Canadian Artists – Spotlights

Rajni Perrera:

Lives and works in Toronto, Canada

“The canon, during my school years, started to fail me as an immigrant,” says Perera. “It’s really Eurocentric, it’s very white-centric, and I stopped seeing myself in what I was being taught.” So during her time at OCAD University, Perera began to delve on her own into art history outside of Western constraints, where miniaturist painting caught her eye. She subversively blends elements of this tradition with her love of sci-fi and fashion to create meticulously painted, carefully detailed patterned works, which are often empowering portraits of women of colour.

 Rajni Perera was born in Sri Lanka in 1985 and lives and works in Toronto. She explores issues of hybridity, sacrilege, irreverence, the indexical sciences, ethnography, gender, sexuality, popular culture, deities, monsters and dream worlds. All of these themes marry in a newly objectified realm of mythical symbioses. They are flattened on the medium and made to act as a personal record of impossible discoveries. In her work she seeks to open and reveal the dynamism of these icons, both scripturally existent, self-invented and externally defined. She creates a subversive aesthetic that counteracts antiquated, oppressive discourse, and acts as a restorative force through which people can move outdated, repressive modes of being towards reclaiming their power.



“Artists Rajni Perera and Nep Sidhu combine languages of ancestral technology and science fiction to create a parallel visual universe. Through their sympathetic and vivid visuals, the artists emphasize an unapologetically immigrant and Indigenous forward futurism. Together they advance a victorious campaign for new empires that subvert and resist the dominance and violent effects of colonialism and modernist notions of utopia.


Colonialism occurs when a country or a nation takes control of other lands, regions, or territories outside of its borders (boundaries of the country) by turning those other lands, regions, or territories into a colony. Usually, it is a more powerful, richer country that takes control of a smaller, less powerful region or territory. Sometimes the words “colonialism” and “imperialism” are used to mean the same thing.

In the 1700s and 1800s, many of the richer, more powerful European countries (such as BritainFranceSpain, and the Netherlands) established colonies in the continents of AfricaSouth AmericaAsia, and the Caribbean.

Some countries use colonialism to get more land for their people to live in. They helped settlers move to the new area. The local people living in the land or territories were usually moved away by using force and violence from armies. To protect these settlers from the local residents who were pushed aside, colonial nations often set up a military fort or colonial police system.

Other countries use colonialism to get more land so that they can use the land for farming or to extract (take out) resources such as trees (wood), coal, or metals, or to create a local government or military fort. ( Other countries use local, colonized people as cheap labourers and slaves.”

The effects of colonizing, exploiting, policing, moving, murdering and enslaving people reverberates in the ideas, identities cultures, health, wealth and well being of colonized peoples for generations.

Diaspora: “A diaspora (/daɪˈæspərə/)[1] is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale.” (Often involuntary dispersion – as slaves from Africa moved involuntarily make up an “African diaspora”.)

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Utopia: “A utopia (/juːˈtoʊpiə/yoo-TOH-pee-ə) is an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens.[1] The opposite of a utopia is a dystopia.” (

Utopia may be impossible, or only an idea – because what is utopian for one group may be dystopian for others.

Neo-Exoticism: “perceptions of ethnic female sexuality prevalent in Western culture – a set of  (mostly manufactured) ideas used to market products to wealthy Anglosaxon consumers, as well as perpetuate an exoticized, idealized image of ethnic female sexuality”

No Pigs In Space

Futurism: “Ideals of Futurism remain as significant components of modern Western culture; the emphasis on youth, speed, power and technology finding expression in much of modern commercial cinema and culture.” tps://


“Aftro-Futurism is defined as: “

“Afrofuturism is many things, but the short definition is: an aesthetic movement with an Afrocentric, science fiction-inspired vision of the future.

This dazzling movement spans many media – from literature to film to music and, of course, the visual arts. Beautiful cyborg queens, spaceships that put Star Wars to shame and the most wicked sunglasses you can imagine are just a few of its signature features.

Born in the early 1990s, Afrofuturism is as much a critique of today as it is a vision of tomorrow. By painting a picture of a future populated with people of colour who have technologically enhanced bodies and superhuman strength, who drive opulent spacecrafts and live in worlds where power is not a struggle, Afrofuturism artists imagine a future that has left a problematic world of Euro-centrism, oppression and injustice in the past. “”

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Walter Scott:

Walter Scott: “Wendy is a post-art school 20-something girl who has dreams of art stardom. She lives in a city similar to Montreal. Despite her intelligence and ambitions to become a super famous artist, she makes a lot of dumb decisions, is wasted all the time, makes out with dumb guys in dumb bands, and is generally an emotional wreck. She is also trendy and has nice hair.”

Ken Lum:

International Dumpling Festival, 2018 for Toronto Nuit Blanche

“For this occasion, Vancouver-born, Philadelphia-based artist Ken Lum created a new work titled International Dumpling Festival (2018), a participatory installation disguised as a functioning night market, featuring seven food vendors that sold a selection of dumplings including Chinese wontons, Jamaican patties, Tibetan momos, Colombian empanadas, and Polish pierogis.

The work was integral to “The Things They Carried,” a main exhibition zone curated by Tairone Bastien that “reflects on the immigrant stories of Toronto.” Dumpling is a popular, globalized dish with myriad cultural variants, many of which have become iconic menu items in ethnic enclaves around the world. As Lum put it, dumpling is “an allegory of Toronto, with its working-class roots. It’s a peasant food, with immigration built right in.” Fittingly, the installation was situated on James Street, which was part of the Ward, formerly home to Toronto’s first diasporic Chinese, Italian, Jewish, Irish, and Black communities during the late 1890s and early 1900s. These communities were later relocated and the Ward, considered as a slum by many, was eradicated in order to make space for the construction of the Toronto City Hall and its surrounding facilities.” 

“Despite the work’s celebration of Toronto’s immigrant history, it ironically reflected a continued tendency not to see migrants and their cultures as distinct and worthy of appreciation beyond their superficial, consumable contributions. In between the trends of cultural consumption and recognition, where do the peoples to whom the commodified minority cultures belong position themselves in the larger socio-political structure? ”

Rosette Rago

When I was a teenager in the Philippines, living outside Manila, I entertained myself by tending to my various blogs about Western pop culture, which I consumed vigorously online. The internet gave me access to movies that weren’t being shown in local theaters or sold in local video stores.
It introduced me to worlds I longed for and envied, as depicted by Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze and Richard Linklater, among many others. I was attending a Catholic university and stayed home most nights — but really, I wished I were Julie Delpy on a European train flirting with the cute but morose guy sitting across from me.
These characters moved so freely in their worlds, while mine suffocated me. I wondered if I was even allowed to behave that way, since I wasn’t blonde and white. I wondered if the stories would be the same if I were in these characters’ shoes, looking the way I do. I wanted to be the main character, not the nerdy best friend. When I watched Diablo Cody’s “Juno,” I imagined myself as the main character Juno and not Su-Chin, the Asian protester outside the abortion clinic yelling in imperfect English.
That scene embarrassed me when I saw it for the first time. Was this how the rest of the world saw people who look like me?
Three years ago, the screenwriter and digital strategist William Yu started#StarringJohnCho, in which he and others photoshopped Cho’s face onto several movie posters, sharing them online as a way to push for more Asian-American leads. What would it look like if Captain America and James Bond were Asian-American? Projects like his come from the same desire that I have to see myself represented on the big screen, and not just as a sidekick. We want to see ourselves as the heroes, too.

Now living in Los Angeles, I’m caught between honoring the culture I grew up with and adjusting to the freedom that my new home affords me. I am constantly modifying my behavior, afraid to completely lose my values and disappoint my family. At the same time, my life here in America sometimes feels like a chance to explore my boundaries as a woman of color.
When I began this project, I reached out to my friends first. Once people had signed up, we worked together to decide what characters they would play; I felt the images should hold some meaning for them, too.
By composing my own photographs, I’ve been able to revisit the movies that made an impact on me growing up. Through these characters I love, I’m examining my place in the world, one frame at a time.

Images and text by Rozette Rago

Rozette Rago is a visual journalist based in Los Angeles.

Produced by Raillan Brooks, Alicia DeSantis, Gabriel Gianordoli, Jolie Ruben and Josephine Sedgwick.

Surfacing is a weekly column that explores the intersection of art and life.

Actors: Ann Pastor as Leslie Hayman as Therese Lisbon, Ericke Tan as Kirsten Dunst as Lux Lisbon, Jessica Wu as A.J. Cook as Mary Lisbon and Lhiyanne Reyes as Chelse Swain as Bonnie Lisbon in “The Virgin Suicides”; Brandon Tan as Steve Zahn as Sammy Gray, Rozette Rago as Winona Ryder as Lelaina Pierce, Tracy Nguyen as Janeane Garofalo as Vickie Miner and Myrrh Raguro as Ethan Hawke as Troy Dyer in “Reality Bites”; Neil Reyes as Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly and Ericke Tan as Amy Adams as Amy in “Her”; Angela Guo as Mickey Sumner as Sophie Levee and Sabrina Imbler as Greta Gerwig as Frances Halladay in “Frances Ha”; Tracy Nguyen as Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”; Howin Wong as Armie Hammer as Oliver and Abe Kim as Timothée Chalamet as Elio Perlman in “Call Me by Your Name”; Heather Sten as Julie Delpy as Céline and Daniel Varghese as Ethan Hawke as Jesse in “Before Sunrise”; Jonny Sun as Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom Hansen and Saera Hur as Zooey Deschanel as Summer Finn in “500 Days of Summer”; Ria Misra as Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff in “Juno.”

Film still credits: Paramount Classics (“The Virgin Suicides”); Universal Pictures (“Reality Bites”); Warner Bros. (“Her”); IFC Films (“Frances Ha”); Focus Features (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”); Sony Pictures Classics (“Call Me by Your Name”); Castle Rock Entertainment (“Before Sunrise”); Fox Searchlight Pictures (“500 Days of Summer”); Fox Searchlight Pictures (“Juno”).

Ai Wei Wei – Never Sorry (Full film)

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY is the first feature-length film about the internationally renowned Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. In recent years, Ai has garnered international attention as much for his ambitious artwork as his political provocations. AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY examines this complex intersection of artistic practice and social activism as seen through the life and art of China’s preeminent contemporary artist. From 2008 to 2010, Beijing-based journalist and filmmaker Alison Klayman gained unprecedented access to Ai Weiwei. Klayman documented Ai’s artistic process in preparation for major museum exhibitions, his intimate exchanges with family members and his increasingly public clashes with the Chinese government. Klayman’s detailed portrait of the artist provides a nuanced exploration of contemporary China and one of its most compelling public figures.
Director Alison Klayman
Cast Danqing Chen, Ying Gao, Changwei Gu, Tehching Hsieh, Huang Hung, Yanping Liu, Evan Osnos
Writer Alison Klayman

Deanna Bowen & Jon Sasaki

Deanna Bowen

“On Trial The Long Doorway re-inserts this forgotten teledrama into the present day. The galleries of Mercer Union are transformed into a series of sets (a jail cell, a legal aid office, a living room, a locker room and court house) for live rehearsals and recordings to take place every Saturday for its duration. These rehearsals take place amongst archival documents from the era, from Canadian documentaries exploring race relations and University of Toronto’s The Varsity, to Life magazine’s coverage of the Emmett Till murder trial. The script will be animated by five Black actors, multiplying their roles and representations, while blurring the lines between black and white, rehearsal, action and performance. As curator Liz Park has written “The political potency of Bowen’s work lies in her ability to recharge the power of historic and archival documents.”[3] On Trial The Long Doorway is an installation and ‘performed production’ work that uses the gallery space as a set for rehearsals and present day video production of the teledrama, from audition, to rehearsals, to final shot.

In delineating the necessity of “wake work” (connecting the experience of enslavement to contemporary violence, mourning, survival, and happiness) writer Christina Sharpe argues “toward inhabiting a black consciousness that would rupture the structural silences produced and facilitated by, and that produce and facilitate, Black social and physical death.”[4] The antagonisms, divisions and traumas, of race relations in the 1956 teledrama re-staged in 2017 are even more urgent today”.


Jon Sasaki

“Clint Roenisch is pleased to open the fall season with a solo show of recent works by the Canadian artist Jon Sasaki, his first with the gallery. Widely known as a “Romantic conceptualist,” Sasaki’s many projects, videos, photographs, performances, objects and installations often revolve around trying to reach dubious goals through perversely optimistic means. Sasaki seems to court failure as a richer, more revealing outcome than the soundest of victories. His tragicomic endeavours, ridiculous as they might be, are propelled by a warm, positivist worldview, particularly if the works involve, as they often do, a collaborative audience or cohorts willing to work towards whatever absurd (or noble) premise the artist has set his studied sights upon. The humour and fallibility embedded in his various works are anchored by a methodical, reasoned approach, in the same vein as the sight gags and complex scenes in a Buster Keaton film. In Sasaki’s hands, expectation and outcome never seem to align, generating a simultaneous sense of pathos and levity. His self-exhaustive systems are caught in cycles of trial and error. The humour and melancholy shot through the works of Bas Jan Ader, find echoes in Sasaki’s, just as the exuberant, funny, often explosive video works of Roman Signer serve as beacons. Sasaki also continues to bend Canadian art history to his will, especially the sublime achievements of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Their enduring, monolithic hold on Canadian artistic consciousness is a deep vein to be mined, to alternately pay homage to
or to nudge into contemporary reality where hydro cables, gas stations, crowds and cell phone towers have come to mar the experience.

The exhibition title is a quote borrowed from Michael Nesmith, the American singer, songwriter, actor, Monkee and heir to the Liquid Paper fortune. We may never know what his word was, it is likely lost to history, returned to whatever dreamspace it came from. What we do know is that Michael’s mother, Bette Nesmith Graham invented her Liquid Paper typewriter correction fluid using the family’s kitchen blender, improvising through trial and error a tool that would allow typists to revise, redact, and correct all imperfections. The desire to undo, re-do, mend broken connections (whether in a typewritten sentence or in a broader sense) figures prominently in
this exhibition, which continues the artists’s investigation into the tropes of Romanticism”.

Annie Pootoogook

Annie Pootoogook’s detailed work describes everyday life in her home community of Cape Dorset, Nunavut. Her scenes of Inuit traditions include the less romantic but real integration of modern technologies such as video games and televisions as well as domestic abuse and tragedy. Her method, carefully outlined shapes in black filled with blocks of solid color, recalls traditional Inuit drawing while the subject matter reflects the unvarnished viewpoint of her generation.

Other drawings are more personal and abstract, illustrating an emotional landscape of mental anguish, such as “Sadness and Relief for My Brother,” and the austere but compelling, still life of the artist’s prescription- medicine bottle, cup and a single dangling key in “Composition (Annie’s Tylenol).” Cheerful domestic scenes such as a family opening Christmas presents (“Christmas”) are depicted with the same precision and calm attention to detail as the emotion-laden composition “Memory of My Life: Breaking Bottles.” From boingboing

Pootoogook’s body was found in the Rideau River in Ottawa in September – and the cause of her death is not known.


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