Saturday, 29 February 2020

Poet Creates Art to Raise Awareness About UN-proclaimed Decade

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed     Nadine Williams and Jean Augustine at the unveiling of "The Fabric of Our Being" in the Via Rail Business Lounge at Union Station in Toronto

An artist and poet plans to showcase her mixed media tapestry art initiative, designed to raise awareness of the United Nations proclaimed International Decade for People of African Descent (IPAD), 2015-2024, at airports throughout Canada.

Recently,  Nadine Williams held the inaugural unveiling of “The Fabric of Our Being” in the Via Rail Business Lounge at Union Station, Canada’s busiest transportation hub receiving over 300,000 visitors daily.

In 2018, Canada officially recognized the decade which seeks to promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contributions by people of African descent.

This tapestry art expo and installation embodies the recognition component of the decade’s theme using the craft of quilting, a tradition passed down from generation to generation, to portray the intricately woven threads connecting the fabric of the African diaspora in Canada.

The theme for the IDPAD is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.” In proclaiming the decade, the international community is recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected.
“It’s a beautiful piece of work,” says Jean Augustine, the first African Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons, and a champion for this initiative.

“Hopefully it’s going to be there for a good part of the decade and hopefully all those who go into the lounge cannot but have their attention go towards this very impressive piece of work.”

In 2017, Williams designed a Black History Month poster, “The Fabric of Our Being,” in the form of a quilt celebrating the decade as well as Canada 150.

This resulted in the federal government commending her with certificates and the United Nations invited her to participate in celebratory events at its headquarters in New York.

She also found that the decade calls for erecting monuments at arrival and departure points in countries that have benefitted from the transatlantic slave trade.

“Having been at the UN, I became very aware of the acronym, IDPAD. I found, increasingly, in my presentations that year that not many persons were aware of the decade, so in the spring of 2018, after seeing a tweet from the federal government misquoting the acronym, calling it DPAD, I realized that a lot more work was needed so I decided to resurrect the quilt design in an actual quilt and erect it in airports across Canada.”

After much research and outreach, Edmonton International Airport approved the idea so Williams has collaborated with a student of the Edmonton School Board to stitch the quilt from her original design.

It will be framed and mounted at the airport on March 6 and a reception will be held at student’s school, WP Wagner.

Williams plans to collaborate with individuals in each region of Canada to execute the art installations.

For the unveiling at Union Station in Toronto on February 14, Carole and Michel Brisebois, a French Canadian couple, was instrumental in making it a reality.

“It has been an arduous journey from the spring of 2018,” says Williams who has had six quilts made.

The first was gifted to the Nigerian monarch, The Ooni of Ife, on his summer 2019 visit. Each quilt takes about a month to complete.

The poet’s ultimate goal is to have “The Fabric of Our Being” installed in as many arrival and departure points as possible, and also in other places, with an installation each month.

Each installation attaches a person of historical significance to Canadian society. The
Denham Jolly installation will be in Toronto’s City Hall.

“If all goes well a regional design will be in the US in the spring, Barbados in the summer, Vienna and Bristol in the fall and in Canadian embassies internationally,” says Williams who is seeking sponsors for the installations “as increasingly I am getting real estate space for the install but the funds to get it done have been challenging.”

Williams has published five books; three poetry and two children’s stories, eleven Black History Month posters and she is the recipient of the York Regional Police Deeds Speak Award.

She has guest lectured at local universities and, internationally, at the University of Vienna.

The poet and artist has also opened for events featuring former US First Lady Michelle Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, February 27-March 4, 2020.]

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