Arts

Four of the five women who worked together to get the U of O to agree to the mural in the University Centre. Nicole Maylor (left), Mikayla Vattiata, Vanessa Dorimain, and Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi. Missing from photo: Danyka Ouellet. Photo: Eric Davidson.

Local artist paints mural honouring trans women of colour in UCU

Back in July 2015, a mural of Sandra Bland, a woman of colour who was found hanging in a jail cell in Texas on July 13, 2015, and whose death has been speculated about as a possible act of racist police brutality, was painted in downtown Ottawa on a legal graffiti wall. The mural was later defaced with racial slurs and the words “All Lives Matter”, an insulting reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

One of the artists behind this mural was Kalkidan Assefa, an Ottawa-based artist also known as @drippin_soul, his Instagram handle and tag for his art. When members of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) decided they wanted a mural painted in the University Centre (UCU) for Black History Month, they knew exactly who to call.

Assefa’s murals can be found in numerous locations around Ottawa, one of which was painted for Ottawa’s Pride Week and was also defaced but later found a permanent home at McNabb Community Centre. Although the one located in the UCU is the same subject matter as some of his previous work, representing transgender women of colour, Assefa strived to make it unique.

“This time I did a completely different image, so it’s a new image, new characters, a new composition, everything,” says Assefa.

The women represented in the mural are not any real women in particular, but just characters in Assefa’s mind that are supposed to give “a visible representation of intersectional identities of colour.”

Although Assefa doesn’t necessarily consider himself a political artist, many of his murals have become political, especially with the defacement of the two last year.

“I’m not trying to be like a political artist, I just do whatever is relevant to me, and so, you know, as a black man in Canada certain things are going to be my reality more than other artists, and some people consider that being political, but it’s just my life.”

Assefa does believe that art can be a power platform for activism, however, and that it “allows people to voice their opinions, speak truth to power, and challenge opposition where they see fitting.”

“Activism is not the end goal, my end goal is to create art, it’s just that my art and activism intersect because that’s my reality,” says Assefa.

The SFUO also reached out to Assefa in part because of the powerful representations he had done of people of colour in the past, and wanted the piece to have a strong message behind it that would help with representation of the black community on campus.

“The way I look at it is that art makes you feel something,” says Nicole Maylor, vice-president equity of the SFUO. “What we really wanted was for people to look at that mural, and feel reflected in it.”

Assefa is also involved in other parts of the arts community in Ottawa, participating in Art Battles, the House of PainT festival, and is a certified arts educator, occasionally doing workshops and live paints in local schools. For his involvement in the community, Assefa was given the Community Organizer award at the SFUO’s Black History Month gala on Feb. 26 along with artist Allen Andre.