Malina Kaija.

It’s no surprise that Canadian athletes are consistently underfunded. One need only compare the scope and popularity of interuniversity athletics bodies like the CIS and NCAA for this to be made obvious. Our athletes receive minimal government support and have to rely on crowd funding and part-time jobs to support themselves.

Malina Kaija wants to help solve this problem. Kaija, an Ontario College of Art and Design graduate, is the creative philanthropist behind Morphosis: Evolution of the Athlete. Morphosis is a series of photographs portraying the bodies of Canadian athletes in various poses. The photographs are reminiscent of images that depict the evolution of man.

“I believe in a generous spirit,” says Kaija in regards to the yearlong process of brainstorming, organizing, and actually shooting her subjects. “I just got to combine my love of photography and sport… so I thought that this show was a great opportunity to have done that.”

One hundred percent of proceeds from the show go directly to the athletes depicted.

“I grew up in sport and I know how crap the funding is,” says Kaija on her decision to create a series that features, and provides funding for, seven of the best Canadian athletes today. “I wanted to pick athletes that I thought didn’t get a whole ton of funding, so I chose sports — on the Canadian spectrum — that weren’t hero sports.”

This is why you won’t see any hockey or baseball players in Kaija’s series; rather, athletes like Olympic 400-meter hurdler and U of T alumna Sarah Wells, and retired beach volleyball Olympian Martin Reader serve as muses.

A self-proclaimed “everything athlete,” Kaija began the process of contacting athletes she was interested in shooting by emailing them, which she says was awkward. “I felt like a total stalker,” she says, about approaching cyclist Ed Veal to pose for her. “I’m a big fan of his… I reached out to him and said hey, is this something you’d be interested in doing… and do you want to get naked for me on camera?”

To Kaija’s delight, Veal, along with the six other athletes featured in the series were completely onboard with her idea, and were excited for the opportunity to try something new. “[They] just seemed to be pretty happy that someone cared enough to put all this time [into the project].”

Sports and athletes, which Kaija boasts are her two favorite themes in her artistic pursuits, were never far from her mind when determining when to showcase her series. “It’s no coincidence that [the showcase] is happening during Pan Am,” she says, adding “its Pan Am athletes, Olympic athletes, and Rio hopefuls that are all involved… all Canadian.”

A resounding success, Kaija sold seven out of the nine pieces in her showcase and raised over $10, 000 for the athletes involved on the opening night of the exhibition. “I’m still on cloud nine and a little overwhelmed by the response of the show.”

When asked about her plans for future projects, Kaija says that she wants to continue working on projects like Morphosis, which not only feature athletes, but also help them.

“I’d definitely like to write more about the experience of the show, and have some of the athletes speak to their experience of being involved,” she says. “I don’t know what that will look like, but I definitely know that I want to do more in this light. “

Morphosis: Evolution of the Athlete will be on display at Akasha Art Projects located at 511 Church Street until August 29.

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