BY: LEANNE BENN
Even with Black History month at a close, it is still important to highlight Afro- Canadian culture in relation to Canada. With Canada celebrating it’s 150th birthday this July, two ambitious third year students from the University of Toronto decided it was time to highlight the lack of diversity on campus. The Afro- Canadian Gala is a celebration and interpretation of 150 years of Canada’s Black History. Organized by Bukama Muntu and Malia Omale, both of African heritage and students of the University, these long time friends conceived the idea of a gala about one year prior.
It all started last summer and their idea to celebrate Black History in Canada was further fueled when they applied for the Canada 150 fund through the University of Toronto, Canada 150 is a special designated grant to highlight an event of your choice to celebrate Canadian culture. With a solid plan in mind, things started to fall together. Their motivation and purpose of the event was realized when they noticed the lack of events to celebrate being black, whether you are African, Caribbean or whatever your heritage. As Malia explained, it is important to celebrate the positive representations of the black community on and off campus.
There is an importance in diversity especially in a city such as Toronto. Bukama and Malia are both members of the African Students Association, of which Malia is the equity director.
This gala was the opportunity the girls needed to use the Arts as a way to promote a positive representation of Black History. The gala featured two main guest speakers, which the girls managed to recruit to ensure a representation of the Arts. The first guest speaker was Professor George Elliott Clarke, a Black English professor at the University and most importantly a poet, specifically the elected Parliamentary Poet Laureate of the Parliament of Canada. Professor Clarke is able to use poetry as a way to highlight the importance of art and culture in Canada and even so more when it comes to Black cultural roots in Canada.
Absorbing culture through art forms such as poetry, spoken word and painting helps to bring awareness into our minds and aides in identity formation and reformation especially at the University. The next guest speaker was Komi Olaf who prides himself as an Afro Futurist. His art is all about representing African Women in futuristic roles and positions using a bright array of colours and elements of culture, technology and empowerment.
Olaf’s painting was featured at the gala and he specifically uses his background in architecture, drawing and even poetry and translated these elements into his paintings. The painting featured at the gala is part of his collection called Afro and it is just one piece of a larger story. The painting at the gala and which Olaf donated to the University of Toronto is entitled ‘Eve on the way to Zion.’ His inspiration for this piece all started with an image he saw online and from there he was able to add different elements to build up the painting, even referencing, two small boats at the bottom of the painting which appear to sail towards each other and he says this portrays the notion of coming together to rise.
The gala was all about having fun and producing a happy environment for its guests, which ranged from University students and faculty, to members of other on-campus associations including The Caribbean Students Association and The Black Students Association.
In terms of the long-term achievements that both Bukama and Malia want to achieve, it is about adding diversity to their student space and to hopefully see Komi Olaf’s painting hanging on the walls of the University. Both girls are in talks to get this process started and though it might be complex, both feel it is about time that Black art is featured on the walls on the University to promote cultural awareness and representation of minority groups. As Bukama said, it is a small painting but seeing yourself represented is huge.
Bukama and Malia themselves had no idea that the final event would be so huge and both girls were almost in disbelief that all their hard work has finally come into fruition. Though they have a long way to go, it is a start for these young students. Both girls also used the gala as an opportunity to thank their two guest speakers, George Elliott Clarke and Komi Olaf with awards and most importantly their school and faculty that helped to guide them to where they are.