Connecting through art after immigrating to Canada
by Kristin Voth
Two years ago, 17-year-old Baz Bedejim could never have guessed he’d be selected to create art exploring Canadian identity. A young teenager whose family had just immigrated to Canada from the Philippines, Baz initially had a tough time adjusting to life in Vancouver. Fortunately, he soon found himself in Youth Unlimited’s Creative Life program on the Downtown Eastside where his artistic talents blossomed.
When Baz moved to Vancouver two years ago, he carried with him a love for art and a desire to belong. Troubled by a difficult move, Baz had dropped out of school for two years in the Philippines before moving to Canada in 2014.
“I shut myself out,” Baz reflects. “I felt like I didn’t belong in any community.”
Fitting in continued to be challenging for Baz once in Canada. Though Baz initially started attending school once again, he soon slipped into his old habits of skipping class.
Worried by Baz’s poor attendance, his mother enrolled him in Take a Hike Vancouver, an alternative education program in Vancouver that integrates academics, adventure-based learning and therapy. Before long Baz felt at home, thanks to the program’s small size and encouraging staff. It was there that Youth Unlimited youth worker Laura Klassen first caught a glimpse of Baz’s sketchbook. Impressed by his drawings, she encouraged him to visit the Creative Life studio. The very next day, Baz showed up to make some art.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to do art on my own,” remembers Baz. “Painting, encaustics, sculpture – I didn’t have those things. And aside from skills, I also lacked connection.”
Thankfully, Baz found both art and connection at Creative Life. As the Fresh Voices report carried out by the Vancouver Foundation states, immigrant youth often experience overwhelming isolation as they adjust to life in Canada. Programs offered by organizations like Youth Unlimited provide youth like Baz with invaluable opportunities to connect with peers and adult leaders. And art offers unique opportunities to deepen relationships and build connection.
“I create art because I simply enjoy expressing my imagination,” Baz observes. “And when I share artwork with someone and they share their artwork with me, I build relationships with others.”
Thanks to the support of his Youth Unlimited youth workers, this summer Baz has had countless opportunities to share his art with others.
He and nine other Youth Unlimited Vancouver teens participated in the 150+ Reasons We Love Canada national art project initiated by Toronto-based VIBE Arts in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. Their piece, representing British Columbia, was installed as part of a national mural in Toronto subway stations throughout July and August. Additionally, it was digitally displayed in 15 airports and on more than 300 Pattison Outdoor billboards across Canada.
“The 150+ murals represent the creative ability and leadership of 500 young Canadians, brought together to transform public space and inspire a nation through their collective art making,” says Julie Frost, Executive and Artistic Director of VIBE Arts.
And on August 22nd, Baz exhibited his work in an art show. He and one other youth from the Creative Life program are the recipients of a DTES Small Arts Grant providing funding for solo exhibits in the Creative Life studio space. Although it’s intimidating to share artwork with the broader community, Baz is excited about the relationships with other artists that develop as he shares his work.
“I love seeing artwork from other people as much as I love creating it,” he states.
No longer a stranger in Canada, Baz has found a place where he belongs, a community where his voice is heard and his ideas can flourish.