Happy International Women’s Day!

One of the best ways to celebrate International Women’s Day is to say Thank You to the truly awe inspiring women in your life. From gratitude springs humility and empathy. With these we can grow a more bountiful world for everyone.

In that vein, and to celebrate the diverse awesomeness of Women, The Coloured Collective would like to thank all of you lovely readers for following us. We have met so many brilliant women through this blog.

Also, a few of our contributors here at Coloured Collective would like to take this chance to send out a few shout outs of gratitude.

From Christen James

I was trying to be less cliche than going with my mother, but there is no one else on this planet that I could spend the rest of my life saying “thank you” to. Thank you, mammy, for the very early lesson on being independent. This truly has shaped me into the woman I am today and strive to be. Thank you for your quiet reassurance yet always having the right thing to say, but most of all for telling me that you’re proud of me. I not only aim to be everything that you wanted me to be but also all that you wanted for yourself. I am living my dream by living yours.

From Ramona Wright @mswrightsays www.mswrightsays.com

To Adelaide Smith, thanks for being the woman who made me into the woman I am today.  You raised me with faith and unconditional love.  I love you and miss you everyday Mom (RIP)!

From Lisa Rajkumar-Maharaj

Corinne Hebden, thank you for being an amazing Midwife. You brought my baby into this world and shepherded me safely through the process. Your wisdom, heart and professionalism made an indelible mark on my life. 

If there’s someone you want to give a shout out of gratitude to, feel free to do so in the comment section. We’d love to hear more stories of amazing women.


Thoughts from an immigrant Mom

I have these flashes of memory sometimes. They are intense, visceral kernels of memory that, for a singular moment, take me back home. My favourite moments are actually the the most mundane memories. Just the other day, I was talking to my partner when all of a sudden I remembered standing in a big parking lot in Point-a-Pierre, Trinidad. The parking lot is opposite the tennis courts my friends and I would to frequent. For a moment, though standing in my Toronto kitchen, I could feel the gentle Marabella breeze and see the swaying palm trees that line the perimeter of the lot. I could remember smelling the mild saltiness of the air and feeling the exhilarating warmth of a great tennis workout. That memory was not particularly significant. It is valuable to me only because it was a perfectly ordinary day that belonged to another incarnation of my life. Those perfectly normal moments from when I lived in Trinidad – the moments I took for granted for their plainness – those memories are now irreplaceable nuggets of nostalgia.

My daughter is 5 months old now and in having her, I’ve reopened a trove of memories and emotions that I’d long forgotten. When I was young I didn’t think I’d have children. When I allowed myself that fantasy though, I imagined taking my child to see practices at steel pan yards or to play traditional Red Indian Mas in south Trinidad. I imagined pushing her on the swings at San Fernando Hill Playground or rolling about in the sand at Mayaro Beach. Even in my dreams, I find myself thinking about my childhood and the places that meant something to me. Though I’ve been in Canada for a long time, still, the stories of my life are layered onto the most mundane places, in Trinidad. Places where I loved and laughed. But I don’t live there anymore. And in some senses those places no longer exist.

The truth is though, that my daughter will likely grow up in Toronto. These streets will be her stage. I might take her to visit those places. But really? She’d just be visiting. Her story will be vastly different from my own. This is part of being an immigrant. I have not yet made this place mine, but she certainly will by virtue of the fact that this is the first world she will come to know. I wonder about that. I worry about that. It took me 10 years to figure out how to dress appropriately for winter. How in the world am I supposed to guide her in a land that I don’t really know myself?

I look at events across the border and I worry; what if one day she’s not wanted here? I made a gamble by trading community ties and familiarity in Trinidad for freedom and safety from crime here in Canada. What if that gamble backfires and this place becomes more dangerous to her?

I’m encouraged by the new found community here that motherhood has shown me. I’m encouraged by the liberal values that Toronto exhibits. In the present political climate, though my gamble is currently safe, I mourn for non-white immigrants in America and Syrian refugees everywhere. In them I see my own worst fears played out as the caprice of nations sell out human rights and dignity. I wish I could promise my daughter certainty. Certainty however, appears to be fools gold.

We are all light and shadow

I’ve been thinking about white pigment. When it comes to racial politics, I can give no merit to any view that holds race as a concrete thought form. For me, it comes down to pigment. We’re all just variations of similar tones. No matter how hard I try to see it, I simply wasn’t raised with the mental hooks onto which to hang ideas of racial superiority or inferiority. Perhaps emboldened by my artistic sensibility, my reflections on skin colour politics are always attached to pigmentation of paint.

Historically, people have died for the whitest white in art as well as make up. Lead based white pigments have caused a legacy of pain, death and sickness in those who used them. Nevertheless people have continually sought to appear lighter. This can be seen in the wide world of skin lightening poisons that pervade every culture. There seems to exist a strange and base instinct that suggests lightness will bring you bounty – even if it kills you slowly.

If only we could short circuit the assumption that lightness was inherently better. If only we could see racial gradation as the arbitrary thing it is. There is so much beauty in variation and so much bounty in natural reality. It seems the most absurd mind trap and yet we continue to abuse and destroy lives based on these arbitrary distinctions.

When I started painting people in high school (at around 17 years old), I first started painting light skinned people. I think I did that because light skinned people were primarily the people I saw in media (TV & magazines). They were also the people deemed most attractive in my social circles. Light skin automatically elevated you in the eyes of everyone around you. In an environment with North American TV amidst a population of darker skinned people, a light skinned person was a kind of social unicorn. I’m exaggerating a bit for effect but that’s essentially the environment I began painting in.

The point is though, that I began painting light skinned people and so I learned about tones of colour; how to mix paint to arrive at pigments that captured gradation of shadow and light as they reflected off pale skin. I learned that in order to paint lighter coloured skin, you travelled around the palette to include a range of pinks, purples, blues and browns. White skin therefore, was not literally white in any sense. Not even teeth are absolutely white. Painting teeth white, looks strange and malevolent.

Later on in high school, I wanted to paint people that looked like me. I had started learning my way around brown skin tones. I needed to visit other colours on the palette for my own skin tones to make sense. In fact I was hindered by the notion of whiteness in that it didn’t occur to me to mix my tones with white because I was not white. I mixed with yellow to lighten my browns and I was never entirely happy with the result.

Painting skin tone is a unique skill. The technique is very different from painting abstracts or landscapes. I think, in part, because of how ingrained our auto-response is to facial recognition, our tendency is very strong to autofill incorrectly. To paint a face I learned, it is very useful to turn your source image upside down, in order to confuse your mental autofill and allow you to paint what you see instead of what you think you see. The same goes for colour – you have to see the tones as literal tones in order to create resemblance. Only very recently have I begun to capture people similar to my skin tone, because I needed to build a mental map in order to arrive at the colours needed to create that semblance. Arriving there did indeed require some white, along with pink, orange, purple, brown and black. This is still a work in progress.

Colourful History

The way i see it.
My world in my most formative years shaped me into a certain kind of someone.
Vermicious Knids (crop) - Roald Dahl

Vermicious Knids (crop) – Roald Dahl

The cultural landscape that formed me, was shaped by all of the generations of individuals before me. It was not only made by my immediate family or neighbours. The physical landscape of my cities and my forests all hold shadows of the history of the power structures and conflicts that have shaped me.

if we accept this as true…

Why is it that my particular ‘history’ as far as history class is concerned, dictate history as conqueror and conquered? Why is my history preselected by my familial ancestors when the embodied history of my Region is what most strongly influences me? Why is the history of indentured labourers from India supposed to be more relevant to me when the history of african slavery and white colonial power equally shaped the cultural context of my world?

I have long felt that this sort of racialised view of history is truly useless.

It is useless because the past does not exist in any tangible way, but in artifact and memory. We tend to be defensive of the artifacts and memory that we identify as our own. In multiethnic societies, that ownership tends to be racially polarized. My question to you today is – what is the real value in that? What is the value of that when the story that belongs to a particular place is comprised of the victors AND the defeated – all sharing the same landscape and different sides of the same coin. Not only is the racially polarized version of events inaccurate, but it’s also dangerous. It allows people to either hate themselves or think far too well of themselves. It encourages blindness and ignorance. It makes a very rich history into propaganda.


I saw a video with one mans reflections on the Ferguson events that really stuck with me. Click here. He articulates very well something that’s been lurking in my mind for a long time. What if we were able to accept a non racial view of history as our own story? Wouldn’t that be more helpful in understanding the real give and take of civilized society? Wouldn’t a less polarized view of history teach our children more about the actual shape of our world and the real cost of development and growth? Couldn’t we make a more sustainable future for ourselves with a more integrated view of global events and a more level headed view of the people around us?


The shape of your value system and your expectations arises out of the palimpsest that is your silent but ever present cultural id. 

For myself, being from the Caribbean, I’ve internally claimed African and Indian history as my own. Never before though have I integrated European Colonial history as a part of my own story. Internally, I’ve held on to the oppressed and oppressor roles. I’ve come to realize though that that’s neither right nor helpful. Without understanding both sides of the equation – without claiming both roles of Caribbean history as part of my own – I am leaving out significant territory in my cultural understanding of myself and the world as I’ve come to know it. I’m also leaving out the knowledge that comes from the mistakes of our ancestors, claiming only the seeming virtues. Every side is ripe with knowledge that can only bring growth.

Vermicious Knids-Roald Dahl-Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Vermicious Knids-Roald Dahl-Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Secular loneliness

Lately I’ve been thinking about loneliness and wondering; can urban celebrations or urban interventions combat the loneliness of secular life?

For religious people there is an innate sense of community. Essentially they are just like minded individuals sharing their passion which is cemented by community rituals. Rife as those communities are with problems of repression, expectation and judgement, there’s a portion of the experience that draws people – a sense of home and belonging without the fear and uncertainty of secular life.

The church as an urban artifact and as a point of locus is a grounding point for the community. It’s where you go for togetherness and meditation. It’s a free, available space that you can go to for solace. In modern secular society the only go-to places are capitalist machines. You can go to the mall and hang out, go to the market, go to the gym or go to a bar. In a cold place especially – there’s no where outdoors that is a refuge from the relentless media bombardment of this age.

Urban celebrations are an opportunity, I feel, to ground people together without being a proprietary event. Communal ritual is fundamental to place making. All our ancestors knew that. In every race and culture around the world, you will find some public ritual that involves possessing a space for that group. Hell, dogs pee on things to claim them. It’s all about territory – marking something introduces it to your world narrative. Effective public space is fundamentally about territory and ritually reclaiming city space as ours. Anyone who has taken part in Carnival understands that. This is fundamental to how West Indian people engage space.

The problem with some North American festivals is that people generally don’t understand the notion of reclaiming public space. In fact I suspect that they believe that secular means non-ownership. Therefore public space is not everyones space – it’s no ones space. So the city squares and public domain are occupied only by the homeless and spaceless. People are afraid of each other and they believe that ignoring others is respectful. To them they are giving the other space and time to exist separate from the interference of others. But I don’t think they understand how awful that is when you are a stranger in a strange place and no one is willing to make eye contact with you.

There are places in the world where this is not true. Especially in Europe, there are public places where people gather without the input of the church or government. I remember seeing in Italy how the public squares filled with people each night – playing music, drinking and just being rowdy, happy humans. You see it in small neighbourhoods too – even ghettos. People hang out outside on the street, in front of their building – somewhere visible. They’re marking the space theirs. Graffiti is like this too.

All this is to say that we can do better. People don’t need to feel so isolated in the cities that they live in. Simple interventions can completely change the way people interact. An example is making a public parkette an internet hot spot. Another is by allowing public celebration without the interference of decibel levels and waivers from time to time. These things create a collective narrative of place. They bring people together organically.

Colourful Histories

The first chapter of my Master’s thesis looked at the history of Carnival in the Caribbean. In order to represent the syncretic nature of the festival, I chose to tell 3 separate narratives: the African story, the European story and the Indian Story. One story would not have done it justice. Now, having lived in metropolitan societies with many cultural groups, I’m beginning to see how the history of any given place is layered by many stories. Neighbourhoods become defined by cultural and racial borders, so that the city itself becomes a tapestry that immediately reflects the cultures that constitute its parts.

That being said, although there is great beauty in seeing the diversity of a place and people, I can’t help but wonder at the effect of separating the larger historical narratives of a society into racial counterparts. Why, for example, is the history of Black Americans segregated as Black History? Why isn’t their narrative equally represented as American history? Why is Native American history in Canada, taught as Native American studies? Why isn’t it just Canadian History? I can’t help but wonder if allowing history to be represented in racially skewed narratives does more harm than good. Is it still useful in society for the prevalent history to be by the conquerors? I would argue that there is nothing to be gained through a polarized history of a place or people.

There are many more useful insights to be gained from stories like those presented in Malcolm Gladwell’s books or Freakonomics or from podcasts like This American Life that look at real stories of real people. There’s a great Ted talk from novelist Chimamanda Adichie called ‘The danger of the Single Story’ that illuminates what I’m getting at with much more poise and eloquence. In her example she talks about the narrow way in which people respond to her, when they discovered she is from Nigeria. She talked about moving to America and being perceived as ‘African’ for the first time. She talks about the danger of creating single visions of entire cultures that preclude the opportunity for true empathy between cultural groups.


In a world that is learning to incorporate many cultures into the mainstream, we need to ease up on looking at individual histories as ‘us’ and ‘them’. That is no longer really useful. As an immigrant to Canada, it’s sometimes nice to be recognized for my cultural differences, but at the same time there’s danger in being seen as outside of what’s normal or expected. Being different makes it hard for people to respect you and impossible for you to feel like a real member of the society, when you are constantly reminded of how ‘other’ you are. People take for granted that they know my history because they have some vague notion of what being from the Caribbean might mean, based on all inclusive vacations, bad movies and Reggae music. They’re not interested in being corrected either. They’re already convinced of their own imagined story of my ‘otherness’.

Maybe there’s a more temperate way for everyone to look at history and cultural diversity. I wonder for example in the modern situation of world travellers, if we can demand truer histories of the places that we inhabit that are more inclusive of all the stakeholders of places and events. I wonder if it’s possible for people to back off on believing that they know everything about everyone and look at the world without the need to polarize things.

What should I do with my life?


I had an epiphany this morning while thinking about the ways in which people choose careers.

Every vocation answers some human need. Doctors answer people’s health needs. Architects address problems of community and shelter. Media people share information and facilitate communication between large networks of people. Engineers create solutions to various kinds of design problems. I could go on. But you get the point.

I think therefore, people choose fields that answer the questions that matter most to them. So for me, the questions that fascinate me most are problems of design, aesthetics, space and community. Because of this I’m in Architecture. My boyfriend recently went into Economics, because he voraciously devours information regarding politics, markets and wealth distribution. Environmental designers and researchers are consumed by the need to discover more sustainable ways for us to live. Picking a career therefore is kind of like an individual quest for answers to the questions that are most meaningful to us.

Of course this only relates to certain kinds of professions. There are other types of work that attract people who want to perform a certain kind of service or use a particular skill. Others still, do not have the luxury of choosing an occupation. In a very real way, the answer to what should I do with my life is primarily a ‘first world problem’. I’m also sure that there are many people out there who give much less of a damn than I do about what their career is.

I think this approach applies though, to the people who are virtually haunted by questions. Other people like me, who need to do yoga and aggressively manage their anxiety levels about the state of this world.

Hybrid Identities

I came across this competition post today called Hybrid Identities. The call is for Photography, Video Art, Computer Graphics, Architecture and Performing Art that explores the concept of hybridization between identities and urban environments.

This is perhaps the crux of my urban interests – the way in which people shape their cities through choice, time and habit. My particular interest is in the way that festivals shape cities, but as outlined in this competition, they’re looking for commentary on the way in which people modify and shape the physical and social infrastructure.

Deadline is February 25th, 2013 so it’s coming up quickly. For more info click here.

Being Sweet

The co-owner of the building in which my office is located, introduced me to a stranger as ‘One of John’s (my boss) girls’. He felt awkward saying it too, I could tell. But he wasn’t quite up for calling me ‘architect’ to my face it would seem. ‘An intern architect working at John’s company’, would have been the proper introduction. But instead he went with the introduction that gave me the least bit of credit possible. What’s worse is that I didn’t correct him. I laughed it off and walked away. Why didn’t I say something? I wish I did but I don’t really know what I would say even now.

This is just a little something to serve as an example of the quandary I find myself in as I learn how to be a professional. On site, the men are mostly very sweet to me. They treat me with a certain amount of deference – but it has more to do with me being a woman than a professional. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I can blame them either. I don’t need deference but I look at John. People listen to him. He has that air about him of trustworthiness and authority. That’s what you need to project as an Architect so that your contractors, clients and consultants listen.

I think about what I project. I think about the social habits people develop to fit in. For example, I’m nice and kind of funny/weird. People like me because I’m nice and remember me because I’m kind of eccentric. Being nice has gotten a bad rap over the years. But it’s true. I’m not very loud or pushy or even particularly opinionated. I can be all of those things of course, but they aren’t my prevailing spirit. What does that mean though as I exist in the workplace? Does it doom me to being ‘one of the girls’? Or can I be respected without being brash? I’ve felt this disconnect for a long time, between who I need to be to succeed and who I am. I’m an artist – entirely self indulgent but reflective and passionate. I’m a human great dane. Anyone who knows the breed knows they’re big showy goof balls. That’s me. Sure I understand that at the office, you can’t be the big dope you might be after hours. That’s fine. What confuses me are the social habits, especially the way in which I communicate with the opposite sex. I’m daddy’s little girl. That’s kind of my default if I were to pick a female stereotype. But in truth, can daddy’s little girl really grow up to be an Architect?

I reflect on the way that people perceive me and the dysfunctional things that people consider assets in our way too jaded world. I refuse to become dysfunctional in order to fit a dysfunctional system. Refuse. I refuse to be someone I’m not, so that I can play out a social game that I resent. So my quandary is how. How to be two things at once – the goof ball that I am as well as the professional I am becoming.

I don’t want to be ‘One of the girls’. As everything, I suppose it will evolve through trial and error, until I have a learned response for days like today, when someone tries to put a label on me.


10 years

This weekend marks my 10 year anniversary of moving to Canada.

10 years ago I thought I was moving to Canada to go to school. It was so clear to me then that I’d go home to Trinidad at every work term and that upon graduation I’d head straight back there to marry my high school sweetheart and stay close with my friends and family. At the time I was fiercely nationalistic and would never have believed that I’d stay in Canada.

10 years is a long time it turns out, even though it flew by. I sit now in the living room of my apartment in Kitchener. Mauri (my bf) is asleep in the bedroom beside me. I bid farewell to the high school sweetheart a long time ago. I like my job and I have a good life now in Canada. It took a very long time to become something like a home. But after 10 years, many tears and heartbreaks later, I have a circle of friends here who have become my family.

A City with Two Faces (my masters thesis) I suppose was my saudade. My heart remains an immigrant heart. Forever longing and forever unsure. Nothing holds me where I am the way that living at ‘home’ would hold me. But then here I have a kind of liberty I couldn’t have at home. A life that is relatively free of fear. So like all of the other immigrants, I wander through this new landscape that’s become my new home. Perhaps it’s my inner buddhist or perhaps it’s because I have absolutely no idea what comes next, but I am finally okay with living in the now.