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ACCAF: Artists document a community

Shirlette Wint reaches out to artists who represent Montreal’s diversity. (Photo by Kristine Berey)

Shirlette Wint reaches out to artists who represent Montreal’s diversity. (Photo by Kristine Berey)

In 2002, when launching the first show by a fledgling group of Afro-Canadian artists she had founded, psychotherapist Shirlette Wint was determined to ensure a place for Afro-Canadian art on the Montreal cultural stage.

“An artist is not just a person who draws and paints, he is documenting a lived experience, documenting a community,” she observed at the time.

Over a decade later that vision of art and its importance to society remains steadfast as ACCAF (Alliance culturelle canadianne ASPIRE et Fondation) has embraced artists/creators of various media, representing Quebec’s ever-growing cultural wealth. Its mission, to support the development and promotion of artistic works created by artists from a multicity of cultures, has remained unchanged.

In the past decade, ACCAF has evolved, taking part in several projects including exhibitions, conferences, intercultural events, and research in partnership with McGill University, the Montreal Children’s Hospital and Theatre de Gesu.

This year, it is embracing social media, with a show featuring performances and discussion, to debut on YouTube in September. Known as Fokus*514, each 52-minute “webisode” will include performances, interviews with people involved in the arts scene and conversations with the artists themselves.

The pilot taping, made possible by 30 dedicated volunteers of all ages working together for more than a year, was a revelation. Each performer brought something original and unique to their performance, only possible with the intermingling of the past they left behind and the future they are striving to build, for themselves and for Quebec.

“We wanted to show the richness of the life we’re living,” Wint says. “We’re not between English and French, we’re not compartmentalized. We are Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese and more, living well with our multiple cultural identities and we are doing it through the medium of a variety show, showcasing talent and discussion.”

Music, painting and comedy were represented at the first show.

Hip-hop artist Vox Sambou is a young singer who speaks several languages and has performed all over the world. He will be featured in the upcoming Francophonie festival June 13-22.

Sophia Gaspard is a passionate dancer and choreographer whose unearthly energy brings together great emotion and raw physical force. Nabila Ben Youssef is a Tunisian humourist whose performance, besides being really funny, was startlingly enlightening.

The discussion phase of the show allowed for her personal thoughts to be expressed to the audience, as she described the cultural divide between Quebecers and Arabs.

“Humour is the best way to de-dramatize a situation,” she said, calling comedy a “massive arm of seduction.” During her routine she brought a non-verbal and therefore universal component to her presentation, as she bellydanced to Quebec folklore, and made the typical sounds of joy Arab women make (with hilarious commentary), sounds Quebecers are not likely to have ever heard, or to forget.

Her description of the comedy scene, as still being “macho territory”—difficult for women, more difficult still for Muslim women—highlighted the importance of the artist-discussion component of Fokus*514.

“After a show, people are happy to see an Arab who has no taboo, who laughs, who is spontaneous,” she said. “Quebecers are glad there are people who are unafraid to laugh at themselves.”

Nabila Ben Youssef will perform, in French, on July 14 at the Just for Laughs festival.

Fokus*514 will debut on YouTube in September. For updates and information visit accaf.ca. The Fokus team is looking for volunteers. Call 514-773-4658.

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