By Mackenzie Patterson
A new art project on campus aims to redefine what it means to be diverse and shed light on what it’s really like to live in Toronto.
Foreign Encounters: Redefining Diversity is an interactive art project created by the Madeleine Collective, which is Ryersonbased.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays in January, pop-up photo booths will be set up in various locations on campus to give people an opportunity to share their stories about diversity. People can also share their stories through Twitter, Facebook or on the project’s website.
The Madeleine Collective is made up of three members; Nicole Bazuin, a Ryerson alumna, and Ryerson staff members Alexandra Hong and Cheryl Hsu. Their aim is to forge strong bonds in the community through their art while reinforcing positive interactions and education.
Hsu says that Foreign Encounters is meant to give youth a fresh look at the subject of diversity.
“In a lot of tourism campaigns it’s all rainbows and best friends, and it causes more eye rolls rather than insight into our city,” she says. “This project is designed to have students take the topic of diversity into their own hands.”
The photos are in black and white and the subject holds a bright orange punctuation mark as a way of showcasing the project’s element of visual storytelling.
Stories about culture or experiences with diversity accompany the photos. The stories can be captivating, hilarious and brutally honest, reinforcing one of the overarching messages of the project – everyone’s story is completely unique and one-of-a kind.
One story is about a toddler coming to Toronto for the first time and exclaiming, “He’s chocolate!” upon seeing a black man, leaving the adults exchanging shy smiles. This type of encounter is what the people behind the project hope to capture.
“Isn’t it interesting that we live in a city where a baby can have that moment? That’s the message we’re trying to get across, just celebrating those funny moments,” said Hsu.
The interactive project is all about depicting a realistic and honest definition of diversity, while forging stronger ties within the community. Ryerson’s Diversity Institute served as a partner for the project by providing support and research.
Samantha Jackson, a research assistant at the Diversity Institute, said that a partnership between the Foreign Encounters project and the Diversity Institute was a natural choice because of their parallel goals.
“Artistic projects that aim to make diversity something that’s talked about and understood are complementary to the work we do,” said Jackson.
The photos and the quotes are shared online at foreignencounters.ca. The team will choose some of the stories to be part of a photo series that will be shown at the Ashoka U Exchange event at Rhode Island’s Brown University in February. This is an annual conference meant to explore social innovation among post-secondary institutions.
The team will be taking photos and collecting stories until Jan. 31.