March 17, 2023

Realised, Re-imagined: Art as Activism

Realised, Re-imagined: Art as Activism

What does it mean to have our right to food realised?
What does a future in which we can all access food in the ways we want to look and feel like?

FoodShare staff and community have been exploring these very questions through the Right to Food Campaign over the past several months.

A screenshot from the Realised, Re-imagined virtual art exhibit ‘Respond’ page.

The campaign officially launched in October 2021 with the “showing of the receipts,” illustrating the state of food insecurity in Toronto by listing the facts around who is most impacted and what we need to do to begin addressing this growing issue in our city as we battle an ongoing pandemic and the rising costs of living.

In response to community support and feedback on the receipts, FoodShare’s advocacy team hosted a town hall meeting where folks heard from community leaders at Afri-Can FoodBasket, Dashmaawaan Bemaadzinjin, St. James Town Community Co-Op and Uplift Kitchen about what communities across the city are demanding when it comes to the right to food and the creative ways folks are getting food to those who urgently need it.

“We’re all people here who do what we can to help those around us. […] We’re giving them what we can. We’re assisting them over again because that’s who we are as individuals […] but without that steady support coming from [the government], it can only last so long,” said Antonia Lawrence, Co-Founder of Uplift Kitchen — a food security initiative dedicated to assisting Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities in Toronto and surrounding areas.

Panelists and hosts speak at the Right to Food town hall hosted by FoodShare in October 2021.

With creativity in mind, in the fall of 2022, FoodShare staff and community held an art exhibit focused on food justice called Realised, Re-imagined. FoodShare’s Right to Food Campaign Coordinator, Hansel Igbavboa, and Community Mobilisation Coordinator, Moe Pramanick, organized the event — fitting with the theme as both are artists themselves.

“Hansel and I, both being artists and also advocacy team members, we are always noticing how people are able to engage in such beautiful ways when there’s a hands-on/imaginative/creative component,” says Pramanick.

“I think imagination is a really important tool for building. Some ideas we have about the world we want to be in, we don’t have words for it yet, but we have visions and feelings and things that we know intuitively, and I think using art helps us release those ideas.”

The event was hosted at Flemo Farm, a half-acre vegetable farm located in a hydro corridor in Flemingdon Park — an apt place for community to come together around a shared food justice cause. Collectively, the works at the Realised, Re-imagined exhibit encouraged viewers to consider what we are owed by those in power, and what it means for our food rights to be honoured.

A vibrant and diverse crowd came together for the exhibit, which showcased the work of local artists from Flemingdon Park Ehiko Odeh, Sam Anis, and Nala Haileselassie, alongside photographs captured by Nabil Shash.

A group of folks gather to take photos beside the artwork at the Realised, Re-imagined art exhibit.

“It was a really unique opportunity to create artwork about my own community on an individual level, while also allowing me to give voice and draw attention to a neighbourhood in which so many of the community members have been rendered voiceless for so long,” says Haileselassie.

Art can be an effective tool to inspire social change and paint a picture of the change we wish to see in the world. By challenging an issue or a system thought to be the status quo through visual expression, art has a unique way of encouraging spectators to consider what else is possible, and how they might advocate for change in their own communities.

“I think it’s really important for us to be present in reality, aware of how systems are designed and the tools that government/large corporations/people in power use, but also to actively practice believing there’s something beyond that, or that we can do way more than just reform things — we can build entirely brand new ones,” Pramanick explains.

“Collective imagination helps us remember that there are entire groups of people who also want and are already working towards building new ways of living and being together.”

L to R: Moe Pramanick, Nala Haileselassie, Ehiko Odeh, Hansel Igbavboa

People connect with art in so many different ways, but it’s especially impactful when folks with marginalized identities find themselves represented in artwork, as Haileselassie explains:

“Having taken part in this exhibition gives me hope not only for Flemingdon Park’s community members, but also hope for similar communities across the city to have agency in their representation and actively play a role in the way that they are seen and heard. We are the centre of our own world and we deserve to see ourselves represented in art!” 

Artist Nala Haileselassie and FoodShare staff and artist Moe Pramanick stand next to Nala’s art piece at the Realised, Re-imagined art exhibit.

So what’s next for Flemo and the Right to Food Campaign? The artwork will remain viewable in a virtual format at realised-reimagined.net until September 2023, at which point the site will be archived. Feel free to continue observing the art and reflecting on the questions and answers on the Respond page until then.

“I hope that seeing this work, seeing people’s responses to the prompts will also encourage gallery visitors to tap into that feeling and think about food rights beyond just what feels possible right now,” shares Pramanick.

Don’t forget to add your voice to the Right to Food Campaign, if you haven’t already. 

And, we hope to see you at the next event! Sign up for our e-newsletter to stay in touch and to be notified about upcoming events, and consider joining our Food Justice Action Group if you want to take part in more regular, sustained advocacy around food justice with us.