Tag Archives: World Culture

Out of Africa quilt show

Volunteering for Out of Africa quilt show arranged by the London International Quilt Festival was really cool.  My friend and I spent more time with quilts than we normally would have, and with the other volunteers and the circle of vendors around the room.

Tent hanging hand sewn by the Men of Cairo, approx 14' x 14'

Tent hanging hand sewn by the Men of Cairo, approx 12′ x 12′

A quilt, apparently, can be broadly defined as a fancy top and a back, with a batting sometimes in the middle.  At this show, there were very few, if any, quilts like the traditional ones my grandmother would make.  Almost all of these quilts from the African continent were meant to hang on the wall.  Stunning “quilts” from the Men of Cairo collective were actually tent walls, and resembled Persian carpets or mosaics. African animals, cultures, traditional and everyday life were celebrated with brilliant colours, sombre desert hues, embroidery and embellishments.

Salamander Quilt, Out of Africa show in London ON, 2013

Salamander Quilt, Out of Africa show in London ON, 2013

Detail of salamander quilt, Out of Africa, London ON, 2013

Detail of salamander quilt, Out of Africa, London ON, 2013

I didn’t get to the lecture on the African quilts, but I did meet a volunteer, Hasebenebi Kaffel who knew the subject in broader terms.  I mistook him for a member of the Men of Cairo collective.  He really works for the UK-based ACORD and has been to Cairo many times, he said.  Also a member of ACFOLA, he was at the show to volunteer his knowledge of Africa.   He told me how long ago he fled his home in Eritrea with nothing, and then ended up in front of the World Bank to deliver a paper on the importance of gender in the economics of developing countries.  Very interesting!

Alas, I did not make any purchases.  There were vendors from all over the world, but instead of getting into something new, I vowed to finish the quilt that I started 30 years ago.  I know, I’m amazed at how quickly time has passed. “The Wedding Plate” is pieced bits of fabric from projects that my sisters and I made in our teens–dresses, PJs, blouses, pot holders, whatever–and I need to finish the quilting and bind it.

It’s good that Africa came to London, for the education, inspiration, and the joy!!

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Parts of Canada we seldom see

My friend Charlotte and I went to the opening of the medium gallery (yes, it’s all lower case) in the Old East business district on Saturday night.  In 2011 a photographer, Johan Hallberg-Campbell, had flown into the bush of northern Ontario with the Canadian Red Cross to photograph their efforts to supply Attawapiskat with sleeping bags, heaters and winter clothing.


This poster photo is the least representative of the exhibit, a romantic, christianized image, and it was placed next to a photo of a beautiful but very sad young woman living in the crawl space beneath the floor of a house, her arms marked by cutting.

Hallberg-Cambell said, to paraphrase, that while he was in Attawapiskat, he didn’t want to traumatize the citizens there.  He found them to be gentle and kind people, and he knew the general media was using images for articles that would result in misunderstandings, or misrepresentations, that would further politicize the situation.  The images he chose for the exhibit were personal and sincere. It was well worth the visit.

Years ago I lived on another northern Cree reserve in housing that was trucked in, just as the housing is being trucked into Attawapiskat.  The 3 months I spent at the Red Earth IR have had a huge impact on me.

The newly built high school and two 4-plexes for used offices and teacher housing on the Red Earth IR, Saskatchewan.

The newly built high school and two 4-plexes for used offices and teacher housing on the Red Earth IR, Saskatchewan.  The only new buildings I saw on the reserve.

The trailer i lived in, newly trucked in and waiting for insulation and skirting.

The trailer I lived in while teaching in Red Earth, Saskatchewan, newly trucked in and waiting for insulation and skirting.

The housing I lived in was considered “new” housing on the reserve, a used trailer with frustration already punched into the walls. The gas for the stove came from a big propane tank that looked like a bomb at the edge of the clearing, beside the tree that the bear liked to maul. Our neighbour in the next trailer had a small gas explosion after he came home and lit the pilot light.  The hospital was over 80 km away, but luckily his burns weren’t severe.  And we were teachers, told that our housing was “nicer” than most of the residents.

As the seasons turned from Saskatchewan prairie summer to fall and then winter, I came to know more about the resiliency of the people who held on despite the incredible patronizing system that kept the once vibrant community dysfunctional for decades. I can relate to how Halleberg-Campbell photographed both the life-threatening poverty, the trauma and the beauty of the gentle souls in Attawapiskat.

Horses were still part of the treaty agreement, and they mostly ran in a herd fending for themselves against wolves and bears.  The Cree at Red Earth still rode them, just had to round them up first.

Horses were still part of the treaty agreement on Red Earth 29, and they mostly ran in a herd fending for themselves against wolves and bears. The Cree still rode them, just had to round them up first.

All those years ago I was shocked at discovering the biggest “secret” in the Canadian family closet.  The missionaries of my childhood church had us folding bandages and diapers, collecting school supplies and donations for Africa.  Our grannies should have have been knitting and praying for those on the reserve I worked at. I didn’t know third world conditions existed in Canada.  Our schools should have told us about contemporary “Indians.”  Our treatment of them remains appallingly political and needless to say, less than christian.  As a direct result, I became a feminist, an atheist, an activist.

The medium gallery is part of a community economic development project in the Old East area of London, Ontario, where a large percentage of the residents are also struggling with neglect, poverty, mental health, drugs and prostitution.  The anti-poverty advocacy group, Life*Spin has spear-headed this new development.  Their neighbour, Artisan Bakery, also opened on the same night.

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The Buddhist Boys

6 luohans on the first floor of the ROM, the Asian culture galleries.

I only went to Toronto for the day, and and only had a few hours to spend with the boys.  To make the most of the trip, I decided to get into a Buddhist frame of mind so that I might draw these fellows with more understanding.

My friends, Dan and Pam, recommended reading J. Macey’s Active Hope and I started it a few weeks ago.  Honestly,  it’s a tough read.  Over the weekend I listened to Pema Chodron’s Bodhisattva Mind.   From this small immersion, I got the message to stay in the present and be open.  Easy.

The boys are  a group of six monks carved in sandstone from the Song Dynasty (1000-1200 AD).  The religious term for them is luohan.  The ROM blurb didn’t explain much about them but from my bit of research, they were a kind of spiritual warrior for the Buddhist faith at a time when it was experiencing persecution in China.  These luohan continue a communion that started a millennium ago.  So cool.

The luohan aren’t boys, I discovered, but strong men in many senses.  Calmness is under appreciated in our culture.  As I drew them, I felt the power of it.  They were centred, unique, compassionate, yet there was muscle under the cloth.  These boys could walk, and sitting still, I imagine, wasn’t a passive activity for them either.

Luohan with a dragon at his foot, ROM.

What surprised me as I drew, was that I began to see monks through  the sculptor’s eyes.  Each man was a model to be cajoled into a pose and flattered into an attitude which would serve both personal vanity and the cause of  religious teachings.  The sculptor may have been a monk himself (sorry, have to assume “he”); he would have had to answer to an abbot of sorts, to the traditions of his craft and religion, if he could separate these.

From the dates, it’s likely that more than one sculptor would been involved in portraying this group, yet the style and details are incredibly consistent.  The stone blocks had their own grain and inclusions.  Not perfect or painted over.  So the execution was very important.  Imagine sanding the heads and faces, the lips and brows, so smoothly–polishing into the stone to bring out the flesh.  The tension between body and spirit.

I would date the Buddhist Boys at the ROM again, but will confess my crush may have shifted to the artists who created them.



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My Date with the Buddhist Boys at the ROM

While London is a culturally active city, Toronto has the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.

I find it’s worth taking the train to spend an entire day at either place.  The ROM is my target for this visit.  The last time I was there, I didn’t sketch much but wandered the endless collections until I felt the vertigo and had to get off the ride.

My mission this time has focus.  Find the Buddhist boys.

Baran Mong’s sketches from the Royal Ontario Museum, July 2011.

In the World Culture Asian galleries, there are a couple of collections of Buddhist statures.  whether standing tall or seated with a round belly, they are painted, gilded, jeweled.  Then there’s a group of what looks like plain, unembellished limestone monks.

Another artist, Baran Mong, has also found the boys and included one among his really spirited sketches.

My impression of them from my last trip was that they were very hungry souls, and that the artist had rounded out their faces, which to me, didn’t match the thinness of their bodies beneath the robes.  While the statues might have been commissioned as propaganda (I’ll try to find out more), the artist shows an exceptional compassion for his models.   Maybe even love.

What delights me is that they’re real men, young and quite frankly, thin and not so perfectly spiritual as The Buddha.  Imagine your meditation or yoga group carved in stone.  Then imagine sitting before the that group, each a singular expression captured in stone, and meditating on that — 500 to a 1000 years later.



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