Love is in the air and on people’s minds throughout February, making it the perfect theme for the non-profit arts organization Yellow Pad Sessions’ (YPS) OPTIMISTA event on Feb. 11. OPTIMISTA: Amour/Love was the third iteration in a unique series of multimedia art events that feature keynote speakers, films, and visual art related to the evening’s chosen theme. Organized by YPS co-founders Grace Sebeh Byrne and Patrick Byrne with the help of co-curators Siam Obregón and Max Holzberg, the event celebrated the individuals whose stories express the hope and resiliency of the human spirit.
Held at QUAI 5160, Verdun’s waterfront culture house, dreamy tones of red and pink lighting helped transform the large, modern space into a relaxed, intimate environment. Guests were invited to sip on their choice of cocktail or mocktail while perusing several paintings by Hannaleah Ledwell before the evening’s performances began.
A graduate of Concordia’s Studio Arts program, Ledwell is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice currently focuses on physicality and memory, topics that were palpable in her exhibit Anthromorphe. A quintet of large canvases, Anthromorphe presents a woman’s form in a variety of abstract poses and contortions to evoke how different experiences of love, be it with a lover or with oneself, manifest in the body. Under the event’s Valentine’s-inspired lighting, the forms’ blue shadows and yellow highlights transformed into a palette of rich reds and mauves, making its themes of love and passion all the more visceral.
Attendees were then ushered into the space’s grand theatre to listen to a performance by Laur Fugère, an acclaimed vocalist and voice coach whose prior credits include leading roles in Broadway shows such as Les Misérables and Cats. Though no show tunes made an appearance, Fugère’s performance was nothing short of stunning. Sitting onstage surrounded by candlelight, she calmly played a variety of metal singing bowls while harmonizing with haunting vocals. Together, this proved a powerful combination that resonated throughout the space to form an ethereal soundscape.
Fugère’s rich vocals were later accompanied by projections of sweeping tundra landscapes and snowstorms, serving as the perfect segue into poetry readings from keynote speaker Joséphine Bacon. An Innu poet, translator, and filmmaker from Pessamit, Bacon is a widely-esteemed artistic figure whose poetry has made her a Compagne of the Order of Arts and Letters of Quebec as well as a finalist for the prestigious Governor General’s Award. Upon entering the stage, Bacon resonated warmth and wisdom as she began reciting a curated selection of poems from her numerous collections. Notably, she chose to read each verse of the poem in French and Innu-aimun, Bacon’s first language, despite a majority francophone audience.
“Innu is an endangered language nowadays,” Bacon said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “I work very hard, and I keep so much hope in my heart that in reading [my poems in Innu-aimun] Innu children will give respect to their language and take pride in it.”
To reinforce this message, Bacon was then joined onstage by two Innu youths who posed her questions about love and what it means to her.
The evening closed with a screening of Je m’appelle humain, an award-winning documentary that traces Bacon’s life. The film visualizes the stunning imagery of Bacon’s poetry and included several of her poems as narration throughout.
In spite of the hardships she’s experienced from the ongoing effects of colonialism in Canada, including her decade-long experience in a residential school and her time as an unhoused person in Montreal after aging out of the system, Bacon still has an uplifting view on the topic of love.
“Love is beyond one meaning. In fact, it has countless definitions. It just never includes violence.”