While being able to move away from a dire situation is certainly a blessing, migrating is always a bit of a gamble. During the process, immigrants may endure detainment and financial loss, and will likely pass through dangerous areas during their journey. Even when newcomers successfully arrive in a designated country, life does not automatically become better. From cultural barriers to lack of employment opportunities and affordable housing, it takes time for newcomers to adapt to a new environment. While adapting can be easy for some, for others, it can be a long and painful experience.
In order to help students understand what drives refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in finding a new home, as well as ways to respond effectively and with empathy and respect for all people, Hart House Global Commons is hosting a series of events around the theme of Migration: Global Perspectives on the Search for Home.
As part of the project, musician Nina Platiša and photographer Masoud Riyazati facilitated a workshop titled “From Lived Experience to Artwork” on March 10. As someone who immigrated to Canada in 2016 from Hong Kong, I was excited to learn about Platiša and Riyazati’s migration stories. I was curious about where that passion for art came from and how they feel about their identity. I had the pleasure of speaking to them prior to the event.
Born in Belgrade, Serbia — formerly a part of Yugoslavia — Platiša moved to Canada at a young age to flee from war. She is an emerging musician, songwriter, producer, and recording artist who began composing music at the age of 17. In April, she will be launching her debut album titled Za Klavir: For the Piano, which is a collection of 26 original compositions that blend minimal, contemporary, and classical roots with elements of Balkan folk music.
As for Riyazati, he moved to Canada from Iran in his late twenties and has experience with documentary work, portrait photography, film making, and editing. He is passionate about the innovative darkroom printing technique in photography known as “uneven development,” and has created a series of black and white photographs that represent the feelings of migrants while adjusting to a new location — losses and successes, grief and happiness, and their journey to this new life. His photograph “Terror” won the K.B. Jackson Award in Portraiture in the Hart House Camera Club’s 97th Exhibition in 2019.
Identity and societal expectations
While both Platiša and Riyazati are migrants, their migration stories are drastically different.
Platiša came to Canada when she was three, and for her, fitting into Canadian society was relatively easy. She remarks that people instinctively see her as “Canadian” because she is Caucasian and does not speak with a ‘foreign’ accent.
While it feels good to be accepted as an in-group member, Platiša witnessed the challenges her parents have faced due to their accents. At the end of the day, Platiša sees herself as someone with a hyphenated identity.
Having a hyphenated identity comes with its challenges, though. Platiša recalled times when she visited her hometown and felt “othered” because of her Canadian identity. By Yugoslavians, she is seen as “the Canadian girl,” and in Canada, there have been instances when Platiša encountered other migrants with stories that left her questioning the validity of her own experience.
Riyazati, on the other hand, spent some time in Türkiye prior to settling in Canada. Because of his settlement in three different countries, he sees himself as “Persian-Turkish-Canadian.” He believes that a fragment of identity is formed each time one moves to a different country, and this is the result of different societal expectations each country has.
Riyazati holds that in Canada, success is defined by one’s material possessions and how much time they put into work. This was not something he expected prior to coming to Canada, as the depiction of Canada in Hollywood movies gave him the impression that life in Canada would be easier compared to his home country, Iran.
The exposure to various societal expectations eventually led Riyazati to question if we are ultimately responsible for defining success.
Art as lived experience
After the interview, I followed Platiša and Riyazati to the venue where the workshop took place. Workshop attendees included U of T students as well as emerging painters, photographers, filmmakers and actors; who were encouraged to share their experience creating art in a roundtable format.
I quickly learned that a common struggle among artists is procrastination, which stems from the fear of inadequacy. For instance, one may feel skeptical about approaching a topic that has been done by others because they feel that their work would not be as good as the ones that came before theirs. As a result, they actively find reasons to avoid working on the project.
Even though I attended the workshop as an interviewer, I resonated with that feeling of inadequacy so much. Growing up, I have always been passionate about writing. I remember the praise I would get from my teachers in primary and secondary school, and I depended on that praise for the longest time. But the older I get, the more I realize how critical society can be — especially since I came from a highly competitive culture. I also became aware of the many skilled writers out there, and being used to praise, I was afraid of being told that my work was not good enough. My fear of inadequacy made me shy away from publishing my work for years, until I realized that I only have this one life and I am approaching my mid-20s.
We are all gifted with skills and talents that make us who we are, and I think happiness comes from being able to utilize the things you are blessed with. It also comes from being able to express your authentic self unapologetically, and to do so, we must understand and respect diversity of opinions and experiences. We are valid. The fact that Platiša and Riyazati continue to make art authentic to their lived experience in a world full of judgments has really inspired me.
Platiša will soon be releasing an album called for Za Klavir: For the Piano on April 22 in the Hart House Music Room and Riyazati’s solo exhibition of photographs created through “uneven development” will be shown from April 18 to May 11 at Hart House’s main floor hallway.