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City of Immigrants

Whether newly landed or with families that have been here for generations, citizens of Toronto have all embarked on a journey to arrive upon this city’s culturally diverse doorstep. Drawing inspiration from the recent arrival of Syrian refugees/immigrants, “We Live in a City of Immigrants: The Journey to Toronto”, a proposed installation piece, invites viewers to reflect on their own journey to the city and on the journeys of others who call Toronto home. The installation highlights differences in culture and ancestry that make for such a dynamic city while also underscoring the commonalities that unite us. 


This installation is composed of two main elements that, when combined, mirror the experience of arriving in and engaging with Toronto as both a city and a community. The leftmost section (“The Journey to Toronto”) features paintings modeled closely on the plight of Syrian refugees, while the rightmost section (“Living in a City of Immigrants”) features found object versions of unique characters that one might encounter throughout the city.  


Leftmost Section: The Journey to Toronto (Paintings and Mixed Media) 


The titles of each painting in this section (Smuggler, Loss and Abandonment, First Encounters, etc.) tell the story of a refugee or immigrant journey from an unstable but familiar place to an unfamiliar new home that promises a safer and more positive existence. While these artworks are based on the current Syrian refugee issue, their themes are common to other immigrant stories – making a dangerous journey to a new place and, upon arrival, trying to find comfort and familiarity within an overwhelming pastiche of unfamiliar people and environments. 


Rightmost Section: Living in a City of Immigrants (Found Object Characters) 

The 8 characters in this section represent Torontonians that one may encounter. These are abstracted yet recognizably human forms assembled from readymade materials including tires, clothing, and mirrors. Each “Torontonian” features a head made from a tire, with a mirror positioned inside the tire. When seen from a distance, the characters’ “heads” will look uniformly similar, but when observed more closely, viewers will notice two things: 1) their own reflection in the mirror, and 2) statistics from the 2011 Canadian census and international flags displayed inside each tire.  

This symbolizes the individual journeys and unique points of origin of Toronto’s inhabitants. It also mimics the ease with which we can see homogenous crowds and overlook the individual stories within these crowds. Furthermore, seeing one’s face reflected back when looking at the 8 found object characters reinforces the message that we are all immigrants in some capacity. The viewer may identify with their own or their family’s immigrant origin, or may gain insight into other immigrant origins. Each tire has a different origin story.

This section will also feature the following elements: 

  • A container in each tire will be filled with candy belonging to that character’s country of origin. The candy will only be visible (and enjoyable!) to those viewers who engage with and observe the characters at a close distance.  
  • One character located at eye level to offer a more relatable connection for children and visitors in wheelchairs. 
  • A boundary, located roughly three feet from the wall, marked in green masking tape. Viewers will be positioned inside this area when observing the characters from a close distance. It represents the fact that the area and the building itself are on sacred Aboriginal land, and also acknowledges that most Torontonians are immigrants in a city that once belonged to Aboriginals.


The collection available here features the mixed media paintings.

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