From Kenya to the 6ix, Sheilah Ann, a MAAD major, gives her opinion on black history month and what it means to her.
Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am Sheilah and I am from Kenya, Africa. I moved to Toronto in March 2013. I am currently in my first year. The program that I am taking is Material Art and Design, textiles/fibre major.
In your perception, how do you think western art has influenced black history?
Well I think western art kind of softens the actual context of what goes on, because it covers a very big area. There is so much that goes on behind black history, especially depending on whether its black American or African American, and I think art from the west often tends to dull it.
How so? I feel like western art softens the past of black people. Slavery for example was and still is a major topic that affects the black community but a lot of negative backlashes can come from us trying to express what and how it makes us feel. It’s like we’re supposed to just forget about it. Also, there’s lack of exposure to all the art created by black people, especially in Africa, only the ‘best of the best ‘ seem to gain attention forgetting that those do not speak for all the people in the community.
Has your background influenced your desire to pursue a career of being in the creative industry; how so?
Yeah, I think so. Since I was very young I’ve always liked to create things. But I think it was the lack of me having some things that inspired me to actually want to make them. I found myself always making rings for myself because I couldn’t really afford them. I think my background really shaped what I wanted to do in the creative industry. But being a black person doesn’t really influence me that much because when it comes to art I think it can be really subjective. Because often when you actually see a piece of art, you wouldn’t really get to know who made it or what the art is about… But maybe in terms of what I put out, I like to put out work that has messages that support black people or give encouragement to people who want to be more creative in their blackness.
Is your textiles work inspired by your background? Yes, it is heavily influenced. I feel like I want to bring to light all the different colours that go with my background because there are so many tribes, especially in my country, and they all look different.
Do you feel OCAD has provided a welcoming and open space to discuss issues and ideas related to race? Does your voice feel heard among your peers and professors?
Yeah, I feel like so, because there are so many people here and so many different cultures, and we all get to see what influences different people to make a thing. When we are presenting in class, everyone gives you their full attention to hear what each of us have to say. And when I’m presenting I feel like people do listen and I am able to get the message across. I feel very accepted in OCAD, I can feel that people here judge you on what you do and your history in art, it’s not really about who you are but what you have to offer and what’s special about you.
In your opinion, are you satisfied with the content that is taught about minorities in art history, studio classes, etc? Do you believe they are represented appropriately or disrespectfully?
I wouldn’t say I’m very satisfied with the content. I feel like it’s very rushed, but for the people who want to know more about a particular minority, there would probably be some resources for that here. But I’m not so sure because I’m not really into art history that much.
Do you believe they are represented appropriately or disrespectfully?
Maybe not, but again I’d like to say if you really want to know more about a certain culture you would have to dig deeper, and I wouldn’t really blame it on the school per se, it’s more of a personal thing.
What artists are you inspired by, POC (person of color), or otherwise?
That’s a really hard question! I have a lot of designers in my head, but I found out about this lady, she’s called Nikki Helms, she’s a creative behind celebrities and she inspires looks like hair, makeup and photoshoots. Her works are amazing! And she’s black too. But I’m really new to this whole creative field and I wasn’t always pursuing art, so I’m new to this, not really in being creative but learning about it in a serious environment where everybody’s doing the same thing and getting graded etc. I only started pursuing art in this last year and before that, I was pursuing something else, I was doing biology at York University. I was hoping to be a nurse or a doctor, but we all do that when we come from back home, and your family’s telling you what to be. I was there for a while and I didn’t like it so I moved back and tried to really remember who I was and I found that actually I want to create things and I thought the best place to do that was here.
What does Black History Month mean to you? and How would you like to see the world change in the future?
This month reminds me of where I came from and who I am and the struggles that many people went through just so we can be where we are right now. I might not necessarily understand it because I am African and so we don’t really see race the same way as black people who were raised here. But I like to see how they react to it and it actually teaches me a lot, enough to actually study about it. I guess I would like to just see more acceptance, we should not have to divide people just because of their color because we are all the same at the end of the day. I feel this [black history month] can really soften and open up their understanding on things in a better way.
Photography by Galen Ward