Toronto’s Roncesvalles section isn’t the first area you think of when you think “Filipino” – it’s known as the Polish area, where you can find the statue of Pope John Paul 2 and get yummy sausage (oh wait those are two really Filipino things, PJP2 and sausage).
Earlier this week, Photographer Alex Felipe brought the Philippines to the neighbourhood – through his photo exhibit at trendy-yet-conscious coffee hotspot, Café Tinto. The exhibit, called “Human Rights in the Philippines – A Photo Exhibition “ is up from April 1 to April 17 and focuses on the human rights situation in the motherland -- from extrajudicial killings and disappearances, to too young 'terror' suspects in a Manila jail, to a disturbing Canadian connection...
The photos were taken by Alex on his latest trip to the Philippines, the highlights of the evening were definitely Alex’s anecdotes as he presented each photo via slideshow. Wide-eyed attendees hung on his every word as he recounted his experiences with tribal chieftains and military checkpoints as he ascended Mt. Canatuan.
Others shook their heads in disbelief as he recalled his first trip back in 2001 when he stayed with relatives living in makeshift homes next to active train tracks. At that time he could reach out the window of his own sleeping quarters only to be close enough to graze a passing train with his hand.
Guests were also treated to some poetry and music courtesy of JR Punzalan, Myk Miranda and Leonard Cervantes (hey that’s me), oh behalf of Kapisanan Philippine Centre. The Pinoygraphers.com photography collective was also present to support one of their own.
Alex’s main objective on his trip was to document the destruction and illness that mining activity has caused the people of the Philippines, most notably the tribal populations in the remote areas. What is most surprising is the identity of the offender in all of these cases -- Canada. Corporations like Placer Dome/Barrick Gold (on Marinduque Island) and Toronto Ventures Incorporated (Mt. Canatuan, Mindanao) are guilty of toxic dumping, forced displacement and other abuses of the land.
Evidence of the effects of these violations are seen in Alex’s photos which do little to excuse the viewer from the emotions that can only go along with images of sick or imprisoned children, polluted landscapes and Filipino people experiencing strife and hardship. Despite the heavy subject matter and some very heart-wrenching photos, Alex’s exhibit managed to attract a full-room of Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike, community members, artists and activists – different people from different walks and all corners of the city.
The wonderful thing about Alex Felipe’s photos is that they don’t discriminate the viewer. No matter where we’re coming from, we see the same image; we end up reading the very same page. If only for those brief moments, we understand – and ultimately feel the same emotions.
That feeling of unity is rare these days.
(next week, check out blogto.com to see Alex Felipe and his exhibit featured on DiverCity, and stay tuned to this blog space for info on his next exhibit, starting April 26th at Ryerson)
Event Photos Below By Red Andal (www.pinoygraphers.com)