Seeing Evergreen

Written by Jordana Franklin

In a follow up to our profile on Canadian Stage partner Jamii, we discussed their current exhibition, featuring the stories of the community’s “grandparents.”

Seeing Evergreen
: To know a forest you start with roots
On display through April 30, 2022
David Crombie Park (The Esplanade & Frederick St)

Seeing Evergreen
builds a bridge between the generations by inviting local youth to connect with older adults. The resulting exhibition encapsulates the stories of these seniors through portraits and creative writing.

The exhibition theme stemmed from a conversation between Jamii and the organizer of a seniors’ group run out of a community centre. The group organizer expressed concern about feeling invisible and disconnected; a feeling that was heightened during the lockdowns. When the Covid-19 pandemic began, people adjusted their behaviour to protect older adults more vulnerable to health concerns. Jamii Founder, Isorine Marc, noted that the care shown through social distancing also left these individuals isolated and emotionally neglected. In response, Jamii has become more focused in its intention to centre older adults in their programming, such as through projects like Seeing Evergreen.  

The ten participating youth (aged 12-18) come from Jamii’s women leadership initiative, Laini. The name of the program is a Swahili word that refers to clearing the path to make it equitable and accessible. Laini is designed to help young women and non-binary folks find their voice, gain confidence, and build trust in their creative skills.

Based on that operating principle, the young participants were involved in every aspect of the exhibition, from choosing the title to working with graphic designer, Juliana Bandeira, to determining how the photographs were mounted and where they would be displayed. These decisions were made through a series of workshops led by Maysam Abu Kreibeh and Ana Maria Higuera. As creation process facilitators, Maysam and Ana ensured that the members of Laini were guided and empowered in a safe environment.

In addition to discussing the practical aspect of the exhibit, the group engaged with questions surrounding the theme. They discussed topics such as how to tell someone else’s story and how to ensure the subject is being honored. They also addressed current stereotypes about seniors and how those can be dismantled through art.

The youth were then paired with twelve community “grandparents” (aged 55-95) to engage in one-on-one interviews. Continuing Laini’s theme of fostering creative independence, the youth created their own questions and steered the conversations under Maysam’s guidance. The interviews emphasized the seniors’ recent experiences instead of just focusing on their pasts. The youth asked questions such as, “What are your passions? What gives you joy now? What are you looking forward to in the future?”

Throughout the various interviews, the themes of hope and healing emerged. A lot of the seniors discussed a healing journey, sharing past experiences of traumatic events and the coping techniques they have developed over time. As the conversations deepened, many also found themselves answering questions they had never reflected on before. The interviews were recorded, preserving the conversations for the future.

Following the interviews, the participants were joined by Ana to conduct photo-shoot sessions. After meeting up in the community centre, the seniors invited them into their homes or other spaces that were meaningful to them for the shoots. Ana noted that the intimate conversations that proceeded the photo sessions translated into an ease in front of the camera. According to Ana, “They felt comfortable sharing their truth.” She used her camera to encapsulate the current reality of the older participants, shooting quickly to capture the moment.  

One participant, Nancy, posed in front of a wall of mementos to her late son as she opened up about coping with his passing. Vivian, a community organizer who previously work as a producer, took them into a theatre room for her series of portraits. Carol’s love of gardening brought them to the garden of Les Centres D'accueil Heritage, where she discussed her newfound focus on herself now that her children have grown up. 

Just as the graphic designer collaborated with the youth to ensure she was accurately expressing their ideas, Ana allowed them to guide the photo sessions. The members of Laini described how the portraits should look and assisted with the lighting. Through these experiences, the youth built up their own skills while being exposed to professional women working in their field.

In total, the exhibition features a total of 36 photographs. In addition to the portraits, one photograph for each community “grandparent” captures a closeup of an object that holds significance for them, including a camera, a Scrabble board, and a Dora Award.

In conjunctions with the photo series, the youth produced pieces of creative writing and collaborated on the exhibition’s artistic statement. The photographs and prose are designed to reflect back the truth of the seniors’ experiences, shining a spotlight on their stories. Seeing Evergreen continues Jamii’s goal of enhancing social cohesion, bringing people together in David Crombie Park to celebrate the grandparents of the community.





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