Women-only mural event in Parkdale celebrates intersectional feminism – and sparks controversy

“All can; No man” was the unofficial tagline for a feminist street art project in Parkdale called Women Paint on July 16. Twenty women artists transformed a graffiti-covered laneway just north of Queen Street West between Lansdowne and MacDonell into a stretch of vibrant murals.

The murals range from whimsical portraits by Emily May Rose and bold caricatures by Tennille Dowers, to intricate patterns by Canadian-Colombian artist Daniela Rocha. Although the murals vary in style, they all focus on the same themes: intersectional feminism and diverse experiences. Artist Bareket Kezwer launched Women Paint to combat the boys’ club nature of street art.

“Women don’t get as many opportunities as men to participate in events like this,” says Kezwer, who has lived in Parkdale for the past five years. “I wanted to create a space where female-identified artists could showcase their work. If one of the barriers to success is lack of opportunity, this was a way to create that opportunity.”

Artist Caitlin Taguibao has worked on a number of projects abroad and in Parkdale, like the Food Stories mural on Dollarama, but says this was her first time participating in an all-women event.

“Painting with a bunch of women at the same time has given me so much energy and joy. It’s good to hear everyone’s stories, experiences and how they do things,” she says.

Anishinaabe artist Chief Lady Bird, who worked alongside Haudenosaunee artist Aura to create a piece celebrating Indigenous motherhood, felt similar and was also interested in the event because of its focus on intersectional feminism. As Indigenous women, she and Aura often see sexist, misrepresentations of themselves in society.

“Intersectional feminism is extremely important because we all come from such different backgrounds. We want to create positive, healing, empowering imagery for Indigenous women and during that process, it empowers us as well.”

Yet leading up to the event, some community members felt that the event did not consider all women or the residents of Parkdale. Septembre Anderson, a front-end developer and writer who has lived in Parkdale for over a decade, questioned the project’s intentions after learning it was connected with the Toronto Police Services’ StreetARToronto. The Drake was also involved, donating lunch to the artists. In a neighbourhood currently facing harmful gentrification and displacement of marginalized residents, Anderson believes it was inappropriate to receive support from the TPS and the Drake.

“So much of the Roma, Black, Tamil and Tibetan communities live in fear of the police,” says Anderson. “Anybody who cared about intersectionality or marginalized people would not be teaming up with the police. It shows you’re completely unaware of the needs of the people in this community.”

Anderson wishes the event took a more holistic approach in consulting diverse communities and social justice groups. However, Kezwer says she did reach out to the Black Artists’ Network Dialogue, Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) and the Tibetan community for suggestions on people who might like to participate.

“I think we were all engaged with each other about these issues [over the weekend] and that added a really important layer to the weekend,” says Kezwer. “I hope to plan another Women Paint event next year and look forward to integrating the learnings from this year into the process to make the event more inclusive.”

Chief Lady Bird says she was initially unsettled by the connection to the TPS since many Indigenous women have negative experiences with the police, including herself. Yet when she heard what the relationship exactly entailed – getting permission from property owners to paint the laneway and organizing high school students to prime the walls for the murals – she felt like she could move forward with the event.

“[The police] presence isn’t militant, they’re not invading our space and they’re not imposing anything on us,” Chief Lady Bird says. “If we [as women artists] continue to work together to educate the broader community about who we are, we can have stronger voices overall.”

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