Francophone artists unite at SAW Gallery

By Clive Ngan

Across cultures and continents, local Ottawa artist Nancy Brandsma found new influences for her work at pentadécagone, an art exhibit held at the SAW Gallery on Feb. 9.

The exhibit, hosted by the francophone arts group BRAVO-est, was a collaborative effort between five French Canadian artists and five francophone African artists.

Each pairing, comprised of one African and one Canadian, conceptualized a theme to work from, drawing from values of the artists’ respective homelands to create their art through an unfamiliar medium for many of those involved: film.

For Brandsma, the three-year project that culminated on Feb. 9 touched on deeply personal matters.

Brandsma is a painter who trained locally at the Ottawa School of Art. “I teach art once a week, either privately or in a class setting, in retirement homes and I just see their plight and I really love seniors,” Brandsma said.

“Sometimes they feel abandoned, so I wanted to discuss that topic.”

Brandsma’s partner, Kalula Kalambay from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, recounted an African saying to Brandsma that has stuck with her.

“When a senior dies, it’s like a library that burns down because of all the knowledge that is lost.”

According to Brandsma, the saying inspired her video, which displayed, among other things, an old couch left on the front curb of a house.

For Brandsma, it represents how Canadian seniors are being thrown away and given to “someone else to take care of.”

The selection of themes was left to each pair.

The exhibit’s curator, Yves Laroque, said he was anticipating completely different results.

When the project started, it was just in the time of (terror groups) al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, all the girls being kidnapped.” said Laroque.

“We were expecting to have themes on the rich country versus the developing world and wealth versus poverty and security versus havoc in the country.”

Instead, Laroque said, the selection of common ideas like the elderly, religion and animal rights showed how “in Africa, or in Canada, we live the same ideas, the same values, the same preoccupations. But the difference is that Canada is a very wealthy country.”

The pairing of African and Canadian artists was praised by event attendees.

“It’s a fantastic move. It allows one to learn about one another’s background, culture and way of life,” said Komlanvi Dodjro, the Togolese owner of a salsa dancing school in Gatineau. “We all come from somewhere, as immigrants, and I found the exhibition very unique.”

For African artists, the project also provided an opportunity to show the similarities between French Canada and French Africa to dispel some negative stereotypes about their homelands.

“It’s not just poor in Africa,” said Komi Seshie, one of the exhibit’s artists. Seshie, a sculptor originally from Togo, and his Canadian partner, Doris Lamontagne, worked to represent the theme of religion.

“Our conclusion became, ‘Why you fight for religion? It’s the same.’ We preach for the good, not for the bad. Everybody preaches for the good,” he said. “The name don’t mean nothing. Jesus, or Allah, whatever – that’s nothing. We need to respect all people ici to become a multi-diversité.”

Unity beyond borders and racial difference became the event’s over-arching message, Laroque said. To make the artists understand the similarities between the two cultures, Laroque had each French-Canadian artist find out when their ancestors arrived in Canada.

For Brandsma, she discovered that her family, originally from France, arrived around 1650.

“It’s nothing at all, 400 years,” Laroque added. “We are all immigrants in a way.”