in this issue…
Letter from the Editor
Writer Alan Moore has said of culture; “Culture is a shambling zombie that repeats what it did in life: bits of it drop off and it doesn’t appear to notice”. If this rather bleak assessment is to be believed, then surely tradition is the electrical current that animates this zombie, maintaining its momentum and its aimless ambling for its own sake. Having just survived the Winter holidays with its long list of demands and obligations, not to mention the financial burden of gifts, feasts, and travel, many of us might be tempted to align ourselves with Moore’s thinking… I certainly have. Yet, in piecing together this issue, I could not help but be confronted by all the ways in which both tradition and culture are shaped by the struggle to connect, transcend, and look with compassion on the drudgery of the human condition that so often pulls us from our creative and higher selves to so-called matters of greater concern, like earning a living, paying bills, or taking care of our physical and mental health.
It seems an undeniable truth that the bonds of tradition can both constrict and connect, and in this issue the artists showcased have attempted to confront and examine the place and purpose of tradition in our lives and cultures as we manage personal, political, and environmental crises. As the pandemic has demonstrated, our societies, like our bodies, are fragile, yet we carry on as though we were made of indestructible steel, hurtling our species through history at a speed so great our primitive instruments seem unable to accurately gauge our whereabouts. This accelerated pace of change of our modern societies means that rather than the plodding “shambling zombie” described by Moore, our cultures, and our sense of ourselves are caught up in the “Red Queen effect” racing to adapt ever faster just to survive. Like Alice, thrashing with momentum that yields no progress until she collapses, we are in essence, breaking the sound barrier on a craft still powered by exhausted rowers, where pieces fly off in flames rather than drop off without notice.
In the midst of all of this, art, language, knowledge, and community must act as the bonds that keep us strapped in for our own safety by revisiting and revising the means and assumptions that have led us here in the first place. In this sense, it seems tradition does more than just move our limbs, but in fact keeps us alive and in one piece, lest we be outpaced by our own rushed evolution.
As customs, knowledge, and language fade out or morph into creatures unrecognizable to ancestors only one or two generations removed, tradition, be it old or new, seems to ground us in our shared humanity, even as it becomes altered and estranged from its origins. Regardless of how chaotic our times may be, the works represented in this issue, bring me back to that shared humanity and to the experiences of flesh and bone, analog bodies that make art, dance, eat, speak, and feel just as we have done since the time before history and before the coalescing of culture. This to me is the essence of tradition and why it is important to reflect on it as we have in New Traditions. I am extremely grateful for this as well as all of the talented people who have contributed to this issue of UNTIL Magazine, to all of our ancestors and to the ancestral peoples of the land on which we live, work, create and live out our many and diverse traditions, old and new.
Desirée Leal is a parent, artist, writer, and filmmaker who is grateful to live, work and raise her family on the traditional territories of the Lək’wəŋən-speaking people, where she endeavours to help create cultural spaces of inclusion, expression, and learning. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Art from Simon Fraser University and a Masters (with distinction) from the University of Bristol in Archeology and Anthropology for Screen Media. She is currently studying Visitor and Community Engagement at the University of Victoria with a focus on art education, decolonization, and public programs, proudly working in close partnership with the Victoria Arts Council.
Regan Rasmussen is an interdisciplinary artist whose studio practice is informed by the phenomenology of living experience and human interactions. She holds a BFA in Visual Arts from University of Manitoba, BEd from University of Saskatchewan, and an MEd. in arts based education from the University of Victoria. She has brought artists and poets together to curate collaborative exhibitions and chapbook publications. Regan lives on the unceded territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples where she teaches drawing, ceramics and art foundation courses at the University of Victoria. She is co-gallery coordinator at arc.hive artist run centre in Victoria. Her work has been shown in public and private galleries in Canada and the UK.
These words and this drawing are dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Baba Iryna (Ірина). They come with the promise to carry forward the traditions she so lovingly shared with family throughout her life. Baba’s parents emigrated from Ukraine to the Canadian prairies in the early 1900’s as homesteaders with the hope of building a better life for themselves and future generations.
Through sparkling blue eyes clouded by cataracts, what you see? What are you thinking as you gaze through the window? Your face, etched with creases born of hard work in fields and gardens during summer heat and biting winter winds while retrieving frozen laundry from outdoor clotheslines remains beautiful. Your gnarled, arthritic hands rest in your lap lined with veins where precious stories from the past flow like rivers. Hands that taught us how to chop, knead, pinch edges of pyrohy dough, draw pattens on Easter Pysanky eggs. Hands that held, nurtured, nourished, and comforted us.
As I create this drawing and write these words, a prairie thunderstorm rumbles overhead and I wonder … what would you think as missiles now ravage the skies above your homeland, causing hardship and pain in the lives of distant relatives?
I am a visual artist and filmmaker who splits my time between Victoria, Vancouver, and Ottawa. I
use a wide variety of formats, including illustration, film photography, and printmaking, to
represent themes of humour, ecology, and social commentary, among others. My style tends to
be gritty and surreal, and I am fascinated especially by the dark corners where the natural world
meets human industry.
In addition to my artistic practice, I am studying law at the University of Victoria. In fall 2022 I
released my first feature-length documentary film, which I co-created with my partner,
documenting my experience as a Type 1 Diabetic hiking the 700km Vancouver Island Trail.
Learn more at vimeo.com/ondemand/peaksandvalleys.
The things I represent in my art would otherwise live in my head, which I’d prefer they didn’t.
The word “tradition” is defined by the mind of the beholder: to some, traditions are recurring
practices that call to them, rooting them to time and place and infusing their existence with
meaning. To others, traditions are claustrophobic shackles, to be cast off in the pursuit of an
open-minded exploration of the wider world. Doubtless, most of us fall somewhere in between,
and choose to uphold some traditions while discarding others.
This piece is titled “Queen Vicky,” and alludes to the ghost of imperial traditions that haunts the
country we call Canada. We see the late Queen Victoria, decapitated, and smoking an opium
pipe. The piece is meant to sharpen the vague spectre of British identity that still clings to public
life in Canada: despite at-times awkward attempts to broaden our country and make it more
inclusive and representative, we are still deeply attached to the sociopolitical traditions of the
imperial and commercial interests that shaped the nation we live in.
This tug-of-war is perhaps most visible in the city of Victoria. The city is a centre for decolonial
academics and activism, and yet at the same time a bastion of imperial tradition: union jacks
abound, and its very name, and the name of the province it serves as capital, are evidence of
the backwards-looking attachment to the days of monarchy and empire.
Queen Victoria is intended to represent the force and spirit of British colonialism. Her severed
neck represents changing attitudes around the celebration of the wealthy and powerful,
monarchs in particular. The pipe represents the hypocrisy of the imperial elite: while basking in
the obscene profits of an empire built on violence, they rationalize the system they uphold with
sermons on morality and divinity.
Although the narratives justifying and romanticizing colonization have started to unravel, a
process kick-started by the courageous labour of Indigenous people and people of colour, the
legacy of imperial traditions are deeply baked into Canada’s institutional structures. Which do
we choose to keep or discard, and why? To what extent is this process limited by our normative
understandings of Canada as a nation, as these attitudes have been shaped by the imperial
In the suitcase the heart too
Ever since she was a girl
she would carry her suitcase.
That’s what they’ve been telling her since she was a kid
that there are a lot of things that a girl
can afford herself to not know
except that the girls were created to go
and that tomorrow
cannot meet them but ready to leave,
that’s why she started to weave tomorrows with her hands
and everywhere she took them in her suitcase .
She waited all her life for tomorrow
and when tomorrow was long overdue,
even when others told her that the lines of her hand
still say nothing about tomorrow.
(And who knows how many times
she left tomorrow in sky’s hands)
The years passed and she
started to give out her dowry piece by piece
until “the moment” came,
around her sixties,
in her old suitcase,
only her heart remained.
Oriada Dajko is a poet and short story writer from Albania. Oriada has represented Albania in several international literary festivals. Various poems have been published in anthologies and magazines in different countries. The winner of the first prize for poetry in the fourth edition of the Literary Festival for Youth, while in the fifth edition of the Literary Festival for Youth, wins the first prize in the prose category. Her writings have been selected on human rights and cultural heritage at literary events. Graduating for cultural heritage, Oriada has expressed commitment to cultural projects in the Balkans.
In her writings, mainly poems and short stories, Oriada Dajko includes elements of cultural heritage and religion. Her prose is closer to poetry and her poetry is closer to the narration
Her moods changed, not seasonally, but like the wind or shift key – all of her thoughts in capitals with nowhere to hide. She wasn’t your usual.
She didn’t drive long stretches of scenic deserted highways. She would not have backyard barbecues wearing witty aprons or laughing with friends around crowded food filled tables. She didn’t flop down exhausted- with too many bags filled to the brim with expensive things. She didn’t hail taxis next to giant puddles, or carry a briefcase, or run awkwardly in high heels to catch a train. She didn’t stare through a kitchen window at idyllic acres of farmland while she inhaled steam from her coffee cup.
She hadn’t been shopping for the perfect sweater or picking up dry cleaning. She hadn’t found the ultimate clothing to see the world in. She didn’t match her bag to her shoes. She hadn’t renovated a house or decorated her living room with words like live or dream. She did not manicure her lawn and adorn it with plastic deer. She didn’t dance around triumphantly after mopping the floor; she didn’t sniff clothes fresh from the dryer in an ecstasy of chemical romance. She did not find the perfect stain remover. She didn’t recline on furniture provocatively with her ass hanging out or organize her linen closet.
She didn’t age gracefully or declare that she was worth it. She did not search for the perfect perfume or kiss her thin lips goodbye. She hadn’t run through fields laughing over her shoulder or bat her lengthy eyelashes into the camera. Never had she waxed her entire body smooth or gotten a spray tan. She didn’t commit to be fit. She hadn’t gotten bikini body ready.
She hadn’t sent the very best card. She had not taken her children to the happiest place on earth. She didn’t believe in beauty or that a diamond is forever. She had never expressed that all hard work pays off or that time heals all wounds. She didn’t follow her bliss. She failed to find technology she could trust or that brought the good things to life. She threw away any gift announcing it was wine-o-clock somewhere. She rarely ever took photographs. Sometimes she would wander the streets alone at night. Most often she fell asleep under a book, her phone still murmuring late night, call-in shows. Sometimes, she fell in love all over again.
It is with considerable interest that I offer my writing piece “Usually”. I am a writer on Vancouver Island. Canada, on the unceded lands of the Wsanec and Songhees peoples. I was an academic and a fiber artist, now I am pursuing freelance writing full time. I appreciate journals and magazines of all types and believe literature to be a necessity. I am a single mother. You can find my work in Blood Tree Literature and The Sociological Review. Thanks for reading, Sincerely, Tamara Yewchuk
I am a fibre artist and parent. Weaving and knitting with yarn and found threads makes up the majority of my sculptural practice. Words are another material I utilize. This piece questions the pull and influence of traditions fetishized by an advertising lens. Daily organization as well as hopes and dreams are governed by slogans and consumerism. Can we resist?
A poetic essay, or creative non-fiction flash
Meri Sawatzky is a multi disciplinary Artist working mainly with fibre and embroidery. They take much inspiration from therapeutic processing of their life through these mediums, as well as living nestled by the ocean on beautiful Vancouver Island. Forever curious, Meri uses found and thrifted materials to create vast and detailed works ranging from embroidered hoops to sculptures and murals. Meri Loves to work in high detail fibre within a neutral pallet to give emphasis on the textures and composition. They find peace in the methodical demands of the mediums and delights in thinking if new ways to show fabric and fibre, pairing it with metals and natural materials.
Meri plans on continuing their ocean Artist life while looking forward to working on bigger and more complex projects.
This piece is a representation of the tradition, within my family, of Fibre Artists, varied and fractured as the lineage continues but still looking to textiles as a means of self expression and pragmatism.
Each generation on my Mothers side has had quilters, seamstresses, weavers, all blending their selves with the work that needs to be done. I grew up sitting in my mothers lap, watching her hands as she sewed, pricking myself with pins that came from my Grandmothers sewing box. This knowledge has been passed down as far back as I can count. I now continue that tradition, pricking myself with embroidery needles as a means to process the grief of fractured family. I see the path laid by my ancestors and I move needle and thread as a means to connect to them as I consider the estrangement with my Mother. The gold thread representing the glimmers of gratitude I hold. The repeating lines speaking to the expansiveness of this tradition. The circle imposed in the center as a reminder that this too, will continue.
The different stitches and textures are a representation of the ways in which my practice was built for me by the women that came before me and too, an expression of my own need for diversity and difference.
Estraven Lupino Smith
Estraven Lupino-Smith is a queer and non-binary artist, researcher, and educator born in Dish with One Spoon territory to an Italian and Scottish family. Their practice is interdisciplinary, informed by their creative and critical engagements with environments: natural, cultural, and constructed. Through the embodied practice of weaving, they consider the entanglements of materials and place, the relationships between land base, settlement, and the possibilities of queering ancestral skills and critically bringing cultural traditions into the contemporary moment.
On both sides of my family, handwork and acts of creation were part of the everyday. There were people who grew food, made wine, were tailors who made their family’s clothes, and weavers. There was also a completely different understanding and relationship to land. In my current work I research how weavers once held knowledge about natural cycles and seasons in order to know when to gather fibers and how to intervene in their environments to increase yields and protect plants from over-harvesting. When I collect materials, and when I sit at my loom, I am participating in a centuries old tradition, one I make new through my embodied practice, through the way I engage with materials and my relationship to place, and through the ways I experiment with weaving techniques.
Rina Pita is a visual artist and printmaker who lives and works in Victoria, BC. With a background in Industrial Design and Landscape Architecture, she obtained a BFA with honours in painting at the University of Victoria and studied painting at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has had solo and group exhibitions locally and abroad encompassing international juried print exhibitions in Potsdam, Germany; Seoul, Korea; Bangkok, Thailand and Cairo, Egypt. Her work is included in private and public collections in Vancouver and abroad.
Rina Pita’s “Rituals” series explore the timeless symbols engraved into our collective consciousness by our distant ancestors in their spiritual pursuit of purification and enlightenment. Throughout millennia and in all continents, humans have painted and decorated their bodies to assume the identity of an animal or a deity in order to summon abundance in exchange for a sacrificial offering. In these works, today’s re-invented narratives combine old traditions around the hypnotic patterns of fire while dancers move to the beat of drums in their quest to reach an altered state, transcend the self and temporarily escape from daily life. It is then when life and art become one, the self disappears, time slows and magic takes hold.
The submitted mixed media works on paper combines archival inks, lithographic mono printing and glazes, pencil crayons and water-soluble oil paints.
My name is Lee Ingram (lee/she/they) and I am an emerging multi-(non)disciplinary artist living
and working on the ancestral territories of the Lkwungen and SÁNEĆ peoples. W̱ I am a primarily self-
taught and improvisational dancer who has been engaging in collaborative and experimental work with
Victoria-based artists, Lindsay Delaronde and Kemi Craig. My work with Lindsay has focused on
creating non-western forms of story-telling, theatre, and dance, learning embodiment practices, and
playing with improvised movement. Kemi and I have woven various elements, like dance, film, sound,
and video projections into our experimental and personal work.
The theatrics of joy and pain, the tensions of living and decaying, and the relationship between anger
and release are themes woven into my style and approach to dance. I prioritize improvisation as a way
to contradict expectations of identity(/ies) and performance. I am interested in process and play, and
focus on the interdisciplinary and intercultural relationship between various mediums; particularly that
of dance, performance art, poetry, video, and sound.
Growing up religious was a complicated experience, leaving me with both trauma
and a deep reverence for existence. It is through my work as a dancer, poet, and musician that I am
finding ways to revive ancestral traditions, and distance Black and African diaspora spirituality from
western christianity. My first solo project entitled, frozen cradle, is a 7 minute-long experimental and
multi-disciplinary performance that incorporates poetry, dance, and layered voice recordings. It pays
homage to a matriarchal presence in the absence of fatherhood and deviates from an assumed narrative
to give strength to the weight of that responsibility. The project is personal in that it references birthing
pains, ancestral trauma, and the spiritual solace that exists within the bodies of my Caribbean family,
but more specifically, my mother. It is a piece that allows me to journey back into a distant past, with
my body as the vehicle. And it is in my body that I may remember where I came from and who I come
The dance expressed in the piece is grounded in improvisation, but also the spiritual traditions of
black/Jamaican revivalism, dance, and ceremony. There are frenetic movements that echo the trance-
inducing state of ecstatic ceremony, as well as slow, tense, and contorted movements, like that of
Japanese butoh dance, whose influence is heavily present in my work. Dance, for me, has been a
continuous process of either remembering, revealing, retelling, or resisting, and sometimes each of these
occur at the same time. These ideas, though sometimes abstract and elusive, can take shape in every part
of the body. When I dance, I am actively pursuing freedom, because I believe it lives in the body. Dance
is the medium that I experience freedom through.
This project started as a poem, which was then developed into a score for the performance. The collage
was created after the performance. The sound design and original score was created in collaboration
with musician Owen Fairbairn.
A Sack of Salt
The kitchen was the place to be. It was unlikely you’d be asked what you are doing in the kitchen, or why you weren’t doing something else. My mother asks: Are you hungry?
If you were not headed for the kitchen, the food smells would lure you in. My mother conducted this symphony of steam, spices and marinades with something akin to making magic potions. Her hands fluttering over the pot with crushed herbs as if she was casting spells. Stories and happenings were sprinkled in for good measure. The ingredient of love palpable.
Any activity in the kitchen was inevitably hemmed in with words: a pot simmers on the stove while a story brews in the mouth. Even shopping for the freshest meats and vegetables from the market was a source of stories to unpack with the groceries. The butcher and the farmers were directly involved with the food they sold and they too had stories to tell. The only kind of market was the farmer’s market.
Sometimes my dad made an appearance as a supporting character to orchestrate one of his specialties: the green salad with yogurt dressing topped with sliced radishes, the white and red of the radishes so bright on the green, so translucently thin. He prides himself on how thin. Kyopolou, a delicious salsa-like spread with roasted peppers and roasted eggplant, fresh tomato, parsley, garlic and olive oil was another dish he took pride in, and so was tarator (cold cucumber soup). Not to mention the crunchy pickled vegetables and cabbages alchemy he conducted in the basement. I could never get enough of the crisp delicious brine the cabbage came out of.
The kitchen holds secrets a cookbook might never capture. I usually helped chop, hovered over pots, licked spoons and pans, lingered, and washed dishes. The kitchen was a place where one can become permeable to wisdom. Part of the meal preparation was all the things that got resolved or worked out too. Somehow it was safer to be doing something while talking about what troubles, upsets, or nags at you. On one such occasion while I lamented about some trouble with a friend, my mother said: To get to know someone, you have to eat a sack of salt with them. I tried to imagine how big a sac was (likely fifty kilograms) and saw how little salt she put in the guyvetch she was composing.
During meals time expanded into a space of stories and laughter and felt endless. On a different continent, in Nigeria, we sat around the table for more than one meal a day. Mealtime was not just a delight to the palate, but also an open space, like a field, where things inevitably come up. A place where life got sorted out, celebrated, resolved, made up, and healed after daily challenges, disagreements, or misalignments. It was a consequence of sitting face-to-face and like a poem you could not define it or measure it.
Mealtimes were democratic. Everyone got a chance to tell a version of the story (their version), or add details others missed, or share an idea or thought, or joke. Some jokes and stories became staples. All this over my mom’s version of a delicious Nigerian stew (with the vegetables we grew in our garden), or over banitza made with homemade feta and hand stretched crusts. These crusts were troublesome, they would tear if you lost focus, or were not in tune with how far dough can stretch. These moments at the table became close studies of point of view, of consequence, where even us kids had an equal voice; we weighed in on “what happened” away from the heat of the moment, away from the trouble we got in. And we got into plenty of trouble. The time at the table over food allowed us to pull on these issues gently, to stretch them like dough. The dough would tear if you are not patient or careful or in tune with how dough works. Time too stretched and paused for us and in those moments we became as pliable as dough.
The first time I cooked for myself was out of a sense of revolt. I was about ten, and fell out with my dad. I was so upset I decided I’m cooking for myself from that day on. I made mish-mash (sautéed onions, roasted peppers, tomatoes, feta, eggs and parsley etc). It is hard to mess up mish-mash. I was going to prove myself so I added cucumbers. I spent the afternoon making bread. By dinner time I’d made up with my dad and shared what I cooked. He showed his goodwill by eating my concoctions. Later we laughed about how the cucumbers resisted the oil with their high water content, how they were not great performers in stir-fries. I’d never seen anyone fry cucumber; I thought I was being creative. The bread was better suited as the dwarf bread from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series where it is used as a weapon and only eaten as a last resort. That day I did not cook with love, but more out of frustration and pride, and the outcome was unpalatable. I do not remember ever doing that again.
You do not think something is special, or think of it as a tradition, or a ritual, until you begin to miss the good of it. In the US while studying for my second Masters, I had to learn to cook. Out of necessity this time. In Ohio food was either too sweet or too salty. The complexity of flavour I was used to was as rare in Ohio as an edelweiss flower. I had to come to the rescue of my own tastebuds.
Shopping for the first time, was so overwhelming I bought nothing. Not just because I’d never had to navigate a monstrosity of a grocery store like Kroger, but also because most things that were supposed to pass for food didn’t look like food and did not smell like food. I had to take someone’s word for it instead. I was buying words on labels and pretty photos. There was no one to whisper the story of the food. Labels on every tomato, apple, or pepper not only made little sense, but mostly made me sad. What is this place where people have time to label every fruit or vegetable, but no time to tell you who grew it? Besides we bought them by the kilo in Bulgaria. I followed my Thai housemate around. I watched her shop, asked many questions, which she undoubtedly found amusing and probably exhausting. Then we went home and she fed me one of the delicious dishes she seemed to whip up with such ease. I would call my mother often that first year for the gaps I needed to fill in the recipes. Once I got tired of eating one dish I took to perfecting another. I rarely follow the recipes in cook books now. After a few decades of home cooking you get a pretty good sense of what needs to also be there besides what the recipe book suggests.
When I got married, the ritual of home cooking and sitting down for meals was integral in building the dynamics and growing the health of my family. In the US I could not fathom how one would eat in front of a TV, or microwave a dinner in plastic. We got rid of the TV when the kids were little. I worked hard to preserve non-negotiable dinner time when the four of us sat around the table. It got harder as the kids got older. No one was to schedule anything during dinner time, no electronics at the table, no TV droning on in the background. Regardless of what was going on, once a day we were all going to sit down and have a meal together. How did my mom make it look so natural and easy?
In a culture of how to best create addictive behaviours and cravings for the cheapest of “food,” health appeared to be of little or no priority. I watched how quickly my children’s palate narrowed to the taste of hotdogs, mac and cheese, spaghetti, and pizza. I had to compete with these limited flavours kids get addicted to. I kept cooking a wider range of dishes, and figured out how to hide the vegetables they didn’t like. I did not succumb. The effort was worthwhile in the long run, even if disastrous at times along the way. It’s so easy to train ourselves out of what it good for our minds and bodies. They remembered again how to be adventurous with flavours. I have been making yogurt for as long as they have been alive. My now grown children still prefer it to the mostly corrupt store-bought variety.
When my sons were in high school I packed them hot lunches. Some days I’d offer them money to get cafeteria lunch. But why? Your food is so much better, my younger son would say. My friends line up to try it. I’d get up early and pack a hot lunch. This secretly delighted me.
Now my sons tell me to put my cell phone away on the rare occasion I reached for it during dinner. The tradition of sitting together persists. Under the pandemic both of them were in pods and bubbles with peers. They sent me photos and notes of things they cook. Bread, curries, lentil stew, savoury yam pastries, miso soup with no miso in it. Occasionally, I get a call from one of them asking what we put in this or that dish.
My relationship with food has defined not just my relationship with others, but with myself too. Food is a necessity, but more importantly it binds us and reminds who we are. Too much convenience robs us of basic human activities necessary to build connections and relationships. Sitting together for meals secures space and time to remember what children need for heathy development: connection, talking, playing, a healthy home and community. Slow food is a celebration, a sustenance, a place to regain a sanity the pace of life cheats us out of. Cooking and eating together weaves memory, stories, connections through ingredients, traditions, cultures, and through the simple ritual of eating and time spent together. When we break bread together, we build trust; we nurture and sustain peace.
I saw this most natural of human practices become less common. It took on for me the status and stubbornness of a tradition. In a culture of disposable “goods” and disposable relationships, the dizzying pace prevents us from nurturing such patience. Perhaps these are not goods anymore but bads.
I wonder how many sacks of salt we have eaten together. This patience and duration across time, and continuity across cultures and generations is integral to shaping and sustaining our identities. It’s vital to my physical and mental health: a quiet comfort, a happiness that I cannot buy. Cooking secures a space for making something with my hands from scratch, the way I make poems. And I am compelled to share it with another. Taking pride and responsibility with food is who I am. Extending that to how and where our food comes from is most urgent to nurture the connections across land and species. You are what you eat, but you are also, where the food was grown, how you prepare it, what stories you tell about it, and with whom you choose to share it. And the circle repeats daily. The empty seat left at the table, my mother tells me, is for the person who could not be there, or the guest we do not expect. Word has it, god invited them.
Daniela Elza lived on three continents before immigrating to Canada in 1999. Her latest poetry collections are the broken boat (2020) & slow erosions (a chapbook in collaboration with poet Arlene Ang, 2020). Her essays can be found in Riddle Fence, Motherwell, Queen’s Quarterly, GRAIN, About Place Journal, and subTerrain. She was the second place winner in the 2022 Ken Belford Poetry Prize for Social Justice. She works as a writing instructor and mentor to writers of all ages.
My work seems preoccupied with relationships: how we relate to our surroundings, to language, to each other, to ourselves, to our work, and to our more-than-human-world. My first book of essays, which is currently looking for a publisher, is interested in many of these aspects of belonging, home, and crossing borders. What makes us feel at home? When and where do we feel we truly belong, and why? I believe being truly present for each other is an act of resistance in a world bent on destruction through distraction. Poetic thinking, and community building are also such acts.
“A Sack of Salt”, A Conversation with Daniela Elza
“A Sack of Salt”, A Conversation with Daniela Elza
Desirée Leal- Thank you, Daniela, for having this conversation with us about your story, “A Sack of Salt”.
What first drew me to your story was the universality of its subject! Traditions involving food and cooking abound in every culture and yet, the observations you make in “A Sack of Salt” speak about a kind of erosion of these practices and the values they represent, and how that too has become almost universal. When do you recall first noticing this [erosion] taking place and did that realization reinforce the importance of that relationship [between food and tradition] for you immediately, or did that simmer slowly over time?
Daniela-Elza – I noticed it when I got married and more acutely when we had kids. Especially when I struggled to keep everyone on the same wavelength about the importance of gathering for a meal once a day. The more schedules we had to align, the harder it was. I had never thought about it before as effort or work I had to do. I had to keep asserting and reasserting that expectation. When I was writing the piece I realized how it has risen to the status of a ritual and a tradition because of that.
DL – I Loved how vividly you described your family’s interactions in the kitchen, and how this was a place central to family life. I too love to cook and feel fortunate for all the many food-centered rituals present in my own family growing up, which I now pass on to my son. Do you feel that food values and family values are linked and if so, how do you see the potential of that link being re-established or reinforced in situations where family is a concept that is constantly being redefined and reconfigured, and when so many individuals nowadays live alone?
DE – I do not like Christmas time much, (New Year’s was a bigger deal for my family), but I love when the shops close and the streets empty out on that holiday and I know people are gathering around food. It is the sign that we all agree this is important. We know how to do it. It is healthier if we not only did it on special days, but did it everyday. Why defer important things only to a time when we are on holiday or vacation? I prefer to claim these celebrations daily. That is when they have the best results. And they are good for our minds and hearts. Otherwise times like Thanksgiving or Christmas become spaces where people have to pretend not to offend one another, instead of celebrate each other. If you can accomplish such dissonance within a family, imagine how that plays out on the larger scale when we have to work together toward causes that improve our lives. That is dangerous for society.
I do think food values and family values are intricately linked, and from their societal values too. Food is such a basic occupation and preoccupation. I have not seen my parents as often as I wish in the last few decades. On occasions when I can go back home to visit, I see how we have drifted in our values and understanding. Suddenly, some topics are off the table; we cannot talk about them when we gather so we can keep the peace. To me that feels like a dis-ease that did not happen overnight.
DL – What you described as “this most natural of human practices”, brings up the notion of cooking as well as the notion of tradition back to the fundamental and everyday. Small gestures of family life rather than large demonstrations of ritual and performance. Small instances of intimate sharing, rather than grand public declarations. How do you feel the erosion of this practice impacts on our relationship to all that is “most natural” in us?
DE- Yes, small gestures. I currently wake up every morning and as I make my tea and coffee the day begins to put itself together and come into focus. I did not realize how important that time was for me until we had a house guest and I ended up having to negotiate the kitchen at that time. Coffee and tea making, turned out to be a meditative space. My mind and body needed it to clear and bring focus. Since it was a two month visit, I tried to negotiate some boundaries, even if that meant getting up earlier. This reminded me again how little things we do for mental health or focus sometimes are not appreciated until interrupted or taken away.
DL – Finally, I am interested in how you feel tradition informs your writing specifically as well as art and culture as a whole. Do you feel your practice is one which works to preserve tradition or challenge it?
DE – The very act of writing is a ritual and has taught me a lot about carving and guarding quiet spaces. You have to show up for writing. The struggle is how do you clear the space and the time to show up in a state that is adequate for the task? Traditions for me are constantly evolving. Each day I negotiate the space for writing, the space for work, and the space for being a mom, for taking care of the house. When all this happens in the same space you get pretty creative and I have to play all sorts of games to trick my mind into focusing on the different roles I perform. It is writing that makes it possible for me to pay attention to these subtle shifts of energy and the spaces where we can perform certain actions. Taking care of these needs is a path toward sanity and toward better connection and community building with each other.
Noah Gilroy (they/them) is an interdisciplinary artist settled on the unceded territories of the W̱SÁNEĆ, Songhees and Esquimalt nations. They hold a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences (Political Science) from the University of Victoria and have studied a multitude of creative practices independently since childhood. Noah’s formal education in political science, social justice and gender studies influences their artistic work as they explore themes of sustainability, gendered creative practice, environmental preservation, and others. As bell hooks said, “The personal is political,” especially in visual art and craft.
Noah’s primary creative outlet is currently contemporary fibre art woven by hand on a frame loom. They learned directly from fiber artists like Lucy Poskitt, Lindsey Campbell, and Mariana Baertl, and indirectly from the legendary work of Lenore Tawney, Anni Albers, and Sheila Hicks. Noah discovered contemporary weaving in 2017 as a healing practice and continues to enthusiastically explore new experimental techniques to push the boundaries of what is possible on a canvas of thread. They work exclusively with biodegradable or recycled materials to minimize environmental impact.
Noah is originally from Treaty 7 territory (Mohkínsstsisi) and in addition to being a grateful settler on Coash Salish land, they also had the privilege of living in Treaty 6 territory (Amiskwaciwâskahikan) and on Mi’kmaq land (Kjipuktuk). When not creating, they are either providing live captioning services for people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing, or enjoying wild life at home with their partner, stepchild, three cats, six quails, one rabbit and a fish named Love.
Weaving is one of humanity’s oldest traditions, dating back to 3400 BCE. We wear woven materials on our bodies and use woven materials in our homes nearly every day without realizing the technology we are interacting with. Now, most of these materials are created by machine or indentured servitude, and often of non-biodegradable materials like acrylic and polyester.
Textile art in tapestry form is thought to originate in Egypt in the 1400s BCE. Tapestries were historically created in similar ways across the world, usually on a high warp loom in a weft-facing style but occasionally on a floor loom. In more recent years, weaving traditions are shifting, from the development of the Jacquard loom in 1801 to the experiments of Bauhaus artist Anni Albers and more recently, the innovations of Sheila Hicks.
My work in tapestry weaving seeks to continue these new traditions of destabilizing what can be created on a structure of threads. As a nonbinary person, I live in a liminal space of what it means to be human, disrupting traditions of male/female, masculine/feminine, and this disruption carries through to my work, where I find myself in a woman-dominated field of coveted traditions. In my vision of utopia, the new traditions are grounded in freedom: to experiment, to live as we are, to define our own existence.
This piece in particular exemplifies this new tradition for me. The body of the piece is done in the most traditional version of weaving – plain weave – but the rest is an experimental disruption. I used newer techniques like rya and soumac to create texture, but also played with the structure of the warp to see what might erupt. Embedded in the mossy part of this piece, inspired by the Kisiskâciwan-sîpî, there are structures of chicken wire, bubbles made of recycled Italian silk, handmade art yarns, and other whimsical surprises. When I approached this piece, instead of working with what I knew, I asked, “What is possible?” I wanted to break out of the flat, paint-like tapestry tradition and bring weaving into a 3-dimensional space.
That is my hope for all new traditions, that we continue asking, “What is possible?” instead of holding onto what already exists.
ALHS is a poet and critic. She lives and writes on the unceded land of the Lək̓wəŋən peoples.