MEET THE PARTICIPANTS
Behind each mask is an individual with a unique story to share.
Hear directly from the participants as they explain their process behind creating and wearing their mask
I first met Adrian at the Drop-In Centre where I saw him with his guitar slung over his back - a social butterfly chatting with everyone in the main cafeteria on the second floor. We sat down and he shared about his passion for photography and music and opened up about the possibilities of creating and wearing a mask.
“I chose my painting simply for the colour and the expression shown in the eyes. I want to embody this character so I can display some sort of vulnerability and passiveness.”
Harry is the director of spiritual and religious care of the Salvation Army in East Village helping men transition into the community by providing friendship and support. The first time I met Harry we ended up talking for over an hour, sharing stories about art, family, and the importance of connecting with others. Harry chose his mask because it reminded him of life’s pains and sorrows.
“I also carry much sorrow and pain. I lost my father when I was 21 years old and have in a sense been an orphan since. They question of “why” still follows me around as I grieve his loss. How interesting as much as we fight and will there are some things in life that we cannot control and overcome. We have to go with the flow until better opportunities come along. I went through a faith crisis. But I also went through a faith strengthening as I discovered what is most important in life--- beyond the money, friends, ownership of things, career, importance, power, control.”
Harry hopes to be a person who can help others with their pain and sorrow “coming along side, hearing the story, entering in the person’s life and living it along with them, and then providing hope.”
Angelica and I met at the information session I hosted to introduce the project. She lives with her parents in East Village and expressed an immediate curiosity towards being a participant in this installation.
“I am someone who sees beauty in everyday life and who has great admiration for passion and creativity. Due to my reserved and pensive nature, few people will truly know my inner spirit. Engaging in this project and its workshops has challenged me to express myself more outwardly in front of the other participants and in my photograph -- a challenge I went into the workshops eager and wanting to overcome.
I picked my portrait because I saw myself reflected in the image. I was drawn to a sense of vitality beneath the chilly exterior. My portrait illustrated the message I wanted to convey about myself: I have warmth buried amongst the cold and I always see light amidst the darkness.
I am a resident of East Village and have loved every second of living here. During the project, we focused on discovering ourselves and our own masks, but when I take a step back, I realize we have collaboratively told the story of this community's diverse identity. I am grateful and proud to be a part of the beautiful mosaic of people who call East Village home.”
Dennis and I met at the Salvation Army over lunch. I was nervous to share my project with him but he quickly showed a deep kindness and curiosity about the overall concept. After the workshops were over, he was so enthusiastic, calling me to say he had even gone thrift shopping to find his costume and tell me where he wanted to be photographed. He chose some white overalls and he asked me to paint them to make them more playful. His choice to be photographed on the playground spoke to his memories of being a child.
“I am a senior living in the East Village for the past two years. Being a loner, this project was an opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone. I was able to meet others in the community and participate in something creative. The mask I chose had a sense of innocence and longing – a child-like quality. I chose this character because it reminded me of the care-free times when I did not have to lock my door – I knew my neighbours and felt that sense of community. If my mask could speak, it would tell me to be more vulnerable and give me the courage to be more open.”
This is Alexia. She is 13 years old making her the youngest participant in this project. I first met Alexia at the Central Library where I found out she is a Jr Reporter and Youth Ambassador in Calgary. She chose her mask because though they “seems like a very big person” the expression in their eyes shows that this character can also “be scared at times”.
“If a part of myself could be more visible to the outside world it would be that even if I am very confident in the way I speak or show myself it doesn’t mean that I have those same inner feelings. I loved the process of creating the mask. It was much more complicated than I thought but so captivating. When wearing the mask, I didn’t have to think about my facial expression and I felt so free. I could express myself better without thinking about what other people think and I felt relaxed and protected.”
Don is a local resident in East Village and has been living in this community for two years. During the workshops, Don spoke to me about intersections, pathways and his love for the outdoors.
“My most powerful embodiment is directly connected to my sense of place. Choosing my mask was mostly intuitive. I like the whimsical nature of the portrait. This character lives in the natural terrain on the edges of East Village. This speaks to my relationship to this community – which is living, exploring, and contributing.”
Tazim was one of the first individuals I met when I started reaching out to the different community groups in East Village. She just moved to the neighbourhood 6 months ago and saw a flyer for my information session in her building. She came to my information session and showed a refreshing enthusiasm towards the project and an openness to share her story.
“Even though I am of East Indian ancestry, I was born and raised in Tanzania, East Africa, before migrating to Canada. Masks were such a big part of my childhood.
While going through the exercises, I understood why I had bonded with this portrait, why it had affected me more than any of the other portraits. I was exploring what it was like to live with imperfection. We are always striving to become the best, perhaps even a perfect human being, yet we all have so many flaws. Some flaws we are born with, without a choice in the matter, while others, we can try to correct and improve and seek relentlessly to reach that unreachable goal of perfection. I think a lot depends on which body we are born into and what happens in our lives to mould us into the person we are today. This project has affected me tremendously. I realized the perception of how others see us, or equally how we see them is just a public façade that tends to mask so many of our emotions, which seem to be blended with our body language.
I now understand I was exploring myself as an object, exploring my self worth, and how I compare myself to others, as well as what I think of myself, and my assumptions on what others think of me. Don’t; judge me, for I am just me.”
Meet Allison, a local resident in East Village, and learn more about her story.
“For me, this was a coming home workshop. I found myself examining where I have been, why I was there, the difficulties of the previous 6 plus years, and my decision to alter what is expected of me, and to instead, put myself where I want to be now, and in the future.
I was actually uncertain why I picked this portrait. There were several that were calling to me, this one included. Out of all of them, this fellow seemed to have the attributes of fun, mischief, light, kindness and a gentle nature that isn't necessarily me, but yet, is me, maybe he reminded me of a side of myself that hasn't been around for awhile... he has attributes that I value and respond to.”
After meeting with the National Music Centre about my project, they quickly connected me to Brenna, a member of their marketing team. Having recently moved to Calgary, this opportunity presented an alternative way for them to explore their new home.
“I am an interdisciplinary designer and lucky to work in the arts and culture sector. This project is an opportunity to explore see my neighborhood through a new lens, make new connections, and remember how to play. I chose a portrait and a character that feels open and curious, and hopefully, a little bit of them rubbed off on me.”
This is Ernie. Ernie currently lives at the Salvation Army in East Village and shared many stories about watching how the neighborhood has changed over the last 15 years. He has many memories in this community and chose his portrait because it reminds him of the passages of his youth. By going through the process of putting on his mask, he hopes his portrait will convey his empathy for people as he wishes this part of himself was more visible to the outside world.
I remember when Greg selected his portrait he posed an important question to the group asking, “what if I don’t want to be this character?” Rather than exploring a connection to this mask, Greg wanted to explore his disconnection to the character.
“He seems sad but with a fake exterior of happiness. They struggle for food, shelter, money and kindness. The reason I connected with the mask is because I am a homeless man living at the Drop-In Centre. I have been around East Village for about 10 years on and off. I felt a sense of sadness when I was building my mask and then when I was finished it, it really creeped me out and I wanted to walk away from the project completely .
It turned out in the end that I had a real connection to my mask and I was very happy to of been a participant in the process.”
Meet Kevin. I first met Kevin through Calgary Family Services at a weekly gathering called Community Connects. Kevin brought delicious home baked muffins, which I found out he brings every week. Along with many other heartfelt gestures, I quickly discovered that giving to others is a part of how Kevin navigates the world.
Kevin told me he chose this painting “because it was blue and sometimes I feel blue, so it seemed to fit my mood on the day I chose it”. This mask was symbolic of Kevin’s desire to want more happiness in his life. This portrait honors Kevin’s ask to “let his hair down and let his fun self out”. When I asked Kevin if his mask had a name, he replied “Prince Archie” after his beloved cat.
Nick has worked at the Drop-In Centre for the last three years and feels a strong connection to the work that he does. He chose to be photographed inside the facility as he felt it was important to bring the inside of the DI to the outside.
"When I heard about this project, I felt it was a great opportunity to be a part of something amazing that would have a big impact in the community. The portrait I ended up picking had a gentle, calming look and feel to it. Once we eventually got to put our mask on, it was a different feeling altogether, hard to explain.
During the photoshoot I had a few quiet moments to myself. Looking across at what was now an empty space, I knew that in a few short hours it would be busy with all kinds of different people, different backgrounds, cultures and stories. For those who have been here before, they might find some level of comfort in a familiar face, but for those here for the first time, I cannot even imagine what might be going through their minds. Since being here It has helped me appreciate more some of those things so many of us take for granted every day, the comfort of your own mattress, privacy and safety of your own room, and so much more.
I think it will be great for these murals to go up, because I feel they will touch and bring out in people some of those amazing feelings and emotions that are sometimes so hard to put in words. I’m so grateful to be a part of this.”