A new mural dedicated to Trans women of colour is now in the UCU. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik
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Tribute to defaced downtown mural unveiled in UCU, financed by SFUO

This year’s Black History Month, which featured numerous events held on campus and through social media, has come to a close. However a new mural in the heart of the University Centre (UCU) is trying to make a more lasting impression on U of O students.

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) unveiled a new mural, dedicated to murdered transgender women of colour, in the UCU on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

The artwork is in tribute to the original mural at the corner of Bank and Somerset, which was defaced in September 2015. The mural in the UCU is painted by the same artist, Kalkidan Assefa, who was also a contributor to the Sandra Bland mural on Slater Street, which was defaced in July 2015. Both murals were covered over with text, including the phrase “All Lives Matter”.

The idea for the mural was made a reality with the collaborative efforts of Vanessa Dorimain, Danyka Ouellet, Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, Nicole Maylor and Mikayla Vattiata.

Maylor, vice-president equity at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), said she and Dorimain, vice-president university affairs at the SFUO, first brought up the idea last November at a University Centre Management Board meeting after the idea of a mural dedicated to transgender lives in the Pride Centre was suggested to her.

“I spoke to Mikayla about it, I believe, I said like ‘wouldn’t it be great though if it was in a more central location,’” said Maylor.  After that, she said, people started getting more involved in the project.

Dorimain said the mural was fully financed by the SFUO, including cost of materials and payment of the artist. Originally, the concept was to give the mural a place where it wouldn’t be defaced and would have people watching over it, explained Dorimain, but instead opted for a more public, central location.

“It being at the heart of the university is that not only is it reinforcing the fact that we wanted it to be protected and seen, but at the heart of the university and its body of students is kind of the SFUO making a comment on its support or recognition of the realities that students face,” said Moumouni-Tchouassi, who is vice-president of philanthropic affairs for the International Development Students Association.

Ouellet, who is the volunteer coordinator at the Pride Centre and vice-president social for the Conflict Studies and Human Rights Association, said work on the mural began on Feb. 22, during The Black Market event hosted by the Black Law Students’ Association and the SFUO Black History Month Committee.

The committee invited black-owned vendors and companies to set up booths in the UCU Agora. Assefa began painting during this event and continued into the week.

Dorimain also stressed the importance of the mural highlighting an often ignored minority group within a minority group itself.

“Trans queer women have always been at the forefront of movements from the beginning of time and they are barely ever mentioned or represented anywhere,” she said. “Even within already minority communities there’s minorities within that and things that we don’t discuss, and things that should be brought to the light.”

Many of these groups face a number of challenges, like more instances of mental health issies. According to the Canadian Mental Health Organization, 77 per cent of trans respondents in an Ontario-based survey had seriously considered suicide and 45 per cent had attempted suicide.

While Black History Month is coming to an end and The Black Market event is over, the mural is a permanent fixture and stands as a reminder, said Ouellet.

Both Dorimain and Maylor said they feel represented in the painting themselves, and Dorimain says she hopes this is the beginning of black lives being better reflected in society.

“Maybe this painting can transform into actually one day having our textbooks reflecting our histories, as well.”