Toronto Island 2014
If You Can't Lick 'em, Join 'em
ISSUES: Canada Post honours singer kd lang, but what about other LGBT individuals and contributions?
Story by Gordon Bowness
gordonbowness.com, June 25, 2014
As part of a series recognizing great Canadian country artists, Canada Post releases a stamp in July honouring lesbian singer kd lang. Only a miniscule number of LGBT Canadians have been so honoured before: actors Marie Dressler, Raymond Burr and William Hutt were all I could find (I don't know if bachelor prime minister Mackenzie King counts). Seems really thin to me, especially given Canada's world leadership in LGBT rights. Moreover, this year the US postal service recognized slain gay activist and politician Harvey Milk, and the Finns created a racy series of stamps featuring the work of gay erotic artist Tom of Finland. Canada really needs to up our game, philately speaking.
I recently talked with Bob Waite who chairs the Stamp Advisory Committee, a group of historians, graphic designers and stamp enthusiasts who determine which person or what theme gets onto a Canadian stamp (I did the interview as research for a Toronto Star story on kd lang's appearance at the World Pride Awards and Gala). Anyone and everyone is welcome to submit suggestions. "Whether it's the prime minister or a five-year-old, all suggestions are given equal weight," says Waite. "The debates can be quite heated. It's a lively process."
Other than the Queen and some hockey players, living Canadians started appearing on stamps beginning in 2005 (Oscar Peterson inaugurated that change in policy). Only Order of Canada recipients or Governor General's Award-winners are considered. "We just don't have the capacity to vet folks like those organizations do," says Waite. And while diversity is one of the themes Canada Post aims to celebrate, no LGBT-specific stamp has ever been issued. "It's been discussed at some length. We're still looking for the best way to promote diversity in all its forms," he says.
"We have dialogued wth members of the community," says Waite. "There's actually quite a mixed view as how we might do that from their perspective. I was a bit surprised to learn that some folks were not all that excited by the rainbow flag. That was an education for us. So, again, any suggestion that comes in, we welcome."
LGBT stamp contest
In honour of World Pride in Toronto, I propose a contest to select what person or imagery would best honour the contribution made to this country by LGBT activists, artists and "extra" ordinary folk. To get the ball rolling, I also propose putting the art of my boyfriend of many years, Maurice Vellekoop, on a stamp. Okay, so the celebrated illustrator doesn't have the OC or a GG... yet. But we really can't let the Finns out-sexy us Canadians!
Who or what do you think should be honoured with a queer stamp? Post a comment below or email me your own mock-up and I'll append it to this post.
Drag queen Mama Dominatrix
submitted by Daniel Paquette
Singer Carole Pope and art trio General Idea
submitted by Mary Dickie
Former New Brunwick premier Richard Hatfield
submitted by RM Vaughan
Betwixt & between
BOOKS: The Tamakis' new graphic novel, This One Summer, is a beautiful, moving evocation of fast-fading youth
Review by Gordon Bowness
gordonbowness.com, May 9, 2014
Mortifying. So much of life is mortifying when you’re a preteen, between the age of 10 and, say, 14 years, a tween. Your body is going through bewildering changes. You’re developing sexual attractions. You are experimenting with new ways of being. Your childhood friendships are being tested. The adult world of choice and responsibility is fast approaching, and adults, too, are on your case with a new intensity.
Nobody captures the profound ookiness of adolescence better than writer Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Jillian Tamaki -- nor the profound joys.
The Tamaki cousins are the creators of Skim, an amazing graphic novel from 2008 which placed on the New York Times’ top-10 list of illustrated kids book. Their follow-up, again with Groundwood Books, is This One Summer, a pitch-perfect rendering of two months in the life of two young friends.
Rose and Windy are summertime best buddies; for years, their families have had cottages near each other in the small beach community of Awago. But this one summer, the 18-month age difference between the girls begins to loom large. Rose, the older girl and the novel’s protagonist, is anticipating the arrival of breasts and her first boyfriend; the younger Windy is addicted to sugar and blithely unselfconscious. Rose’s parents are fighting, her mother is tense and unhappy; Rose always lurks in a doorway, listening unobserved to her parents’ troubles, desperate for understanding. Windy senses the growing distance between them and is jealous of her friend’s new-found attraction to boys, and one boy in particular, Dunc, a local whose own halting steps toward manhood propels the crisis of the novel.
Toronto’s Mariko Tamaki is a writer, filmmaker and performer with numerous published works including the young adult novel (You) Set Me on Fire. Jillian Tamaki, now living in Brooklyn, is an illustrator whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Walrus and numerous other magazines. Together, the Tamakis form an amazing team: Sometimes Mariko’s text carries the narrative, sometimes Jillian’s images do; the interplay is nothing short of miraculous. Sound effects from one scene can creep into the next like an echo of a harsh word; half a day can go by wordlessly over 30 panels; a girl’s dance is captured with multiple stop-frames in one panel. Mariko knows how to keep a narrative driving forward through youthful passive aggressiveness. Jillian’s line work and shading in basic blue-violet are incredibly accomplished and evocative. You get inside these characters. You sense their confusion and hope. You can smell the fresh air and lake breezes.
Skim was shortlisted for a number of young adult literary awards, and This One Summer should do as well or better in the young adult or kids markets. But it’s almost a disservice to use those categories. The book is a mature and keenly observed rendering of that magical but familiar in-between place, a summer holiday, on the cusp of adulthood, where a parent’s embrace still means the world. Young or old, who doesn’t want to go there?
TCAF The Tamakis are at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival running 9am to 5pm on Sat, May 10 and 11am to 5pm on Sun, May 11 at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge St). The cousins have a special launch event for This One Summer at 7pm to 9pm on Sun, May 11 at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander St). torontocomics.com.
Drop the puck
In the very first issue of In Toronto magazine (May 2010), I wrote a round-up of hockey-inspired art and design as a nod to the NHL playoffs, works by Barr Gilmore, Lisa Platt and Stephen Lindsay (PDF). With the playoffs starting up again, it's worth checking out this team of talented Torontonians... since there ain't any other Toronto team in play.
Recently Philip Pritchard, curator and vice-president of the resource centre at the Hockey Hall of Fame, was quoted as saying, "Everyone says the same thing -- what kind of hockey art is there?” I'm not sure the painted pucks and sticks that the story mentioned are really where it's at -- granted, the Hockey Hall of Fame does have a Warhol portrait of Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert. I guess you can't expect too much from a donated-only collection. Wouldn't it be great if the Hockey Hall of Fame had a real art acquisition budget? There are reams of Canadian artists who are as excited by hockey as the rest of us.
Too bad the Hockey Hall of Fame never teamed up with curator Ray Cronin and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Back in 2008 Cronin came up with a blockbuster of a show, Arena, all hockey-inspired artworks by a high-powered group of mostly Canadian artists, including Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Brian Jungen, Wanda Koop, Ken Danby, Aganetha Dyck, Greg Forrest, James Carl, Greg Forrest, Charles Pachter, Craig LeBlanc and Graeme Patterson. And yes, there was a Warhol, too, his portrait of Wayne Gretzky. (The show did go on tour, coming to Toronto's MOCCA.) What a great marriage of talent and inspiration -- just what hockey fans in Toronto are starving for.
Built to last
In 2012 Julia Gillard, then prime minister of Australia, delivered a blistering speech to Parliament accusing Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, of misogyny. The event became an internet sensation -- video of the speech received more than 1 million hits within a week. Now Australian composer Rob Davidson has set the speech to music, a choral treatment sung by The Australian Voices. The work was recently posted on Youtube (thanks to the Zenfancy blog for bringing it to my attention).
What I love about this kind of art creation is that it takes something from the headlines, something as ephemeral as social media buzz, and gives it new life, gives it substance.
During my tenure as editor in chief of In Toronto, the amazing fashion designers Chris Tyrell and Jim Searle of Hoax Couture were part of the magazine every step of the way, incredible supporters of me and the magazine. I've know them for more than 15 years. The debut issue from May 2010 featured a wonderfully moving first-person essay by Tyrell about how he, foot in mouth, stumbled across the Stephen Lewis Foundation, the Toronto-based charity which supports grassroots organizations fighting AIDS in Africa. In the piece he writes why he and Searle created the Dare To Wear Love event to raise money for the Foundation. It's still a refreshing read with a unique mix of humour and pathos, self-deprecation and passion -- a no brainer on my part to snap it up for publication. Tyrell continued as the magazine's street fashion columnist for a couple of years.
In turn the magazine gave a lot of space to Dare To Wear Love. Why wouldn't we? It's such an amazing Toronto story, enlisting the talents and hearts of local fashion designers to help raise money and awareness for the work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. In October of 2010, I wrote a preview piece on Dare To Wear Love as well as a feature interview with Stephen Lewis Foundation executive director Ilana Landsberg-Lewis. Why is the Foundation so effective? Why is its work so crucial? Please check out my story; it's as applicable today as it was when it was published three and half years ago. And here's an interview with Tyrell and Searle by Derek Dotto that we published early 2013.
The 2014 Dare To Wear Love is Fri, Mar 28. Featured designers include Lida Baday, Brian Bailey, Izzy Camilleri, Farley Chatto, Comrags, Greta Constantine, Mikael D, Damzels in This Dress, Susan Dicks, David Dixon, Linda Lundstrom, Pat McDonagh, Shelli Oh, Peach Berserk, Rodney Philpott and Travis Taddeo. For tix and info, go to daretowearlove.com. Pretty, powerful stuff.
Supporting athletes while opposing Russian oppression
FIRST PERSON: Olympian Mark Tewksbury
gordonbowness.com, Feb 5, 2014
Story by Gordon Bowness
Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury has never had a problem distinguishing between the institutional side of the Olympics — the committees, the politics — and the games side of the Olympics — the athletes, the coaches, the competition. He loves the Games but can be a vocal critic of the institutions. It’s a distinction he hopes others keep clear leading up to and during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
As one of the highest profile gay Olympians, and as the former chef de mission of the Canadian Olympic team, Tewksbury finds himself at the centre of the storm raging around the Sochi Games and Russia’s recent homophobic crackdown.
“I’ve been the go-to guy for a number of athletes, many of whom are still closeted, who just needed to reach out to somebody,” he says on the phone from Calgary, where he runs a corporate leadership company called Great Traits with another former Olympian, Debbie Muir. “It’s been a real honour to play that role.”
“For a young teenager or early 20s athlete, rational doesn’t always outweigh the irrational, that emotional response they get from going to a country that is so hostile. It is definitely not what they needed at the height of their career.”
Like so many others in Canada and around the world, Tewksbury is trying to figure out how express his opposition to what’s going on in Russia while continuing to support the athletes who are competing there. He’s never supported the idea of a boycott.
“I understand where the calls for a boycott come from, [a need to] express your discontent and disgust over what’s happening with Russia. And I think that’s totally valid. We need to express that. I just think we need to choose a way that is effective but doesn’t impact the athletes.
“I feel really frustrated that the International Olympic Committee has put the athletes in such a difficult position,” says Tewksbury. “It’s not their job to protest, not their job to take a stand and give up their careers for gay rights, as noble as that would be. It’s just not what they signed up for.
“I think what we’ve seen in the months since the initial calls for the boycott came out are some really clever, innovative ways to shame our hosts: The way that President Obama designated [out athletes] Billy Jean King and Brian Boitano to represent the United States instead of him or any other official delegate…. There’s been Facebook campaigns that have spread like wildfire.
“Some athletes, like Anastasia Bucsis, who’s a speed skater from Canada, came out as a lesbian. So for her, that was her protest. She wants to compete and do her best. Should we expect her to do more? I don’t think so. Whatever her comfort level is. Same for anybody, if you want to show your protest, find a way to do it that you’re comfortable with.”
As for promoting LGBT rights during the Games, Tewksbury would love to see something happen, but cautions that there may be repercussions.
“Some athletes may decide to do something during the Games. If they do, they face some serious consequences. The International Olympic Committee explicitly states that you can’t protest. If it does happen, it will be fascinating to see how the IOC responds.
“I hope there is a way for the gay and lesbian issue to arise during the Games, but not take anything away from the field of competition, which is what the Olympics is supposed to be about.”
While it may be impossible to keep politics out of the Olympics, Tewksbury focuses on a different type of message that the Olympics can convey.
“I care about the Olympics,” he says. “I do think, in spite of all the doom and gloom that we’ve heard leading up to Sochi, at the end of the day the Olympics do bring the world together. It is really magical. There is hope for 17 days. The world is spellbound watching our best compete under peaceful conditions. I think there is still a need and place for that in today’s world.” •
For New Year's... proof that destiny exists.
Aren't these two photographs eerily similar? The one on the right is from 1953, the University Ball in Singapore. That's my father in the white dinner jacket and my mother in the middle. The photo on the left is from 1995, the Pink Trillium Awards dinner at La Cage in Toronto. I'm seated on the left (I was the Susan Lucci of the Pink Trillium Awards; nominated three times for my front-page column in Xtra, but never won), opposite Mama Dominatrix.
To repeat: On the right is my father and mother; on the left is me and Mama.... 40-plus years apart. My life is not my own.
Waving a Batik Flag
A few thoughts on heritage, culture and our hybridized existence
When I was very young, I mistakenly thought I was quarter Chinese. Can you blame me? I mean, look at me (above; age seven, I think). Part of the confusion stemmed from being born in predominantly Chinese Singapore and being mixed-race; what my mother called Eurasian, her Rs rolling to the horizon. Currently Singapore is about 73 percent Chinese, 13 percent Malay and 9 percent Indian. My mother is Indian and her family goes back untold generations in what was formerly known as Malaya; my father is English. So I thought I was half Indian, half English and a quarter Chinese -- and math would later be my best subject. It was all those fractions and percentages. Plus I had Chinese aunts and half-Chinese cousins... and, well, look at me.
Ever since I was that mixed-up mixed-race kid, I've loved batik. It's my heritage. Even though my family moved to Winnipeg when I was still a baby, I must be wearing a batik shirt in a third of all my school photos. After my father died in 1999, I got a bunch of his batiks; most of the swatches above are from his shirts. (This sample doesn't even scratch the surface of the shirts I've owned over the years, let alone the sarongs and other items in my possession. There's a custom batik suit jacket that deserves its own post.) All but the satin shirt above date back to the early 1960s, from before we moved to Canada. I loved these older shirts most of all, so soft, such crazy patterns. I could never decide which was my favourite... though that spider, web and flower pattern with the Raffles label was something special. Sadly the shirts all fell apart from overuse. I gave the remnants to my friend, textile artist Grant Heaps, in the hope that they might live again in some other guise.
As most people know, traditionally, batik is made by a wax resist dyeing technique. Wax patterns are drawn or stamped onto the fabric before it's dyed; the dye won't show wherever there's wax. Complex patterns are built up by adding and removing layers of wax patterning before each colour bath. To me it's a perfect symbol of my syncretic heritage, how immigrants of all backgrounds cherry pick and discard various elements from our cultures of birth and adoption, building something new and whole by layering additions and subtractions. But that's what everyone does, not just immigrants and culturally hyphenated folks, especially in our increasingly connected world. No culture develops in isolation.
While the technique may have originally come from India, batik dates back to at least the 12th-century in Java where it reached its pinnacle; it may very well have developed indigenously in parts of what is now Indonesia. Today, it's made throughout southeast Asia. I've been to some amazing batik factories in northeast Malaysia. But the history is quite contested. When the UN added Indonesian batik to its list of the "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" in 2009 it flamed a culture war between Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesians complained that Malaysians had "stolen" batik; that they had no claim to it. (It should be noted that the two countries share commonalities and rivalries much in the same way that Canada and the US do, though over a considerably much longer time frame; only siblings fight like this.) But claims to exclusivity are anathema to southeast Asia, a maritime region that, until fairly recently, enjoyed the free movement of people, trade goods and ideas. Exclusivity does not wear batik. As the UNESCO website notes, batik contains everything from Arabic calligraphy and European florals to Chinese phoenixes, Japanese cherry blossoms and Indo-Persian peacocks.
So my claim to batik does not stem from my Malaysianess, regardless of what some Indonesians might think, nor does it stem from some other unique racial or cultural connection. I strongly believe that everyone has equal claim to all cultures. There is no such thing as misappropriation -- there is such a thing as facile understanding or inept art, but that should never preclude the attempted connection. Like with music, like with food, mixing things up makes for beautiful, meaningful creations. World cultures are the heritage of us all. We all live under a batik flag.
Is there anything more insipid-sounding than a holiday gift guide? But when it's books... mundane concerns fall away, magical worlds open up. I reviewed four books recently -- three art books and one novel -- which offer an intoxicating mix of the profound and the profane.
I can't say enough lovely things about Will Munro: History, Glamour, Magic, the
A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World, a fascinating guide to roughly 40 objects from the British Museum, each opening a window on a particular moment or aspect of LGBT history around the world. "A powerful little book." I also tackle
Greg Kearney is a Tourette’s-addled savant. His deluded, narcissistic characters say and think every inappropriate comment that’s ever darkened your mind, and, I’m sure, quite a few that haven’t." The black humour, weird sex and failing characters may not be everyone's cup of tea... but if your tastes tend toward the macabre, this is an amazing read by one of Canada's must unique literary voices. The launch is Thu, Dec 5 at 6pm at the Black Eagle bar (457 Church St) in Toronto.
Gordon Bowness is a Toronto-based writer with more than 30 years' media and entertainment experience. Apparently, he still has a few more things to say.