By Bradley Turcotte
Artist Kseniya Tsoy has an encouraging message for newcomers to Canada: “You Can Do It!”
You can see the Uzbekistan-born artist’s work adorning the Bell utility box at the corner of Parkdale and Wellington. The inspiring, pro-immigrant message is reminiscent of the iconic Second World War character Rosie the Riveter and is funded by the Hintonburg Community Association (HCA), Bell and the Wellington West Business Improvement Area.
This is the first in a series of Bell box grants spearheaded by the HCA anti-racism committee that provide an honorarium and supplies to selected artists. The ongoing HCA art project is called “Racism is a Pandemic Too.”
Committee Chair Radha Subramani said residents alerted the HCA to racist incidents that occurred in the neighbourhood in late 2019.
“We were thinking about these issues before the global movement started,” Subramani said. “Then we realized we needed to take a more public and concerted effort in our community in response to those actions,” adding that the HCA board took anti-racism training in March 2020 to underline their commitment.
Tsoy’s work is influenced by her personal experiences living in Canada, China and South Korea.
“Racism has many facets. It is not only about skin colour, but also about country of origin and the nationality you are associated with,” Tsoy said. “We don’t talk about it.”
While attending grad school in South Korea, Tsoy’s tasks in statistics class included creating graphs and charts. As computers were not a ubiquitous tech in Uzbekistan circa the 2000s, she wrote her university thesis by hand and followed this working style to create her statistical images in grad school.
“The professor called me to his room after the class and said, ‘your drawings are very cute, but promise not to graduate from our university without learning how to make the graphs in Excel.’”
Tsoy’s graduate thesis included Excel creations on every page. She graduated from Yonsei University with honours.
“Difference in capacity among countries is inevitable due to different levels of technological progress in the world, but it doesn’t mean we cannot do it,” Tsoy said. “What newcomers need is trust, and sometimes a little assistance to get on ‘the same level’ language- or professional-capacity-wise.”
Canada welcomes approximately 235,000 new immigrants per year. Yet newcomers are not always met with trust and understanding. Challenges for newcomers include language barriers, adapting to cultural norms and securing employment that matches their educational background.
Since meeting her Canadian husband, while working in China as a cultural producer for arts organization World Culture Open, Tsoy became a Canadian permanent resident and is appreciative of the opportunities life in Canada affords.
“I would like to highlight and give credit to Canada for the fact that I feel very welcome as a newcomer and, while I cannot speak for others, as an artist I was always given equal opportunities to work and create art. I am grateful,” Tsoy stated.
Upcoming for Tsoy is an illustrated book that celebrates Uzbek culture. Few people are familiar with Uzbekistan, a landlocked country which straddles Europe and Asia. Tsoy is ethnically Korean, German, Russian and Crimean Tatar – but she says Uzbekistan is, fittingly, “like a mini-replica” of the whole Eurasian continent, adding, “any culture in the world can find some connection to Uzbekistan.”
Racism is a difficult topic, Tsoy acknowledges, and while her mural is based on her negative experiences as an immigrant, she approaches it with lightheartedness and humour.
“I am trying to say, as immigrants, ‘we can do it.’ My ultimate hope and wish is to remind the community at large, not only in Ottawa, that we can do it. In my experience, I had to prove that I could do it so many times. The image of this mural is to inspire this trust,” Tsoy said.
If you have an idea for an anti-racism arts installation, contact the HCA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org