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2022 BC Culture Days Ambassadors

Zaynab Mohammed (Slocan Valley)

Photo credit: FMRL Productions
Photo credit: FMRL Productions

Zaynab is an award winning Poet. Her poetry invocation took off at a spoken word workshop in 2013, leading her to continue exploring this medium of expression through workshops, courses and practice. Open mics and poetry slams were her gateway into the world of poetry. In 2014, she began to write poems on her baby blue smith corona typewriter at the Halifax Buskers Festival. This has transpired to her travelling poem booth, which has sustained her travels over the years. She is the recent recipent of the Richard Carver Award for emerging writers. She is an Arabic woman. Her Arabic mother tongue is rooted in poetry. Zaynab was born in Vancouver, B.C., to immigrant parents fleeing war torn countries. Inspired by the hardships her family endured, her writing touches on what is possible in the realms of healing and creating new ways forward. Her verses have become lyrics to songs she writes with her pal guitar. All she has learned, she teaches to the younger generations at art camps and through the regional high schools. She is a voice of the heart. Love. In a world that pretends to be cold. Her fire is art. Love. Burns the old. For we long to learn the beauty of bold truth. We long to be shaken. Rearrange reality with life force. Love. Living water longs for a new vessel. Stale containers could only hold us back for so long. Spill out, fill the space. Pour your heart and you will be full. Love. Zaynab lives in the woods of the Slocan Valley with her dog Threshold.

Culture Days Event: Zaynab’s Culture Days project Are We Listening? was created with support from Canada Council of the Arts, the Civic Theatre in Nelson and countless community members from the Slocan Valley region. Are We Listening? is an endeavour which stemmed from Zaynab’s curiosity about the power of listening and what it means in relation to ourselves, to each other and to our natural environment. Through a series of interviews, Zaynab asked nearly 50 participants: “what does listening mean to you? What are your thoughts and insights on listening? How do you listen? Why do you listen? When do you listen, and where does your listening happen within you?” Using sound bites from the interviews, Zaynab created a soundscape and experimental short film. You can watch Zaynab’s short film produced for Culture Days here.

Mentor: Singer, writer, performer, director, producer, and theatre artist, Pat Henman.

(Pronouns: she, her)
Instagram: @poemsbyzaynab

Alex Chen (Victoria)

Alex is a baritone, collaborative pianist and vocal coach whose curiosity brings fresh perspectives on a diverse body of musical works. In the words of his mentor John Hess, he is “an immensely musical, sensitive player” with “a deeply inquisitive mind.” Alex performs regularly both as a singer and collaborative pianist in the Victoria music community, exploring genres such as art song, opera and choral music. Moreover, as a faculty member at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, he supports a wide variety of students and young professional singers from the piano. As a researcher, Alex held a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Scholarship to fund his work in dynamic art song programming. He is dedicated to education and engagement, striving to create lasting impressions with his performances and to foster a desire to learn more with his innovative artistic projects. Some professional highlights include performing in solo voice and chorus capacities with Pacific Opera Victoria in their 2021 Open Air Festival and mainstage productions, respectively; dynamically collaborating with singers in the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s song competitions; and presenting, as a collaborative pianist and programmer, a distinguished recital titled Demons & Dichterliebe to explore themes of the supernatural and love. In a past life, Alex handled birds of prey for educational programs and contemplated the physiological factors affecting birdsong during a BSc in Zoology. To keep in touch with his background in biology, he loves spending time outdoors and spotting local flora and fauna.

Culture Days Event: In the Citizen Soundscape, Alex called on people residing across the country to open their ears to the sonic world of the outdoors. He invited community members from near and far to record and submit sounds from their favourite outdoor spaces—anything from nature sounds to the bustle of the city to the hum of an outdoor event. Through this task, Alex encouraged people to approach outdoor spaces in new ways, asking them to practice listening by deeply engaging with the nature and people around them. The collected sounds were used to create an immersive soundscape, presented at the Swan Lake Nature House on Lekwungen territory in Victoria, B.C. At the in-person presentation, on-site facilitators supplied materials and guided attendees to create their own art inspired by the immersive Citizen Soundscape installation and the natural soundscape of Swan Lake. He also invited visitors to explore the area through self-guided soundwalks. Watch Alex’s Citizen Soundscape micro-documentary here.

Mentor: Composer, Hildegard Westerkamp.

(Pronouns: he, him)
Facebook: @alexchenpiano
Twitter: @CorvusClavier

Emilie Kvist (Abbotsford/Mission)

Emilie is an artist originally from the Mission and Abbotsford region. In 2021, she completed a BFA at the University of the Fraser Valley. She is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at Concordia University in Montreal. As a print maker, she is interested in how the process of print media can be expanded to include sculpture and installation in the context of the contemporary art world.

Culture Days Event: Through partnerships with the City of Abbotsford and the City of Mission, Emilie guided community-engaged, artistic hikes through Downes Bowl Trail in Abbotsford and at Centennial Park in Mission. In these outdoor printmaking workshops, Emilie taught participants, from ages 6 and up, about hiking practices, plant identification and processes of eco-printing. These ventures through local trails offered community members the chance to create take home eco-prints and the opportunity to contribute to panels for a collective eco-printing artwork inspired by Emilie’s ongoing research of alternative print processes and exploration of local plant material. Through incredible community support and the help of many local volunteers, Emilie’s artwork came together as a temporary installation erected on the once lost labyrinth in Mill Lake Park in Abbotsford. Watch Emilie’s short film, Into Nature, to learn more about the project.

Mentor: Artist, printmaker, and educator, Aimée Henny Brown.

(Pronouns: she, her)
Instagram: @emiliekvist_art

Shelley Stein-Wotten (Nanaimo)

Photo credit: Aviva Stein-Wotten
Photo credit: Aviva Stein-Wotten

Shelley writes and eats mostly vegetables from her home in Nanaimo, B.C. Her focus is writing and producing comedy. Her writing often fuses the grounding she established creating comedic characters for sketches with the narrative flow of essay writing. Shelley harnesses humour as a mechanism for confronting reality and to engage people to consider truths about how we live, including the more absurd aspects, and what they might say about who we are. She finds herself drawn to extracting an aspect of an ecological and social justice issue, and twisting it into a comedic narrative. For Shelley, writing comedy isn’t about making up funny jokes or situations. It’s about exposing and exploring the humour that is already there in order to illuminate new paths of thinking. Shelley’s sketches have been performed in Vancouver and Seattle and her work has been published in R U Joking?, The Temz Review, JÓN Magazine and The Belladonna. She also co-produced and co-created the web series All My Pants, which won awards at LA Webfest. She has a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and journalism and a diploma in writing for film and television. Shelley loves gardening and taking slow walks in the hope of meeting new plant friends. She is a certified pollinator steward through Pollinator Partnership Canada as well as a self-certified invasive plant hacker.

Culture Days Event: Words of an Ecosystem is a collaboratively written story that explores the human relationship with B.C.‘s most endangered, yet most ecologically diverse, plant and animal community—the Garry oak ecosystem. Shelley and community members gathered online in August 2022 through an event hosted by Wordstorm Society of the Arts to explore narratives about committing to restoring and sustaining our relationship with this special homeland that has nourished and supported generations of people, plants and animals. Shelley read five original narratives representing five different chapters that imagined both our current and potential connections to Garry oak ecosystems: isolation, imbalance, repair, connection and reciprocity. Following each chapter, community members made their contributions to the story on a Zoom whiteboard. The chapters were mounted on boards and displayed at Vancouver Island Regional Library’s Nanaimo North branch for the public to contemplate: where might our imaginations lead us to engage in acts of stewardship and begin to write our own parts of the story that help restore Garry oak ecosystems in our community? Watch Shelley’s film here.

Mentor: Director, stage manager, dramaturge, actor, and teacher, Jane Heyman.

(Pronouns: she, her)

Priscilla Omulo (Port Coquitlam)

Priscilla is a Tsartlip First Nations and a visitor on kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem) territory. She has dedicated over ten years to frontline work with Indigenous women, children and families. Her education is in psychology with a citation in mental health and addiction. Her life is rooted in her traditional and cultural teachings, and this includes the way she works with the community. The colonial term of intersectional feminist best describes her way of navigating the systems we are living and working within. Gender, sexual orientation, race, disability all intersect with the forms of oppression faced by many BIPOC, LBGTQ2TIA people and folks living with disabilities. Her work is dedicated to dismantling systems of oppression and seeking justice for all! Priscilla strives to decolonize her work and life, Indigenize her ways of being and hold herself accountable for her learning and unlearning to support justice. When not facilitating decolonization and allyship workshops, guest speaking or in ceremony, she can be found with community, organizing events for social justice and creating art.

Culture Days Event: Priscilla guided community members on kʷikʷəƛ̓əm traditional territory, otherwise known as Port Coquitlam, through a journey of learning and reconciliation. With the support of PoCo Arts Council, the Wondrous Tree Fellowship, Quatsino First Nation weaver Leonard Williams and more community partners, Priscilla hosted a day-long gathering at Kinsmen Centre. Throughout the day, she guided participants to ask questions, engage in reflection and ignite their creativity, while teaching members how to weave hearts with cedar, using traditional techniques passed on to her by her mentor Leonard Williams. The community-built cedar hearts became the final elements of a larger heart sculpture, created with the help of PoCo Arts Council member, Karla MacDonald. In union, Priscilla, Karla and Nancy Furness of the Wondrous Tree Fellowship placed the community artwork in Blakeburn Lagoons Park. This nature-filled art piece was given back to the land as a memorial for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Weaving Our Story Towards Reconciliation brought the community together through environmental teachings, storytelling, sharing, creating and care to engage in truth and reconciliation. Watch the film about the event here.

Mentor: Weaver, Leonard Tiger Williams.

(Pronouns: she, her)
Instagram: @priscillaomulo
Facebook: @priscillaomulo
Twitter: @priscillaomulo

Kim Leckey aka Sea Woven (Ucluelet and Tofino)

With a degree in fashion design from Toronto Metropolitan University (previously Ryerson University), Kim is a passionate artist and creator who has had the opportunity to work internationally in New Zealand, Central America and California. Now residing in Ucluelet and Tofino, Kim merges her love of the ocean and macrame with sustainability in mind to create her own style of fibre art. She specializes in using recycled, upcycled and marine debris material to construct unique macra weave projects that reflect the intricate timelessness of West Coast shorelines.

Culture Days Event: In partnership with Surfrider Pacific Rim, Long Beach Lodge Resort and Tourism Tofino, Kim’s project The Salvaged Project provided community members of Ucluelet and Tofino B.C. the opportunity to learn about the problems caused by marine debris pollution in the ocean and on shorelines. Kim hosted a ‘Marine Debris Scavenger Hunt’ beach clean as part of Surfrider Pacific Rim’s Wash Up Wednesdays. On the same day, with the debris found on the clean, Kim taught a workshop where she showed participants how to take trash and turn it into treasure. Watch Kim’s short film to learn more.

Mentor: Textile artist, Barb Hunt.

(Pronouns: she, her)
Instagram: @sea.woven
Facebook: @sea.woven

Pedram Penhan (Vancouver)

Pedram is a self-taught, multidisciplinary and queer artist who was born in Tehran, Iran, and immigrated to Canada in 2015 at the age of 23. Having had to flee their home country, travel through multiple countries in order to seek asylum and finally resettle in Canada, Pedram is now able to freely live and express themselves. They use painting, photography, sculpture, collage and drag as their mediums to share their story, perspective and understanding of life, while challenging gender, class and racial discrimination and raising awareness about the climate crisis. Pedram values community building, collaboration and integration through shared stories and experiences. They believe in the importance of self expression and the uniqueness of each individual’s life experience. Pedram has worked with nonprofit art organizations across Canada for three years and has showcased their work in multiple exhibitions. They are currently working on their recently launched photography business as well as designing a new inclusive line of apparel.

Culture Days Project: Pedram invited those who reside on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations in Vancouver to contribute to a collective mural at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island. A family-friendly and community-based work, the permanent mural features imagery of wildlife that coexists with the local land and community. While creating, participants were encouraged to acknowledge the land they are on, pay respect and explore a deeper connection to it. The mural A Path to Survival aims to deepen a collective understanding of nature and how humans impact it, as well as find more ways to protect and contribute to the wellbeing and conservation of local ecosystems. Pedram’s project and film were made possible with the support and partnership of Granville Island CHMC.

Mentor: Ceramic artist, Keith Lehman.

(Pronouns: they, them)
Instagram: @parallel.pedram, @xibalba__queen

Élodie Orsei (Kelowna)

As an artist, creator and singer-songwriter, Élodie’s interests lie within bringing strength and meaning to the different communities she belongs to. With a background in musical theatre, music and anthropology, Élodie’s approach to art inspires an introspective journey where we can reconnect to empathy, gratitude and understanding. In her work with performance art, Élodie explores movement-based theatre, where creation from physical cues offer a mysterious yet poignant way for humans to express themselves and comprehend the world around them. Élodie also works closely with the human voice and breath, powerful tools that hold a lot of emotion and truth.

Culture Days Event: Elodie’s Through the Lens: A Kelowna Project highlighted kindness, love, empathy and gratitude among members of her community. Élodie and students from The Centre for Arts and Technology hit the downtown core of Kelowna, looking to document acts of kindness and really chat about what kindness looks like for all of our different minds. Watch her film that documents the process here.

Mentor: Francophone singer-songwriter, Isabelle Longnus.

(Pronouns: she, her)
Instagram: @elodieorsei