In East Village’s newest iteration of our Art in the Public Realm program, community residents, workers, and visitors are the stars, featured front and center in the artwork. They’re people you might see as you’re walking through the neighbourhood, picking up a book from the library or grabbing weekend brunch at Chix Eggshop. But even though you might know them, you likely won’t recognize them. In this installation by local artist Katie Green, East Villagers explored empowerment through anonymity as they posed in various spaces around East Village, wearing masks they made in collaboration with the artist.
Located on bridge abutments, sheds and public washrooms along RiverWalk, the artwork – entitled Bridge – is truly a representation of the East Village community, celebrating the people most connected to it, their stories, and the neighbourhood landscapes in which they unfold. Beginning in March of this year, Katie set to work familiarizing herself with the neighbourhood as she looked for project participants. She spent countless hours meeting with residents, visitors to the area, businesses, service providers and community organizations, such as the Calgary Drop-In Centre, the Calgary Public Library, carya and many more. After numerous East Villagers raised their hands to get involved, they were engaged in a series of mask-making workshops in May, then photographed wearing their masks in East Village spaces.
“An important part of any mural’s creation involves working within the community to ensure that a collective voice is being presented,” says Katie. “I am constantly asking, ‘who is this artwork for?’ and ‘how does this artwork alter how someone experiences their environment?’ These murals are much more than simple beautification; the process of development creates a long-term investment of connectivity around each mural.”
The creation of the masks invited participants to consider how they are perceived, both by themselves and by their outer world. East Village resident and Bridge participant, Angelica, agreed that the creative process was both introspective and deeply tied to the community’s roots. “During the project, we focused on discovering ourselves and our own masks, but when I take a step back, I realize we have collaboratively told the story of this community's diverse identity. I am grateful and proud to be a part of the beautiful mosaic of people who call East Village home.”
This temporary public art installation along RiverWalk is the fourth in CMLC’s Art in the Public Realm program. Like its predecessors, Bridge will be up for 36 months until the next call-out for local artists.
Curious to know who’s behind the masks? Keep scrolling to find out who they are, what their experience was with the project, and see some behind the scenes photos of Katie Green’s work!
Harry, Salvation Army Centre of Hope Staff Member
Harry chose his mask because it reminded him of life’s pains and sorrows. In his role at the Salvation Army in East Village, Harry helps men transition into the community by providing friendship and support; helping others with their pain and sorrow by living it alongside them and providing hope.
Angelica, East Village resident
“I picked my portrait because I saw myself reflected in the image. I was drawn to a sense of vitality beneath the chilly exterior. My portrait illustrated the message I wanted to convey about myself: I have warmth buried amongst the cold and I always see light amidst the darkness.”
Dennis, East Village resident
“I am a senior living in East Village for the past two years. Being a loner, this project was an opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone. I was able to meet others in the community and participate in something creative. The mask I chose had a sense of innocence and longing – a child-like quality. I chose this character because it reminded me of the care-free times when I did not have to lock my door – I knew my neighbours and felt that sense of community. If my mask could speak, it would tell me to be more vulnerable and give me the courage to be more open.”
Alexia, Avid Central Library User and Local Junior Reporter
Alexia is 13 years old – the youngest participant in this project. She chose her mask because, though the character seems like a very big person, the expression in their eyes shows that they can also be scared at times.
“When wearing the mask, I didn’t have to think about my facial expression and I felt so free. I could express myself better without thinking about what other people think, and I felt relaxed and protected.”
Don, East Village resident
“My most powerful embodiment is directly connected to my sense of place. Choosing my mask was mostly intuitive. I like the whimsical nature of the portrait. This character lives in the natural terrain on the edges of East Village. This speaks to my relationship to this community – which is living, exploring, and contributing.”
Tazim, East Village resident
“Even though I am of East Indian ancestry, I was born and raised in Tanzania, East Africa, before migrating to Canada. Masks were such a big part of my childhood. This project has affected me tremendously; I now understand I was exploring myself as an object, exploring my self-worth, and how I compare myself to others, as well as what I think of myself, and my assumptions of what others think of me.
Allison, East Village resident
“There were several [masks] that were calling to me, this one included. Out of all of them, this fellow seemed to have the attributes of fun, mischief, light, kindness and a gentle nature that isn't necessarily me, and yet, is me. Maybe he reminded me of a side of myself that hasn't been around for a while... he has attributes that I value and respond to.”
Brenna, National Music Centre staff member
“I am an interdisciplinary designer and lucky to work in the arts and culture sector. This project was an opportunity to explore my neighborhood through a new lens, make new connections, and remember how to play. I chose a portrait and a character that feels open and curious, and hopefully, a little bit of them rubbed off on me.”
Ernie, East Village resident
Ernie lives in East Village and throughout the process shared many stories about the neighbourhood’s transformation over the last 15 years. He chose his mask because it reminded him of the passages of his youth. Ernie hopes his portrait will convey his empathy for people, as he wishes this part of himself was more visible to the outside world.
Greg, East Village resident
When Greg selected his portrait, he posed an important question, asking the group, “What if I don’t want to be this character?” Rather than exploring a connection to this mask, Greg wanted to explore his disconnection to the character.
“The mask character seems sad, but with a fake exterior of happiness. They struggle for food, shelter, money and kindness. The reason I connected with the mask is because I am a homeless man living at the Calgary Drop-In Centre. I have been around East Village for about 10 years, on and off.”
Kevin, East Village resident
Kevin chose this painting “because it was blue and sometimes I feel blue, so it seemed to fit my mood on the day I chose it.” This mask was symbolic of Kevin’s desire to want more happiness in his life. This portrait honors Kevin’s request to let his hair down and let his fun self out. When asked if his mask had a name, he replied “Prince Archie,” after his beloved cat.
Nick, Drop-In Centre staff member
“When I heard about this project, I felt it was a great opportunity to be a part of something amazing that would have a big impact in the community. I think it will be great for these murals to go up, because I feel they will touch and bring out in people some of those amazing feelings and emotions that are sometimes so hard to put in words.”
Adrian, East Village resident
“I chose my painting simply for the color and the expression shown in the eyes. I want to embody this character so I can display some sort of vulnerability and passiveness.”