Coming to the table

It all starts with an onion.

Tears begin to well in my mother’s eyes as she prepares what is most commonly the first ingredient in every dish made in our family’s kitchen.

After the oil, it is the first ingredient to be added to the hot skillet. It is the foundation for soups, sauces and almost everything else I can think of.

This first step has been engrained in my mind since I was a little girl. The onion comes first, my mum would tell me. I grew up cooking with my mum guiding my culinary education.

I owe my great love for food and the creation of it to her- it is because of her insistence on having me participate in the process of preparing a meal that I am now a proud food education advocate.

This passing down of culinary knowledge is what keeps tradition alive. The ways in which we prepare meals plays a major role in how we define cultures.

The art of creating a meal requires some educating.

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So what happens when parents stop educating their children on the art of preparing meals?

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5 Books That Have Changed the Way I Think

In one of my Culture and Conflict Resolution classes, we were asked to talk about how art and literature has affected our lives. I mentioned that I have a list of books that have changed the way I think. It turns out that my friends do as well—with Malorie Blackman’s “Noughts & Crosses” series being a prominent fixture on many of their lists. I’d never read or heard of the series, and I’m pretty jealous that they got to read something of that depth and actually gain something from it at such a young age. Hearing about their reading experiences has made me want to share some of mine. So, here is a part of my list: five books that have changed the way I think and some of the lessons that were drawn from them. They aren’t necessarily my favourite books—although some of them are—but after I finished reading them, I looked at the world in a different way than when I started.

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What YOUth said: Insights from the Arts in Action Dialogue

Thank you for all of those who came out to the Arts in Action dialogue. It truly was a fun and inspiring day! Here are some of the highlights from the comments and insights gained through the World Cafe Discussion questions, which tackled the different angles of the relationship between art and discrimination, and how we may use art to create diverse and inclusive communities. Please share your comments and thoughts below!

As a lot of art sells for thousands of dollars at exclusive events and shows, how can public spaces in Vancouver be used to make art more accessible?

It just so happened that for this question we focused on visual art. This question allowed for some venting about how the high cost of art supplies and studio space makes it inaccessible to many students and youth. There was a consensus that we would like to see progressive policies from Government at different levels supporting the arts. The group soon delved deeper into the roots of this issue and asked the question: “what is the motive for creating art?” Is it fame or wealth? The money-centric, class-differenciated reality of our present day society has made art a luxury that can mostly be afforded by a rich elite. This often creates a dilemma for artists who rely on this exclusive culture to sell their work. Finally, there needs to be a balance between artists making a living while not being motivated by money in such a way that they would make their art inaccessible to those without the material means. The group then began to question whom are considered artists and decided that the production of art should not be exclusive to those who are professional artists. As one participant put it: “Art should be more like exercise – everyone should do it.” Finally, it was clear that appropriate public spaces need to be selected for sharing art in a way that will encourage connection and community, and that a general public education is needed in order to appreciate art in public spaces.

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Racism in Vancouver: Lingering in Less Obvious Forms

Illustration by david anderson http://davidandersonillustration.com

Last weekend I attended a facilitator training by CitizenU on Anti-discrimination. Having been part of the ArtQuake team for less than a week, I didn’t know what to expect from the weekend. It turned out to be a wonderful experience. Apart from getting to know and bonding with ArtQuake co-founders Tahia and Jannika, I discovered some fascinating yet disturbing facts about the history of racism in Vancouver, which plunged me into a deep reflection about forms of racism today.

Not too long ago…

For those of us born in the late 80’s it’s always shocking to be reminded that legal and institutionalized racism existed in Canada as little as 50 years ago. Consider that it was only in 1960 that ‘Status Indians’ living on reserves received the right to vote in federal elections for the first time. We watched a documentary during the training which showed that there were growing branches of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)  in Canada during the 1920s and 1930s, but even in 1980 the Canadian Knights of the KKK had about 2,500 committed Klan members, from recruits in urban British Columbia schools, Vancouver high schools, the University of British Columbia, and the B.C. Institute of Technology, most of which were very young.These members were white supremacists who were against immigration of other races to Canada. Did you know that during World War Two Canadians of Japanese origin, including Canadian-born and naturalized citizens (men, women and children) were detained, relocated, and expelled from their British Columbia homes, and 23,000 Japanese Canadians were sent to detention camps in the interior of BC, Southern Alberta and Manitoba? Chinese Canadians were only given the right to vote in Federal elections in 1947, and Indigenous People were given the right to vote in B.C. in 1950.

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Following the Beat to Social Change

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If you were in Montreal this past spring, chances are you’re familiar with the nightly “casseroles” that formed a faint metallic rhythm heard all over the city. These pot-banging protests brought thousands of Montrealers into the streets, kitchen utensils in hand, to express their opposition to the provincial government’s controversial Bill 78 that aimed to subdue the ongoing student protests over tuition hikes. Every 8:00pm, like clockwork, small groups would form on apartment balconies and street corners, transforming within the hour into droves of hundreds proceeding throughout the city.

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Class, Taste, and British Student TV

The television in the student accommodation, which I shared with five other students in Bradford last year, was not often the source of particularly thought-provoking fare. However, when the two art students in the flat wanted to watch In the Best Possible Taste, we were provided with a rare exception. In each episode of this three-part series, Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry explored taste—“why people buy the things they do and wear the things they wear, and what they are trying to say about themselves when they make those choices”—among representatives of a different British class. He visited his subject’s homes and participated in their social activities in an inquisitive yet empathetic and perceptive manner. He would then create two massive tapestries, which symbolised what he felt he had learned about his model’s taste, aspirations, and difficulties. The subjects of the episode are then invited into his gallery to view the tapestries. Each episode spawned long-lasting discussions in my flat; we even missed a good chunk of the second episode because we started yakking during a commercial break and didn’t stop. I don’t know if my art student flatmates would agree with me—I should probably ask them—but in my opinion, good art creates those kinds of discussions.

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Dirty Hands

I was cleaning off my brushes and palettes, (AKA old plastic Chinese food containers ho ho,) the night after the ArtQuake OneLove show on Friday– and I found myself just… staring.

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OneLove 2012: In retrospect

Time flies by. It was only a few months ago ArtQuake was searching for passionate, creative youth to join our OneLove youth committee. Six months and one fantastic night of live performing and visual arts later, the One Love youth program finally came to a close.

The Committee, made up of six enthusiastic youth, received workshops and training in marketing, budgeting, fundraising and other skills related to project management. ArtQuake brought in facilitators from all over Vancouver to provide the resources necessary for the committee to acquire the necessary skills to feel confident applying their new skill set to organizing what would be the fourth annual OneLove show.

And so the adventure began, equipped with the knowledge and tools to plan ArtQuake’s annual summer show, the team set off to turn their ideas into action. With guidance from the ArtQuake staff, each individual youth took on their own respective roles and responsibilities, utilizing their own personal strengths to contribute to team’s collective goal to mount Onelove successfully.

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PeaceJam, Education, and Values

Last weekend the University of Bradford hosted the annual PeaceJam UK Conference, a conference in which a Nobel Peace Laureate joins students aged thirteen through nineteen for a weekend of talks, workshops, and community service. In addition, at every conference, youth make a commitment to advance the Global Call to Action, and at subsequent conferences, present the projects that they have worked on to fulfill this commitment. This year, the guest laureate was Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the human rights defender and sculptor, and the conference theme was “Breaking the cycle of violence.”

For the second year in a row, I was a conference mentor meaning that throughout the weekend, my mentor partner and I led sessions of discussion, reflection, and teambuilding with our “family group,” a group of ten youth. Our family group had challenging discussions about the justifiability of violence, which flowed into a dialogue about the death penalty; we also spent a session seeing who could make the tallest free-standing tower out of paper and tape. It was great watching the group bond, and hopefully, they learned something from each other’s perspectives.

One statement from Adolfo’s opening speech, which stuck with me is that we need to think deeply about what we want to achieve through education. We can train our children to become professionals, he said, to become great engineers and architects, but if that’s all we focus on, they run the risk of becoming robots—unthinking cogs in oppressive systems. He said that education should also be about thinking critically about values.

In my opinion, many problematic forms of thinking are reinforced in our education system. One major example is some people’s tendency of trying to place everything in fixed absolute categories. While we may need categories in order to understand the infinite complexity of our world, there is no reason why we should not apply them with an eye for nuance and an understanding of the fluidity of categorical borders. The more I look into any particular subject, the more seemingly fundamental boundaries blur. While I can laugh at my friends’ over-categorisation when it comes to, for example, which foods qualify as “breakfast food” and which ones qualify as “dinner food,” it becomes far more serious when categories are applied to be people, whether it be through race, gender, religion or preferred sports teams. This is why it’s troubling that—particularly at an early age—much of my schooling revolved around memorising categories and their apparently “absolute” characteristics. It’s funny the amount of times we learned “absolute” rules, when we were younger, which we had to unlearn as we get older because there was more nuance to them than we were originally taught.

Another example is the tendency to claim universality from one’s personal experience. Obviously we can only think and theorise from what we perceive, learn, and “know.” This isn’t a problem in itself; the problem comes when people assume that their inevitably subjective conclusions can automatically be applied to everyone else without taking the time to listen to them. With this in mind, I wonder why I remember teachers in the Humanities emphasising the “ability” to draw links between subject matter and our own lives. Why do we need to find relevance to our own lives in order to understand and empathise with others?

At PeaceJam, youth experienced a different form of education. One workshop that I attended focused on the relationships that connect us. Other activities, from the campaign for an Arms Trade Treaty with Amnesty International to planting potatoes with the Permaculture project, from the art with Umbrellas for Peace to the session with Peace FC [who in a completely unrelated note won the Tolstoy Cup 2-1 on Sunday], had a similar focus. I think that our education system could certainly benefit from more focus on thinking, discussing and listening about how we interact with each other and our world.

In reference to my previous post about art’s ability to communicate other people’s lives, this new photography book released by LSE (of Saif Gaddafi fame) provides a hugely insightful peak into another time and place.

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Be A Part of the Solution

“[Friend] likes the Most Beautiful Teenager Contest’s photo.”

Wait, what?  I stared at my computer screen, puzzled.  I curiously clicked on the Facebook page.  Within seconds, a page dedicated to discovering the “most beautiful teen” on Facebook unfolded before my eyes.  I scrolled through the page, noting the pictures, the ‘likes,’ and most of all, the comments.  I was shocked.  While some teenagers obviously entered this contest with the intention of winning, others entered the contest to be accepted or validated as “beautiful” to hundreds of thousands of people they don’t know.  And guess what?  Instead of these self-conscious teens being told they are “hot” or “gorgeous,” they are reminded of their insecurities, called hurtful names, and are quickly embarrassed– all through the click of a button.  Unfortunately, it’s that easy.  One person posts a negative comment, and it snowballs.  These comments results in the teen feeling  further self-doubt.  Imagine a person looking in the mirror after being told that they are ugly, or gross.  Suddenly, self-confidence plummets, and any imagined flaws become obvious.

Other self-esteem and self-image damaging competitions are all over the internet, including the dangerous “Am I Ugly?” trend on YouTube.  In these videos, people (usually, preteen girls) ask for the public’s opinion on how they look.  They ask, “Honestly, am I pretty or ugly?”   These videos leave a child vulnerable to bullying, and these videos allow millions of strangers to give opinions and brutal feedback to a child.  It’s frightening.

This is why we need to reassure youth that beauty is not measured in the number of ‘likes’ a photo gets.  We need to remind them that true beauty is not measured with a ruler.  Yet, we’re so quick to compliment a child on a cute dress or adorable hair.  As a result, some children grow up thinking about appearance first and inner beauty secondary.  We must remind ourselves and remind young people that it is inner beauty that ultimately shines through.  Inner beauty is all about values and character.  We must help youth discover what makes them feel beautiful in a healthy way, such as playing a sport or painting a picture.  Teach them something new, like how to cook a meal.  Take the time to listen to them.  Make them smile.  Build their confidence. When a young person is empowered, opportunities become endless.