Congratulations to Shafia Shaikh, winner of the 2017 Scarborough Design Competition
We are proud to announce the winner of the 2017 Scarborough Design Competition: artist Shafia Shaikh with her piece Growing Up Scarborough. After receiving numerous submissions from Scarborough and Toronto artists, the jury chose Shafia’s design as the recipient of this year’s award for its excellent execution and thoughtfulness in depicting Scarborough’s essence.
As an artist who grew up in Scarborough, Shafia believes that art has a unique ability to confront social issues and injustices, while allowing for individual reflection. She hopes to bring awareness to lived experiences of women of colour as a means to contribute to change. Read more about Shafia Shaikh and her winning design below.
Your design is so rich in icons and meaning. What would you say are the most significant elements in your design and what do they mean?
SHAFIA SHAIKH: The most significant icon in my design would be the girl in the foreground, which is an illustration I had done from a photograph of myself when my family first moved to Canada. In the original photograph, as is the case with my illustration, the girl has a “mushroom cut” hairdo and is wearing a brightly coloured dress filled with frills and patterns. My haircut and way of dressing was something that I was not comfortable in as a child as my appearance did not always fit into the North American culture. Everything about my physical appearance made me stand out. Today, I’ve grown to appreciate how my past has shaped me.
In contrast to my look is the doll in the girl’s hand. It’s the typical blonde-haired, blue-eyed barbie doll. The juxtaposition between the bowl-cut, frilly-dressed girl and the blonde-haired doll makes a statement about the ideals of the past as well as how far we’ve progressed today. I was lucky enough to grow up in Scarborough, a part of the city that showed me the diversity of people’s race, colour, and identity.
I also chose to include an image of a moose from Toronto’s Moose in the City project, where artists painted life-sized moose sculptures. I was in awe of these sculptures growing up, and I think it’s one of the early experiences that sparked my interest in mural art and public art. The moose I chose to include is called Diversity Moose by artist Sunny Fong. It’s right by Scarborough Town Centre, and I knew I had to include this in my design as it captures Scarborough’s essence. Speaking of Scarborough Town Centre, the RT was also a must to include. It’s just one of those love/hate things about Scarborough that you have to endure.
Tell us about your design process. Where did you get your inspiration from and what media did you use to create this piece?
SS: Being from Scarborough is so deeply entrenched in me, so I knew I wanted to make this piece personal. I started by looking through some family pictures, and created an illustration from there. I thought about all the things that remind me of Scarborough and my own experiences growing up here and drew them. I prefer to work as much as I possibly can by hand, with pen and paper. I transferred the hand-drawn image into a digital image, and coloured it using Adobe Illustrator. I like how that effect looks: every line I’ve made transferred onto the digital version. For me, all those imperfections add character.
One of the most prominent images in your design is the Scarborough RT. I think if you ask any Scarberian, they will be able to tell you an unforgettable memory about the RT. Do you have a particularly memorable RT experience that you would like to share?
SS: The Scarborough RT is really something else. There’s no other part of the TTC like it. You think you’re above ground, so naturally you would have service on your phone. You think you’ve got time to make a quick phone call, but before you know it, the RT belts out a relentless screech and you’ve got to abandon all hope. I think people familiar with the RT aren’t fazed by it anymore, but the shock and alarm on the faces of first-time RT riders really says it all. I have to say, there’s something about the rickety, old-school TTC aesthetic that’s so familiar with the RT, that I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“In a lot of the places where I grew up, people didn’t look like me, and I stood out. Strangely, in Scarborough, most people didn’t look like each other either, yet somehow that difference unites us.”
How long have you lived in Scarborough? Do you still live here?
SS: Most of my childhood involved moving: from India to Saudi Arabia, to Uganda and back. When my family and I finally moved to Canada, we settled in Scarborough, and haven’t moved since. I spent 17 crucial years in Scarborough. It was the place where I found stability, created actual lasting friendships, and embraced the possibility of becoming an artist. In a lot of the places where I grew up, people didn’t look like me, and I stood out. Strangely, in Scarborough, most people didn’t look like each other either, yet somehow that difference unites us. The beauty of growing up in such a richly diverse neighbourhood has shaped my outlook of our city. Scarborough blends communities and shares spaces with more than just tolerance, but with acceptance. Even though I technically don’t live in Scarborough anymore, it’s still the place I claim as my home. I’m always ready to defend and represent Scarborough.
What are the three things that you love most about Scarborough?
SS: #1. When I think of diversity in Toronto, I don’t think of the downtown core or any other part of the city; I specifically think about Scarborough. It’s where a lot of immigrants first settle, and we’re incredibly fortunate to be around each other.
#2. Scarborough Town Centre: I have such wonderful memories of being a teenager and going to the movies here. It’s an iconic meeting place and it reminds me of being young, impressionable, and finding my way.
#3. Lawrence and Kennedy: All the outlet stores in the plaza at this intersection, and the almost secret bowling alley discretely hidden among them.
In your design, you illustrated what Scarborough means for you today. If you had to imagine/dream up an image of a future Scarborough, what would it look like?
SS: I would like to see us continue to become more aware and involved in storytelling both of our own stories as a community as well as giving voice to the stories of others (more specifically, marginalized groups). I would hope we continue to excel in the arts, and use it as a catalyst to share our experience, become more involved in activism, and raise each other up in some way. I already see this starting to happen right now. I’ve seen more land acknowledgments happen before an event, than ever before. I’ve seen sensitivity in introductions, with the pronouns we state for ourselves. I’m noticing these things with a lot more people and it makes me really optimistic for where we’re headed.
Can you tell us about any other projects you’re working on?
SS: I recently painted a Bell Box mural in Scarborough on Lawrence Avenue East and Brockley Drive. A portion of the design has something in common with the design that I submitted to the Scarborough Design Competition. I wanted to establish unity for Scarborough by incorporating similar imagery into both the Scarborough Design Competition material and the Bell Box Mural and by using visuals that resonate with its citizens.
I am also currently working on establishing The E.W.o.C. Project (website coming soon!). It stands for Equity for Women of Colour and aims to create small-scale outdoor murals that will feature both influential and ordinary women of colour throughout Toronto. Every mural will pay homage to the perseverance of people of colour and will provide a public platform to showcase positive stories of their complex narratives. In addition, as the mural generates profit, the money will be donated to local and global charities and foundations.