If you’ve travelled along Corner Brook’s West Street or Broadway recently or paused in the entranceway at Colemans Garden Market or the Rotary Arts Centre, you may have noticed a bold set of images.
Titled We Are Here, the artwork is comprised of proud portraits of newcomers to the region, alongside objects that represent the many journeys they have taken.
“With these portraits, we boldly proclaim: ‘We are here,’” said Peter Ride, dean of the School of Fine Arts at Grenfell Campus and the project organizer.
Dr. Ride is himself a newcomer to Canada and Western Newfoundland: he is originally from Australia by way of London, U.K.
The portraits explore the newcomer and migrant experience and how the artists have come to call Newfoundland and Labrador home, giving insight into the challenges of relocating, domesticity, marginalization and the importance of multiculturalism.
‘Mean a lot to me’
In fall 2023, nine participants who have come to live in Corner Brook from different parts of the world worked with international arts educator and photographer Liane Harris, in partnership with the Association for New Canadians (ANC) and Grenfell Campus, to bring the project to life.
The participants honed their digital photography skills in a workshop and worked together to co-create portraits of each other.
“They’re related to my career and to my journey of teaching and studying.”
Project participant Indeewari Ashirwadini Bandara Menama Rallage, says she jumped at the opportunity to participate in We Are Here, both to develop her photography skills, which she uses in her studies, work and art, and to share with other newcomers and the broader community.
“In my portrait, I’m wearing a batik handmade Kandyan sari (Osari),” said Ms. Menama Rallage, who is working towards a master’s degree in boreal ecosystems and agricultural sciences at Grenfell. “This is my traditional wear, which I wore while I was serving as a teacher back in Sri Lanka. The sari brooch and bead necklace in the background are also part of my traditional dress. They mean a lot to me, because they’re related to my career and to my journey of teaching and studying.”
In addition to her studies and roles as a research assistant and learning technology coach at Grenfell Campus, she is a digital literacy trainer with the Community Sector Council of N.L.’s techKNOWtutor program. She’s also a singer with her own band, Api Sri, which translates to “We’re Sri Lankans.”
Ghanaian Abdul-Latif Alhassan, who is a PhD student in transdisciplinary sustainability at Grenfell Campus and a co-founder of environmental data social enterprise AbbaTek Group Inc., took Ms. Menama Rallage’s portrait.
Currently on display
All nine portraits are currently on display at five partner sites in the community: Colemans Garden Market, Hew & Draw Hotel, Rotary Arts Centre, WOWO Asian Homestyle Cooking (express branch), and 62 Broadway St.
“I love that we’re able to display these portraits and showcase local talent and community,” said Eugene Simbajon, chef and owner of WOWO, who is originally from the Philippines and has a degree in hotel and restaurant management.
The exhibit is also on display at the Grenfell Art Gallery, alongside Making Home Here, an exhibition on tour from The Rooms and created with the Association for New Canadians and curated by the ANC’s Rachel Gilbert, also a Grenfell gine arts graduate, with Mireille Eagan.
Featured alongside the two exhibitions is Ribbons of Steel, a project that highlights three metal ribbon skirts created during a hands-on community welding workshop led by Jenny Brake, interim Qalipu chief.
The work explores the role of ribbon skirts in Indigenous culture and identity.
On March 8, the Gallery will host a public event with Chief Brake to weave fabric ribbons into the skirts, bringing them to life with memories, stories and inter-cultural exchange.
The community is invited to view these exhibitions at the gallery until March 15, from Tuesday to Saturday between 12–4 p.m.
Collaborative, community, belonging
The ANC works to create collaborative opportunities for newcomers to share their stories and experiences, fostering connections across different backgrounds along the way.
“The photography project with Grenfell Campus reminds us how powerful collaboration can be,” said Pooja Kadian, community connections officer with the ANC in Corner Brook. “We combined our different skills and talents to capture not just pictures, but also a sense of togetherness and understanding.”
Following the workshop, Dr. Ride organized a community discussion at Grenfell Campus with Ms. Harris and partners about the role of participatory arts projects in fostering collaboration.
“We’re showcasing the vibrancy, histories and talents of our newcomer community, who are embedded in the fabric of Corner Brook/Elmastukwek — inviting conversations about identity, belonging and living in a multicultural community,” he said.
“It was an absolute joy working with this exceptional group of creative, inspiring and enthusiastic newcomers to Canada,” said Ms. Harris, who also merged the portraits with the object photos to create the final artwork. “We had the best time collaborating on these beautiful portraits that are a reflection of the poignancy, humour and talent each person brought to the project.”
Grenfell Campus plans to recruit talented local photographers, including from within the newcomer community, to lead further community photography workshops in partnership with the ANC and other local groups and communities.
Grenfell Campus gratefully acknowledges support from all community host partners, and Colemans in particular for sponsoring the gallery’s launch of the three exhibitions. The We Are Here project was made possible with support from Canada Council for the Arts and Memorial University’s Office of Public Engagement.