I’ll refrain from being preachy.
If you’ve read any arts and life stories published under my watch, the section has followed two important beats: a battle between two local burrito joints and art by my fellow members of the Ryerson community.
And as another year of The Eyeopener closes, it’s my “job” to throw stories about Tex-Mex aside and manage the yearly arts issue.
Past issues covered talented groups and individuals across campus with impressive projects attached to class theses, zone initiatives and ratified student unions.
Despite this, I saw how many students’ ambitions away from Gould Street were ignored for this in-depth dive into the Ryerson arts community. For a school smack-dab in the middle of downtown Toronto, the issue sure seemed to cut talent down to a hyperlocal focal.
So, I’ve devoted this issue to DIY (do-it-yourself), independent and entrepeneurial artists whose ambitions bleed into the city streets, a thriving hub of art and culture.
Enjoy The Eye’s 2015 arts issue.
— Al Downham
Mayraki doesn’t fit into any one genre of music. Inspired by genres like hip-hop, jazz, funk, rock and many others, they create a unique style that can keep a room jumping.
The band is comprised of drummer Michael Murad, guitarists Salvatore Paradise and Sean Trudeau-Tavara, bassist Fithawi Iman and vocalists Ishan Sharma and Ryerson sociology student Mohammed Yassin.
Paradise and Yassin met through student group Musicians@Ryerson while Paradise attended the university and the band formed through mutual connections with another group, Seed of Nature, in 2012.
“A few of us started jamming together and we realized we had a similar style. We just started our own band when they offered us a show,” Trudeau-Tavara said.
Without any songs or even a name, they were booked for their first show at the now defunct venue, The 460, on Spadina Avenue.
“We cooked up three songs in two weeks. Not even two weeks, two sessions,” Yassin said.
After spending the beginning of their three-year span under the name Beaudifulhors, they opted for the more marketable name Mayraki, based on the greek word Meraki, meaning the part of yourself that goes into your work.
Their song writing process is what Iman calls “almost perfectly democratic.” Someone will come in with an idea or a riff, and everybody else works off of that.
“There are no egos. In all our songs, everyone has their own touch,” Iman said.
Their latest recording, “Hors D’oeuvres,” was released in May, but the band says they will hopefully start recording again soon.
“Our music-making is miles ahead of what we have recorded. We have a fraction of our entire repertoire recorded,” Paradise said.
Apart from the recording contract they have with Toronto indie label Dungus Records, the band handles every other part of the work, from booking their own shows to managing their finances. Yassin says they take their music more seriously as a result.
“This way we know what we’re worth. We earn our dollar,” he said.
Trudeau-Tavara says that organizing shows with other local indie bands is a crucial part of remaining a part of the scene.
“We’re bringing out fans that see us, and we’re bringing out fans that see them ... It’s something you can’t do alone,” Paradise added.
The band says they’re planning on booking their shows more strategiclly to gain more exposure. But no matter how they go about it, they’re taking everything as it comes.
“Everything we’re doing, we’re in the middle of learning,” Paradise said. “We learn it by actually doing it, and fucking up.”
Avery Barsony is a second-year fashion design student running her own lingerie business, Bettie Fatal.
Barsony founded her company in 2012, transitioning from fetish-wear to lingerie in January 2015.
After escaping from a three-year abusive relationship, Barsony set out to start a lingerie line that would make women feel powerful and confident.
“I wanted to create a feminist lingerie company that made girls feel good about themselves,” said Barsony. “When I got out of [the unsafe relationship], I wanted to do everything I couldn’t do for three years. So I started lingerie blogging and got a great response.”
She says consumer response has been great, but she receives the most support from friends and family. Barsony’s parents noticed her proficiency in math and science when was she was young; however, her passion was in fashion design.
“My earliest memory of wanting to be a designer was at my grandma’s. I would try to make Barbie doll dresses and she taught me how to hand sew,” she said. “I mentioned to my dad I wanted to go into design, but he was adamant about wanting me to go into engineering until he saw my work. After that, he did everything he could to help.”
Her parents helped her set up a large room in the basement of her Oakville family home, which she uses as a designing work space. Barsony does all of the designing, marketing, photography and distribution for Bettie Fatal and said ‘50s fashion is her muse.
“I’m obsessed with pin-up culture and that’s where a lot of my inspiration ends up coming from. The ‘50s silhouette was the most flattering for people,” said Barsony.
Barsony said although she started with fetish wear, she made the transition to lingerie after unsolicited comments were left on her Facebook page about her models and users sent “dick pics” to her work email. After feeling lumped into a community she didn’t agree with, she decided to focus on lingerie inclusive to all consumers.
“The stuff I do is great because you can put it on someone who’s size 2 and a girl who’s a size 14 and it will look good on everyone in between.”
Barsony illustrates Bettie Fatal’s focus on equal representation through her models, which are often her friends.
“I’ve had a few trans people, queer people and lots of women of colour model for me,” said Barsony. She also accepts custom orders and personally designs lingerie pieces to make a perfect fit.
With nearly 1,000 likes on her business Facebook page and customers all around the world — her top three markets being Los Angeles, Sweden and Australia — Barsony said her business has especially picked up this past year after the addition of lingerie. She said she prioritizes the business over her schoolwork. She clocks in over 40 hours of work every week.
“Sometimes in lectures I’ll have to be editing the lingerie photo shoots and I just want to tell the people around me that I’m not looking at porn, this is literally my job,” said Barsony.
One person who has helped Barsony with the development of her career is her friend Jessica Montebello, 23, who owns the vegan cafe D-Beatstro. In October, Barsony threw a fashion show at the restaurant in release of her new collection and used it as a charitable opportunity.
“I got to show my collection and I even auctioned off a coupon for a lingerie set, [and] art prints of my collection. And I gave the money to the North York Women’s Shelter,” said Barsony. “I’m also doing that for orders between Nov. 25 and Dec. 25. Ten per cent of everything is going to charity. I’ve had really good luck with people supporting me and I want to give back. ”
Barsony is planning on releasing another collection early next year.
Photo courtesy Jeffery Care Photography
In a gutted basement on Spadina Ave., bodies are bouncing to hypnotic beats, dancing ‘til the sun comes up. Amongst those bodies, a man crouches down next to a rattling amplifier with his camera, framing up the DJ.
This is Philip Skoczkowski, a second-year masters of fine arts in documentary media student and an avid photographer of Toronto’s underground electronic scene. He’s been compiling a multi-format documentary on the people and places in the community.
“I’ve been photographing this project subconsciously for years, but I started to get focused on it this year in March … I couldn’t stick to one medium, I’m using everything from my phone to vine loops to internet screenshots,” says Skoczkowski. “I’m going out and taking environmental portraits of people in their spaces, where they live, where they produce, where they have experienced something musical that has influenced them in some way.”
The 25-year-old didn’t begin with the electronic scene, however. He got his start shooting hard rock and ska bands in Poland in 2004 before moving to Singapore to cover shoegaze and indie acts.
His introduction to electronic music was in 2008 when he got involved with the Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards in Singapore, a massive electronic music event. Shortly after, he moved to Canada to study at the University of Toronto.
“I did an undergrad in international development. During that time I was working on projects that had to do with citizen participation,” says Skoczkowski. “What spaces mean for people, how people organize themselves, how people voice their individuality. I wanted to continue my project but take a different angle.”
For Skoczkowski, where these raves take place is just as important as the people who organize them. His project takes him from well-established clubs to smoky after-hours bars and these places are an anchor point for his documentary.
“You enter spaces and your own individuality is contested,” he says. “You have to confront yourself and how comfortable you are in those spaces.”
He describes the Toronto scene as being less established compared to internationally recognized cities like London because of the lack of proper spaces for electronic events. Zoning and noise bylaws in the city can make it difficult to throw an all night event.
“Very often Toronto is in a situation where people who want to make intelligent dance music and put things together, they can’t pull it off because of the idea it’s at an after-hours [event], because it’s not a designed, engineered sound space,” says Skoczkowski.
After-hours bars often conjure up images of drug-fueled, debaucherous and dangerous parties, which isn’t always the case.
“More often it’s just people actively listening to music,” says Skoczkowski.
Skoczkowski might shoot up to eight shows between Thursday and Sunday, conducting interviews throughout the week. His efforts are leading up to a four-day exhibit in June 2016. Much like the scene he documents, the space for this exhibit will be completely DIY.
“The idea of the space is to come about as organic as possible,” says Skoczkowski. “It is meant to involve people and I think it’ll happen naturally from the people I’m talking to.”
He plans on having his subjects play sets during the exhibit to juxtapose their own static images, creating a living photo essay.
“It’s a celebration of the people doing things and the instruments involved in it, whether it’s PCs, or modulators or cables or microphones,” says Skoczkowski. “I want to get you to look at how much goes into a show. It’s not just a person with two tables mixing, there’s a whole line of people and material things behind it that create the vibe at the end.”
Marcus "Star" Harwood-Jones encountered their first zine in an anarchist coffee shop and bookstore in downtown Winnipeg.
A city marked by oppression and class divides ripped open communities like theirs. It was often a complicated place where transphobia surfaced, they said.
The zine Free, Fer, Frim told the story of a young kid who goes to school for the first time, choosing the gender neutral pronouns that make up the zine’s title. Star picked it off of a shelf amid a collection of other poetry and artwork from local trans communities. For them, it was their first window into a new world where they’d find comfort.
“It was just amazing to read these stories and I feel like it was the first time I realized there was other trans people and they were just doing their thing. They were actually making this incredible art, I could make it too and contribute. As soon as I found the medium I wanted to be a part of it.”
Today Star is a trans activist and community organizer. They’re the lead coordinator at the Ryerson Trans Collective. From their office, which doubles as storage for both the Centre for Women and Trans people and the Collective, they steadily cut out newspaper clippings while reflecting on their art.
Star has been creating zines for years. Their style is simple. Careful, methodical writing sharing the experience of growing up trans in Canada. Living in poverty, and struggling with homelessness. Their work tackles issues marring the trans community, such as mental health and a lack of access to safe spaces.
The writing is combined with sporadic and what they call “chaotic” illustrations and paintings.
The script and scrawlings are clumped together in collections which are then released all at once. If one were to read them from front-to-back they may come off as a novella, but the point is to not force the reader into any one starting point.
Their first major collection was Confessions of a Teenage Transsexual Whore, an autobiographical 10-part series that takes the reader through the life of a young sex worker. It walks through the imagery of bodies, dances around relationships and paints a picture of love from the perspective of Star.
“My experience with being a trans sex worker was very much erased and not present at all in society, the handful of narratives that were present were highly transmisogynist and oppressive,” they said.
Star says that Confessions was a way of humanizing the experience. A way of showing the world that it happens and shouldn’t be forced to either remain invisible or be mangled into traumatizing tropes in our media.
One scene recounts the shame they felt after leaving a client. It guides the reader along as Star purchases a pack of cigarettes and smokes it all amid a wave of disgust.
“I was sick of being an object, sick of being a fetish, of being unable to do anything else. I was sick of being in this fucking body,” they recalled thinking as they walked home through the dark and in the rain.
Zines are political tools, Star admits. Amid the potent personal monologues they’ve created you’ll find several of their collaborative pieces. Many are floating across more North American cities than just Toronto and Winnipeg.
According to Star, it’s no coincidence zines became an important cornerstone of queer and trans communities. As an artform that’s cheap, discourse-oriented and requires only a motivated community to distribute it, it has become a haven for those tired of waiting to be represented by mainstream publishing.
“Zine making for me is about feeling represented, feeling heard and owning our stories and doing it for ourselves and not anyone else,” Star said.
One example is The Bathroom Zine, put out by the Ryerson Trans Collective last year. The piece is a culture jam of images and dialogues — protest art from the collective that demanded trans students on campus be granted a safe, gender-neutral space to access a washroom.
One chapter, Other Places to Pee, suggested peeing on Sheldon Levy might be an appropriate response given the school’s lack of movement on the issue.
“That came from a very raw place and it was very grounded. We were just hanging out having a meeting and we were like, ‘We should make a zine about this because it’s so messed up.’”
The collective placed the zine in one-third of the school’s washrooms as a suggestion that one-third would need to be converted for an equitable campus. This semester, two washrooms in the SCC were temporarily converted and more are on their way.
For years, Star has peddled their work on the streets. They’ve taken to the zine fair circuit, assembling materials and planning logistics. It’s a blue-collar approach they’re looking to transition out of in the future by sprucing up their website and partnering with printing companies to help expand their product offerings for customers.
For the most part, readers — mostly the queer and trans folk that Star focuses on — have provided positive feedback for their work, though they do have critics.
“I don’t think my family is the biggest fan of my art … but I think they’ve been sitting with that uncomfortableness for a long time you know. I make my family uncomfortable in a lot of different ways so they’re just going to have to deal with it.”
Whether he’s at a party or sitting in class, Cameron Fox-Revett can be found with his notebook in hand, writing song lyrics.
His love for writing has been life long, but it wasn’t until he wrote and recorded a song with his friend Kailea that he realized evoking emotion through music was his passion.
“Kailea and I wrote a song called ‘You Could Never Love Me’ … We recorded and produced it, and when I played her the finished product for the first time, she was in tears,” he said. “She was so utterly happy and proud and … I want to be able to bring that feeling to many people.”
This past summer, he was sent abroad to Scotland, where his penchant for songwriting grew, as well as his collection of lyrics. It was the start of MAP.
MAP is a collaboration amongst Ryerson students to produce a collection of songs written by Fox-Revett himself to be used in a variety of projects.
The project is funded by the Ryerson Communication Design Society [RCDS] with an approved budget of $11,700, as well as an additional $3,000 set aside from other small contributors. By February they hope to secure another $2,600. The money will go towards getting material professionally recorded and mastered.
“It got to the point that I had such an overflow of material that I wanted to have put out,” he said.
“This summer, the theatre school sent me abroad to Scotland to study performance. And while I was there I learned so much … it felt like different geographical places I would go to would influence different material,” he said.
Fox-Revett made sure to include different genres throughout his collection of songs, drawing inspiration from various people.
“[The songs] are so sparse and eclectic but they’re united in the fact they exist within this MAP project,” he said. “They’re going to be included in dance and theatre pieces.”
Wisdom Teeth — a film exploring sexual assault — will also be featured in MAP, as Cameron hopes to write a song for the piece, featuring director Syd Lazarus’ voice.
“We’ve contracted with a bunch of films … we wanted to put out songs about sexual abuse because it’s a conversation that needs to be had,” he said.
“[I] wanted to have songs about gay positivity as well … there are certain singers in songs that use pronouns efficiently. Some songs are very ambiguous with their pronouns because I wanted to make sure that not all material was binary.”
Jenna Daley, a fourth year theatre student and singer joined MAP after being approached by Fox-Revett with a song entitled Ego.
“It’s really cool to be a part of,” Daley said. “I love hearing new things and he’s inspired me.”
Not only does Fox-Revett wish to unify Ryerson students through his music, he also intends to use this project as a springboard for his growth.
“The project is also a stepping stone for me personally, and just going for something that I’m passionate about which is writing, and singing and producing and bringing people together.”
As a result of the success of MAP, Fox-Revett was given the opportunity to perform in New York City this April.
“A colleague of mine is producing a song … and the song cycle is constructed by songs by young up-and-coming composers,” he said. “I’ve been selected as one of them to write two or three of the songs for the show.”
MAP will be performing at Ryerson’s holiday show on Dec. 2.
The lights dim as the audience watches the figure in the middle. It’s quiet as everyone waits for the music to be turned on. No one knows what to expect — sometimes, not even the performer. There’s a wide range of emotions as the performers invite those who are willing to come with them on their personal journey.
Run by five members, Short Dances is a collaborative group of Ryerson students and other dancers that encourage artists to perform in a unique space. They’re free to do whatever they feel and express themselves through their own interpretation of dance. Their boundaries are endless, with no choreography or rules. Just raw, real feelings.
Short Dances stage manager and fourth-year Ryerson arts and contemporary studies student, Maricris Rivera, said that being surrounded by people with a similar mindset is what artists need to grow comfortably.
“The dance industry is competitive enough,” said Rivera. “Here it’s different, we’re humble and accepting [because] every person comes there for a different intention, a different purpose.”
Short Dances has started attracting many students from Ryerson’s performance program, along with people from around the GTA and even outside of the region. Working dancers that are taught to move the way their choreographer wants them to often feel constraint and require an outlet.
“It’s always such a breath of fresh air to see different artistic backgrounds,” said Kyana Astles, a second-year Ryerson dance student and Short Dances performer. “Everyone has a different story and I felt grateful to be able to enter someone’s world even if it’s just for a moment.”
Independent dance companies that are trying to get started also come in to showcase and promote their work. As for resumes, there are none as they welcome people from all types of backgrounds — some performers are professionals, others are just trying out their art.
Founded in 2013 by Alvin Collantes, a student from Western University, the group has gone through a series of changes. What was originally intended to be a casual improv dance session confined to a small room has turned into a monthly event that invites all types of artists. From spoken word poets, musicians, actors and even a flamenco dancer, Short Dances has become a space for anyone to collaborate.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for any artist to have a stage, because a lot of us can’t go on big stages all the time, so it’s nice that we can share what’s on our mind and any problems that we have at the time,” said Alexander Medeiros, member and photographer of the team. “It’s never about the aesthetic of the dance or of the piece, it’s always behind the meaning [and] after they perform, you feel like you know them.”
Chantelle Mostacho is a Ryerson dance grad and performer for Short Dances. She said she found the intimate space to be more honest, as opposed to rehearsals. “It’s a showing of an exploration but it’s a finished product -— it’s a good place for feedback.”
Their stages aren’t what you’d expect. Collaborating with local businesses and small venues, Collantes said the spaces they use are meant to be intimate. They’ve performed in art galleries, underground coffee shops, gardens and little known theatres where the audience sits in a conjoined circle
“We tried to emphasize the intimacy of the event because when you see shows in Canada or in Toronto, a lot of it is prestigious based, you know — big theatre kind of thing and it’s with props and with music, all planned and rehearsed,” said Collantes. “And we wanted to create an alternative way [of] performing and expressing, which emphasizes the organic, raw and natural part of the artists.”
Through word of mouth and Facebook posts, their shows have grown in size. The average audience has tripled from 10 to 30-plus people. But for Collantes, he said that he always reminds the dancers that it doesn’t matter if five or 50 people come.
“Whoever wants to witness and be a voyeur to that event, have an open mind and be curious to what you want to share — then that’s a bonus.”
Poet Twoey Gray was 18 when she travelled to Haiti.
Interning for a non-governmental organization (NGO), the second-year politics and governance student says she wasn’t sure what she was looking for upon arrival. However, her experience with corruption during her six-month stay was long enough to get a taste of “poverty tourism.”
“I expected something better of a sector of work that claims to want to change the world,” she says.
Gray saw millionaire charity donors who couldn’t “get used to the smell of Haitian,” donors who live in luxury and swim on white-only beaches. Meanwhile, local families lived in intense poverty.
“The NGO industry is, really, a mess,” she says. “I wanted to learn a lot, but some of it was hard to.”
Two years later, this trip became a spoken word piece that’d help take Gray to an international poetry slam.
Gray — a member of Ryerson student groups Poetic Exchange and RU Creative Writing Club — has written poetry since kindergarten. However, it’s only been a year since her first spoken word slam at a local bar. And although her time in the community’s been short, she’s already qualified to perform her collection of politically-charged poems at the Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS) in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I talk about politics but I also talk about personal stories,” says Gray, who’s also performed at Pride Toronto, Brave New Voices in Atlanta, Ga. and monthly Toronto slams. “I think the personal is political.”
Gray has become one of “the girls” in what she calls a scene dominated by male voices, finding inspiration in her personal experiences with girlhood and the devaluing of young women’s opinions.
Inside the Dangerously Empty Lives of Teenage Girls was her first piece, based on what she describes as a “bullshit” Maclean’s article of the same name.
The article focuses on mental health and “self-objectification” of young women obsessed with vanity and the products marketed to them.
“First of all, it was patriarchal, but second of all, it was just rude. Why is it a face palm if a girl likes One Direction? I’m not a huge fan, but you understand you’re specifically marketing it to young girls and then you punish them for buying into it?”
Since that piece, Gray has collaborated with other young women in the spoken word scene. This semester, Gray — along with Ryerson student Cassandra Myers and Lindsey Drury — created the Ragdoll Collective, aiming to help fellow female writers perfect their pieces. The group hosts workshops, events and travels to international competitions. She says forming a collective is the spoken word equivalent of starting a band.
“We were immediately grouped together,” says Gray. “We realized we liked each other a lot and didn’t want the three slam girls to be constantly in competition.
“If we had just been in our own bubbles and competing with each other, I don’t think any of us would have made [it] this far. I talk about politics but I also talk about personal stories”
She says the phenomenon of “boys yelling” can be tiring. Although performers have varying vocal styles from hip-hop flow to staccato pronunciation, she says being loud can come across as “cheap.”
“Sometimes [slams] become a competition of who can be the most aggressive, and it’s really important to have charisma and be able to move a crowd and hype them up,” Gray says. “But I think it can be kind of cheap to yell your way through a poem because, you know, it’s a really visceral thing to hear.”
Although this trend has made it harder for soft-spoken female artists to gain recognition, Gray and her collaborators help to promote other female poetic voices in Toronto.
Gray’s next big performance is the WOWPS show in March.