ERIN – Youth in Erin and Guelph are recognized not only as future leaders, but as leaders of today.
Grade 8 students at Saint John Brebeuf in Erin and Sacred Heart in Guelph displayed their photography in an exhibit in the Guelph Civic Museum.
The photography shines light on a range of issues and is part of a 16-week “Leaders of Today” program that pairs social justice issues with photography.
Students in the program learn photography techniques while exploring issues they are passionate about, including racism, bullying, drug abuse and suicide.
Each piece in the exhibit tells a story, representing the students’ unique voices.
The Leaders of Today program is led by filmmaker and photographer Kavya Keethanjali Yoganathan, the artistic director of Agitate Productions.
Yoganathan was inspired to launch the program after working with a group of Indigenous youth regarding suicide prevention in their communities and realizing “how deeply they understand the things going on around them.”
When one of the youths asked Yoganathan if she was doing this work in her own community, she realized she wanted to start doing so.
Now, Yoganathan has taught the Leaders of Today program at eight different schools in the Wellington Catholic District School Board.
Many of the photographs in the exhibit tell “everyday stories,” which Yoganathan said have “extraordinary power” when shared. She said the voices of young people are “deeply nuanced, unfiltered, and raw.”
Jaden Simpson’s photograph, titled BLM (Black Lives Matter) sheds light on the issue of anti-Black racism. Simpson chose this topic because he has experienced anti-Black racism first-hand growing up.
His photograph is of himself, from the back, surrounded by labels that show stereotypes Black people may hear about themselves.
“But we are far more than these stereotypes,” Simpson said, noting he is an “athlete and a proud Black man.”
He said it “feels nice” to have his photography displayed in the museum, because, “I’m showing something that is a really good cause – trying to stop racism and treat everybody the same.”
Mason Lima’s photograph is titled Round 12, and it brings awareness to the issue of physical bullying. It is taken from the perspective of someone who has been shoved inside a locker and is facing attack from two masked students.
Miki Csaki’s photograph explores the issue of suicide. She carefully hand painted vitamins so that they resemble pills, and the photograph shows a hand spilling a bottle of pills onto the floor.
Csaki said she included the hand to add humanity to the photo. In the corner of the photo is a suicide note. Csaki said she chose this topic because it is not discussed enough.
She hopes her art will help bring awareness to the problem.
Rebecca Walton and Miley Picanço both took photos that explore the issue of anti-Asian racism.
When Walton’s model was unavailable for the shoot, she improvised and made a doll out of pipe cleaners and clay, even sewing a little dress from scraps of cloth.
Walton said she witnesses a lot of racism against Asian people and not enough people standing up against it. She hopes her art will help change that.
“I’m trying to do what I can do,” Walton said. “Trying to make the world a better place – one step at a time.”
Picanço feels passionately about standing against anti-Asian hate too, noting there is “absolutely no reason for it.”
Her photograph, titled Tranquil Hatred, is of a temple she found in her dad’s cemetery in Mississauga, that Picanço feels captures some of the beauty of Asian culture.