has made — and continues to make — this country into a far more fascinating and complex place.

The Selfie

Remember when Lilly Koltun was trying to create a portrait gallery for Ottawa? Koltun was bursting with great ideas as to what constitutes a portrait: Maybe just a pair of hands or an article of clothing. Who says portraits have to include the subject’s face?

The Caribbean country of Barbados, for example, has a portrait gallery. Some of the country’s heros in that gallery were former slaves who left no paintings or photographs of themselves. So “portraits” were created by gathering objects owned by those freedom-fighters, letters written by them, and other personal paraphernalia.

Three young Ottawa photographers have taken a similar expansive approach to the notion of a self-portrait. Magida El-Kassis, Olivia Johnston, and Jennifer Stewart have collaborated on an exhibition titled Selfies at Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa City Hall.

In one installation, Johnston, one of Ottawa’s most interesting portrait photographers, has arranged 39 inkjet prints on a wall depicting used cosmetic pads. The smears on the pads are like Johnston’s face removed and then reduced to crude smears.

Both El-Kassis and Stewart have large inkjet prints of themselves as ghostly figures in rooms or in a forest. These images, just like conventional portraits, make you wonder what this person is really like. Why did she choose this media? What does that say about her?

Some of the images in Selfies are far more conventional, some are nudes, some show personal objects such as shoes or gloves. The results are innovative, fascinating and brave. Selfies continues at Karsh-Masson until April 19.


Elaine Goble, an Ottawa artist I much admire, has a new exhibition opening April 9 at Wallack Galleries. The show is called The Painted Truth and includes works in graphite, photography, and egg tempera. Goble is best known as a homefront war artist, but her oeuvre is much more extensive. The exhibition continues until April 25.







ARTFUL BLOGGER: Jane Urquhart’s Night Stages recalls late Ottawa artist Ken Lochhead


Jane Urquhart took a huge risk with her new novel, The Night Stages, a sad, poetical tale of complex journeys and complicated love. This is because one of the leading characters in the book is a real person, but fictionalized: Kenneth Lochhead, the celebrated Ottawa artist who died in 2006.

Fictionalizing real people is a risky business. Wayne Johnston learned that lesson some years ago with his epic novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, about Joey Smallwood, the former Newfoundland premier. Johnston was accused of a sensationalized caricature rather than an accurate portrait.

No one bats an eye over a novel about real people dead hundreds of years ago, a Henry VIII or a Cleopatra. Indeed, most of Shakespeare’s plays are fictionalized stories of real people. But fictionalizing people many living Canadians knew intimately is a trickier task.

Urquhart seems to have been extraordinarily careful in recreating Lochhead, a former University of Ottawa art professor and a mentor to generations of Ottawa artists. Urquhart is evidently confident enough of “her” Lochhead that she is coming to the Ottawa Writers Festival to launch her book at public events April 9 and 10. Many in her Ottawa audiences will undoubtedly be people who knew the real Lochhead.

Clearly, Urquhart did her homework to present the true essence of Lochhead, even though she has changed certain details of his life. Before publishing The Night Stages, Urquhart sent a copy of the manuscript to Joanne Lochhead, the artist’s widow living in Ottawa.

“I thought it was great,” Mrs. Lochhead said of the novel in a recent interview. “I really liked the way she handled him.”

Mrs. Lochhead said that her husband, since his death, has become “historical,” giving novelists more licence to recreate him.

As a journalist, I have always been leery of novelists portraying real, contemporary people and deviating from the known record. But I must agree with Mrs. Lochhead that Urquhart did a splendid job with Kenneth Lochhead, a man I met several times to discuss his art, but also to discuss Saskatchewan, where we both used to live, and for a time, to discuss our cottages along the same stretch of the Gatineau River.

In Night Stages, a woman named Tamara finds herself stranded at Gander Airport in Newfoundland during a three-day snowstorm. She spends many hours communing with the 72-foot-long mural, “Flight and its Allegories”, in the waiting lounge. The mural was painted by Lochhead in 1958.

Lochhead, in real life, summed up the complex narrative in the mural this way: “Characterization of each figure has been attempted in order to portray various human feelings that man, himself, often experiences when entering into flight.”

Tamara relates scenes in the mural to her own life, her troubled relationship with an Irish man named Niall and Niall’s troubled relationship with his quixotic brother Kieran. The stories of these three individuals are interspersed with the partly true, partly fictionalized story of Lochhead, his journey through life and his creation of the mural.

Jane Urquhart. Photo by Mark Raynes Roberts

Jane Urquhart. Photo by Mark Raynes Roberts

“There are children of various sizes, placed here and there across the painted surface,” Urquhart writes, as Tamara begins a description of the mural. “Some of them are toy-like – not dolls exactly, more wooden and brightly coloured than dolls. They resemble nutcrackers, she decides, remembering the ballet she had been taken to as a child. In spite of their fixed expressions, they seem to be filled with an anxious, almost terrible, anticipation, as if they sense they are about to fall into a sudden departure from childhood. All around them velocity dominates the cluttered air. Missile-shaped birds tear the sky apart, and everything is moving away from the centre.”

Urquhart has done a service to Canada by reminding us all of “Flight and its Allegories”. There is the possibility the Gander Airport will be torn down, its splendid modernist architecture lost and the mural’s future uncertain. Once called The Crossroads of the World, Gander airport is no longer the refuelling stop of most trans-Atlantic flights. It costs $800,000 annually just for heat and light. Clearly, Canadians must rally to save the airport and its mural. Urquhart’s book makes us realize that a splendid work of art is at risk.

Meet the author:
On April 9 at 7 p.m., Jane Urquhart will be interviewed on stage by author Charlotte Gray at Christ Church Cathedral, 414 Sparks St.

On April 10, Urquhart will participate in a lunch and fundraiser for children’s literacy at Metropolitan Brasserie, 700 Sussex Drive.





PROFILES: Arctic inspires new art by Leslie Reid

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Ottawa Magazine, as part of a series of stories about Ottawa’s connections to the Far North .



Ottawa artist Leslie Reid is pictured with one of the first works, Llwewellyn 59°05’N; 133°56’W, which is based on her photo of the terminus, or tongue, of the Llewellyn Glacier in the Juneau Icefield. Photo by Dwayne Brown

Leslie Reid’s paintings, whether of pastoral Calumet Island or foggy Newfoundland, have always been more about emotion than landscape. That is to say, the sense of loss or tranquility or mortality is more important than the hazy images of lakes and trees the Ottawa artist harvests from photographs.

“Although she has always worked from photographs, her intention has never been photographic objectivity,” says Diana Nemiroff, who curated a Reid retrospective at Carleton University Art Gallery in 2011. “What interests her are the perceptual and psychological sensations provoked by the experience of a particular place.”

So when Reid spent nearly three weeks in August 2013 hopscotching around the Arctic with the military, the retired University of Ottawa art professor was, in essence, seeking emotions provoked by aerial views of glaciers, mountains, rivers — not to mention the effects of climate change on these landscape features — that she could put on canvas. Those Arctic scenes and emotions culled from 11,400 kilometres of air travel will form a body of work called Mapping Time for exhibitions next year in Ottawa and Montreal.

Reid on a walk to the shore of the Northwest Passage at Resolute on Cornwallis Island. Photo courtesy Leslie Reid

Reid on a walk to the shore of the Northwest Passage at Resolute on Cornwallis Island. Photo courtesy Leslie Reid

Some of those emotions provoked by the North are the “psychological sensations,” to use Nemiroff’s term, derived from Reid’s appreciation of the experiences of her late father, an air force pilot. She had a “difficult” relationship with her father, who died at 44 — half a century ago, when Leslie was still a teenager — their differences unresolved.

Squadron Leader John “Jack” Reid flew DC-3s around the Arctic in the 1940s while a military photographer captured the scenes below. The nine-by-nine-inch prints from those forays are stored in the National Air Photo Library on Booth Street. Reid, the daughter, is using those old photos, as well as her own, to help craft the paintings in Mapping Time. In many ways, Reid was following in her late father’s footsteps last year courtesy of the Canadian Forces Artists Program, which allows artists to have ringside seats at military activities for a few weeks at a time. She said she was not expecting the trip to “resolve” the troubled relationship with her father but that she hoped “family history” would be one of the lenses through which she viewed the Arctic. Reid seems reluctant to say much about her “mercurial” father but offered this: “When he was away, he loved me dearly. It’s when he was at home I wasn’t so sure.”

After her trip, Reid fed dozens of her digital photographs into a Flickr website as a gift of sorts to the pilots, rangers, and other military personnel who facilitated her magical mystery tour. Nancy Baele, former art critic for the Ottawa Citizen, saw the Flickr images and sent Reid an email. “They are amazing,” wrote Baele. “Some of the landscapes seem as though they are paintings you have done. But what kept going through my mind was the question: How will you distil the human and landscape, both so haunting, so inextricably intertwined, sublime, so earthly, so earthy? … It is the artist’s task to give all these sensations, thoughts, and intimations form … Lucky we have you.”

Read the rest of this entry »

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Canadian contemporary art biennial quality over quantity


Howie Tsui      The Unfortunates of d’Arcy Island, 2013 Chinese paint pigments and gold calligraphy ink on mulberry paper, mounted on board 4 panels; 91.5 × 61 × 4.2 cm each; 91.5 × 244 × 4.2 cm overall National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Photo © NGC  

Howie Tsui    
The Unfortunates of d’Arcy Island, 2013
Chinese paint pigments and gold calligraphy ink on mulberry paper, mounted on board
4 panels; 91.5 × 61 × 4.2 cm each; 91.5 × 244 × 4.2 cm overall
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Photo © NGC

Shine a Light: Canadian Biennial 2014 is more compact than the National Gallery of Canada’s two previous biennials, but this exhibition is far more memorable, with one wow after another. Several individual artists are each given a room to display their wares, making the overall exhibition seem like a series of mini-exhibitions of some of the best contemporary art being created by Canadian artists.

Additionally, most of the art chosen for the biennial is what curators call “accessible” — in that most people will “get” the installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, and films, and not be left bewildered as to what is really going on.

From Vancouver, Geoffrey Farmer is represented by a massive installation, Leaves of Grass, originally exhibited in a somewhat different form at the prestigious international art fair dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany. The installation includes more than 16,000 photographs of celebrities, consumer products, natural disasters, and wars snipped from Life magazines during the period 1935-85 and glued to sticks stuck into floral foam, forming a crowded line 124 feet long. The whole contraption sits atop a long, narrow table with the photos-on-a-stick rising six feet above the table top. One could spend a day just eyeing this photographic review of much of the 20th century.


Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

Geoffrey Farmer Leaves of Grass, 2012, cut-out images from Life magazines (1935–85), archival glue, miscanthus grass, floral foam and wooden table, installation dimensions variable, installation view, dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel, 2012. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Courtesy of the artist, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver and Casey Kaplan, New York. Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

Another room has seven large format photos from China by Toronto’s Edward Burtynsky. Nearby is a room for Kelly Richard’s imaginative film Mariner 9, revealing an imagined scene on Mars. Vancouver artist Luke Parnell fills a room with an installation about the commodification of West Coast Aboriginal art called A Brief History of Northwest Coast Design. Another Vancouver Aboriginal artist, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, has his own room to display drawings and paintings, including the iconic Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky.

The biennial is meant to showcase the gallery’s contemporary art (including indigenous art) acquisitions from the last two years. Not all new acquisitions are exhibited in the biennial. This time 80 works from 26 artists are on display. That’s only about a third of the acquisitions.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 acrylic on canvas, 142.3 × 226.1 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 acrylic on canvas, 142.3 × 226.1 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC.

That means works by three Ottawa artists — Melanie Authier, Lorraine Gilbert, and Annie Pootoogook — are not part of the exhibition, despite being acquired during the past two years. Last time, one of Authier’s abstract paintings became something of a signature piece for the biennial. Paintings were scarce commodities in this new exhibition. The two drawings and one lithograph by Pootoogook are from 2004-5, before this one-time art star originally from Cape Dorset, Nunavut became a tragic street person in Ottawa.

Ottawa ex-pat Howie Tsui, now of Vancouver, is in the exhibition with his contemporary take on an ancient Chinese scroll painting. Tsui’s work, The Unfortunates of D’Arcy Island, tells the story of an island off the British Columbia coast that once housed a leper colony for Chinese-Canadians. Music fans will remember Tsui as part of the band The Acorn. In the last few years that Tsui has been away from Ottawa, his work has matured — it looks less like street art, has more gravitas, and, in the case of D’Arcy Island, a strong connection to Canadian history rather than Asian fantasy.

The biennials are products of a team of curators from contemporary art, photography, drawings and indigenous art. The chief curator for this biennial is Josee Drouin-Brisbois, curator of contemporary art. In a curatorial essay, Drouin-Brisbois explains how the exhibition came to be called Shine a Light: “Artists can be seen as modern-day philosophers and visionaries who shine light on events, places, and people that have been obscured, forgotten, or marginalized by history and societies.”

Shine a Light continues at the National Gallery until March 8.


SEPTEMBER 2014: Living in the Downtown Core


Cover image by Christian Laldone – Photolux Studio.

Gentrification is a loaded word. As Mark Bourrie writes in “Change Is Good?” (page 40), when a neighbourhood goes from gritty to trendy, there are some who do very well and others who lose out. But I’d say there is one thing it’s good for, and that’s opening our eyes to the corner stores, green spaces, and other hidden gems that give an area character. For some people — we’re calling them neo urbanites — those observations shape their lives in fascinating ways. 

It’s precisely this act of taking neighbourhood love to the next level that fuels our 40-page cover story, “Living in the Downtown Core.” From the voices speaking out about gentrification to the people who invited us into their stylish homes, we can’t talk about urban renewal without shining a spotlight on the folks who are behind the movement. That’s why we broke with tradition and featured people on our cover (you can read more about Patrick Hajas and Erin Silsbe, and their beautiful deck in Centretown, in “Family Values,” page 61). In fact, while the “Urban Study” series showcases stunning interiors, the stories are more about how a house works to accommodate the downtown lifestyle and why the inhabitants choose to live where they do. Because it’s people like Patrick and Erin — people who frequent mom-and-pop stores and loiter at the cash to shoot the breeze — who are helping to shape the downtown core. And these so-called neo urbanites are savvy: they know about the power of the purse, and they walk the downtown talk. That’s why they volunteer with community groups, frequent independently owned shops, and walk so much! 

Alan Neal and Jill Zmud walk baby Violet and pug . Photo by Jamie Kronick.

Alan Neal and Jill Zmud walk baby Violet and pug . Photo by Jamie Kronick.

For me, one of the most interesting projects to watch right now is the Bell Street Towers. Apparently it’s one of the city’s oldest apartment buildings, and it’s one of the first places I heard about when my sister moved to Ottawa in the late 1990s. She saw the sign from the highway and, with vacancy rates low and few ties to the city, took a chance. She told some nasty pigeon stories, but she also spoke of the diversity of her fellow tenants, of children playing wildly in the stairwells, of spontaneous clothing swaps in the laundry room. Years later, when I was living in the shadows of the Towers, I came to appreciate the street-level retail. Yes, the pizza at Calabria was pretty good, and that Polish grocer got us through some busy weeks, but it was the familiar faces that made us loyal customers. Like many neighbourhoods in transition, the future of the Bell Towers is unknown. Hopefully, the facelift will allow room for a few blemishes, for it is the gritty details that catch our attention and call us to take part in the act of shaping our city.

I would be remiss if I let this issue go by without noting a big change happening at Ottawa Magazine. Our veteran gossip columnist, the affable and hard-working Michael Prentice, has decided he would rather go on the occasional cruise and spend time with family than track the comings and goings of the upper crust. And because no one can replace Michael when it comes to this sensitive subject matter, we’re welcoming long-time journalist Chris Lackner, who will skewer all levels of government in a new column, “The Jester.” 

Dayanti Karunaratne, editor


Reason to Love: Lusk Cave
Chinatown Museum in FOUND

• Chris Lackner is The Jester
Sarah BrownDoubleSpace at MacOdrum Library

Ottawa Is a Place — the story behind the t-shirt and the city’s civic pride
by Tony Martins

In Tune With the Times at Ottawa Folk Fest
by Chris Lackner

Secrets to Tell
Author Frances Itani mines her family history in new novel
By Paul Gessell

Living in the Downtown Core:
Ottawa’s downtown is changing. It’s moving quickly from a big town
to a small city. These are the people, places, and spaces amid
the core’s changing landscape

Change is Good?
A look at the positives — and the pitfalls — of gentrification
By Mark Bourrie   Photography by Dwayne Brown 

My ’hood, Your ’hood
Newcomers and old-timers dish on favourite haunts
Photography by Tony Fouhse

My Story
Vanier’s orphaned landmark
By Mike Steinhauer

Family life in Little Italy
By Nichole McGill

My Guilt Trip
By David McDonald 

Urban Study
At home with four committed downtowners

A Day in the Life
Minute by minute, hour by hour — at work and play with four urbanites
Photography by Rémi Thériault and Jamie Kronick

Photo by Luther Caverly

Photo by Luther Caverly

Alpaca is the new cashmere. Find it at Magpie Hill.

MY LOOK Talking life + style with Matt Carson


Connecting farm to fork by Shawna Wagman

Quest for raspberries by Cindy Deachman

Plus City Bites — foodie gossip and other juicy bits


David Lawrason picks top Greek wines


Spotlight on Erling’s Variety

New reviews of Ginza Ramen, Mamma Teresa Chelsea Ristorante, and The Rex

Carp Fair, Folk Festival Favourites, plus See, Hear, Read with Paul Gessell


The Examined Space by rob mclennan

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


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.




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


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!”


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







ARTFUL BLOGGER: National Gallery show reveals how Gustave Doré’s 19th century illustrations haunt us still


Gustave Doré, Oceanids or Naiads of the Sea, c. 1878 Oil on canvas, 127 × 185.4 cm Lawrence B. Berenson

Gustave Doré, Oceanids or Naiads of the Sea, c. 1878
Oil on canvas, 127 × 185.4 cm
Lawrence B. Berenson

Gustave Doré is hardly a household name. But this 19th century French artist is the main attraction this summer at the National Gallery of Canada’s exhibit Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination. So, take a look. You will be pleasantly surprised to realize you have vague recollections of having seen his work before. Hundreds of times.

Doré was a prolific and talented illustrator. He produced illustrated copies of many great works of literature, including Don Quixote, The Bible, Dante’s Inferno, Paradise Lost, and many traditional fairy tales.

The images (or their spin-offs) he created for these books are still regularly seen today. Some of the mythical creatures in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, Lord of the Rings, were lifted straight from Dore. Or the Puss-n-Boots-like character in the Shrek 2 movie? Dore did it first. Or remember Charlton Heston as Moses in the Hollywood blockbuster The Ten Commandments? The scene in which an angry Moses smashes the tablets with the commandments was inspired by Doré. On and on it goes. He is even given credit for inventing a relative of the beast we know as King Kong.

Gustave Doré, The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism, 1868 Oil on canvas, 300 × 200 cm Art Gallery of Hamilton, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, 2002 (2002.33.18)

Gustave Doré, The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism, 1868
Oil on canvas, 300 × 200 cm
Art Gallery of Hamilton, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, 2002 (2002.33.18)

The 100 or so works in the National Gallery summer-long show include film clips allowing visitors to see the uncanny and repeated use of Doré-like images in popular culture throughout the 20th century and beyond. No other 19th century artist has had such a strong influence on pop culture today.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: nichola feldman-kiss installation displays horrific images from 2011 massacre in Sudan


nichola feldman-kiss, until the story of the hunt is told by the lion / facing horror and the possibility of shame, 2011-2013, sixty-one digital photographs, three-channel sound composition, electro-luminescent back-light media, Duratrans media, loud speaker system, plastics, wood, electronics, and custom software, installation view, Terms of Engagement: Averns, feldman-kiss, Stimson, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, 26 April–10 August 2014. Photo: Paul Litherland.

nichola feldman-kiss, until the story of the hunt is told by the lion / facing horror and the possibility of shame, 2011-2013, sixty-one digital photographs, three-channel sound composition, electro-luminescent back-light media, Duratrans media, loud speaker system, plastics, wood, electronics, and custom software, installation view, Terms of Engagement: Averns, feldman-kiss, Stimson, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, 26 April–10 August 2014. Photo: Paul Litherland.

The curved backlit photographs glow as they spiral heavenward from the floor of the darkened room. It is as if some whirlwind has just passed through, disturbing what had once been a neat arrangement.

The photographs are fragments of lives disappearing into the gloom. From a distance, the installation looks peaceful and inviting. Until, that is, you realize what is pictured in these photographs. Then the arrangement becomes horrific because the images are of corpses, skeletons and spent armaments – reminders of a 2011 massacre in the Sudanese community of Kaldak.

This installation by Ottawa artist nichola feldman-kiss is titled “until the story of the hunt is told by the lion / facing horror and the possibility of shame (Jonglei State, Sudan)”. It can be seen at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston as part of the nationally touring exhibition Terms of Engagement curated by the University of Ottawa art professor Christine Conley.

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