A Medium to Tell Stories
Brenda Joy Lem, Cleopatria Peterson, and Mohammad Tabesh
October 27, 2023 – December 2, 2023
A Medium to Tell Stories brings together three artists who incorporate print media and narrative elements into their work to tell stories informed by personal, generational, and wider community experiences.
Mohammad Tabesh’s work is informed by his childhood memories of war and violence. His work for this exhibition features a portrait of his father, encircled by the stories he told, atop a shelf holding Tabesh’s handmade books, written in Farsi, for his son. Tabesh employs his son’s toys as protagonists in these tales, delving into the immigration experience and the cultural gap between generations.
Cleopatria Peterson is a multidisciplinary artist who writes, prints, illustrates and loves self-publishing. In combining letterpress and intaglio, they create a narrative through anonymous love letters to people in their life, complimenting them with illustrations that speak to moments and ideas of love.
Brenda Joy Lem’s practice is shaped by the cultivation of her relationships with people, community and nature. Her series of screenprinted, text-based t-shirts draws directly from family stories as well as the wider Toronto Chinatown community.
Exploring the versatility of storytelling in different print-based formats, and incorporating varied audiences to reflect on ideas of community, memory, place, and language, these artists channel print’s extensive history as a powerful communication and dissemination tool, prompting questions about how cultural lineage is maintained, and how stories are shared and passed forward.
loves of my life is a series of letterpressed and untitled love letters. Only the artist knows who they are dedicated to. Each letter features a fragment dedicated to people in their life; things they say often or that are easier said on paper. Complimenting the letters are a series of inter-connected copper etchings that reflect and remind the artist of the people who they love in their life. The work explores nostalgia, what we leave behind and the small things that keep us alive.
Cleopatria Peterson is a non-binary black multidisciplinary artist based in Tkaranto. They are the medal winner for Cross-Disciplinary Arts: Publications at OCAD. Their work focuses on themes of nature, humour, identity and above all things, love.
Brenda Joy Lem
Family lore has long been a source for Brenda Joy Lem’s work, which meditates on themes of memory, oral history, spirituality and the enduring heart. Stories from her parents, aunts, uncles, and missives from ancestors she’s never met, hold warnings and lessons from everyday triumphs and tribulations of Chinese Canadian working-class life in Canada.
When Lem’s parents were born – in Toronto and Moose Jaw – there were over 100 anti-Chinese policies and laws in Canada limiting where Chinese people could live, work, and socialize, including being barred from swimming pools and theatres that White Canadians used. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 stopped Chinese people from entering Canada with the goal of isolating bachelors who were already residents and preventing them from forming families. This legislated racism has affected Chinese Canadians for generations; Lem’s family is no exception.
Recently, Lem has been involved in community art projects to support Toronto’s Chinatown with the group ‘Long Time No See’, raising awareness of Chinese Canadian history and how anti-Chinese racism experienced through the pandemic was not an isolated incident, but part of a long continuum. For A Medium to Tell Stories the ubiquitous tourist souvenir, a Chinatown T-shirt, becomes a canvas to share family memories. These T-shirts become a means of remembering and honouring Lem’s ancestors, challenging and reconciling the way Chinese Canadian history is stereotypically told (or untold), and sharing and building community.
Brenda Joy Lem practices multiple artistic disciplines, including visual art, film, writing, taiko and improvisational music, which support and broaden the possibilities of one another, and along with cooking, gardening, caregiving and herbal medicine create a whole way of being.
She began exhibiting her visual art in the 1980’s. Her solo shows include Museum London; the Richmond Art Gallery; the Robert McLaughlin Gallery; Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery; the Varley Art Gallery; Museum of Chinese in the Americas, New York; CEPA Gallery; and the Mississauga Art Gallery. Her award-winning films have played in major festivals including TIFF, Ann Arbor, Images Festival and also toured with International Asian American Film Festivals. Her works are in the collections of the National Library of Canada; Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff; University of Hawaii; University of Michigan; and San Francisco Art Institute, among others.
I wondered one day, as I was playing with my six-month-old son, how different his world is from mine. I spent my childhood in downtown Tehran, witnessing a revolution and a war. How can I explain my history to him, who lives in a quiet suburban neighbourhood near Toronto? I felt he was closest to me at that moment, yet distant. As our environment imposes different values on our lives, cultural fracture in families becomes a substantial source of struggle among immigrants. The familiar personalities I grew up with will be strangers to my child. As we played with his toys, I thought even his stuffed animals looked like strangers.
In Stitched: Weaving Bonds Between Two Worlds, I project a series of imaginary personas to my son’s stuffed animals in a series of board books. Each turn of the page introduces the reader to a new character. A photograph with the imagined name and birthplace on the left presents the person; on the right, a few lines inform us of their story. While developing these personas, I realized a common thread connects them: Despite their familial or social status and regardless of their profession or stage of life, they all struggle to be who they want to be. They are unsatisfied with the status quo. They are misunderstood, misplaced and mistreated, yet they revolt against the invisible hand pushing them to their pre-determined destiny. Their lives signify resistance and resilience. And that is a worthy lesson for my child.
Mohammad Tabesh (he/him) is a Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist whose work delves into the complexities of the human experience, resistance, and social change. Across various media, including writing, printmaking, multimedia, and sculpture, Tabesh strives to convey profoundly human and universal stories. As an artist, Tabesh is committed to using his work as a vehicle for social change and encourages viewers to engage with his pieces personally and creatively. With a unique ability to blend the personal and political, his work offers a powerful commentary on the human condition.
Tabesh’s work has been recognized with several grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and an Access Copyright Foundation grant. He earned his BFA from OCAD University and was honoured as the recipient of the university’s Sculpture and Installation Medal in 2020. Currently, he is an Artist-in-Residence for ceramics at Harbourfront Centre.