“How do you know Mark?” was the first question I was asked by a woman named Patricia who sat at my pub table as both myself and my daughter Japhia Henry sat and quietly ate our wings and nachos at Local 44 Restaurant last Sunday evening. “I don’t!” I replied quietly “I only met him at the Nuit Blanche event which took place a week earlier at Scarborough Town Centre.”
Patricia introduced herself as a friend of Mark’s whom she met in Montreal quite a few years ago and encouraged me to purchase some art pieces from him. I can honestly say the interaction I had with Mark Stoddart was briefer than brief. After rushing across the city to pick up my daughter from her fashion show at the “Life Turns Artist Showcase” at Shy Lounge on October 5, which raised money for the Nia Centre for The Arts, I turned to Japhia and said, “We’re going to Nuit Blanche”.
I’m no stranger to Scarborough Town Centre, my mother worked at one of the big department stores, Simpsons, for over 12 years and as a child, I wandered every corner of that mall which has seen so many stores come and go and multiple renovations over the decades. I’ve never attended a Nuit Blanche event before that night. There was an electric feel of energy to the mall which I’d never experienced before. I was born in downtown Toronto and lived in Scarborough until my parents decided to move to the east end in 1981. So as much as I’m a Torontonian by birth, I’ve felt disconnected from the city in which I was born. This was an opportunity to become re-connected.
As I walked through the mall to Mark’s installation, I bumped into a familiar face, Randall Adjei, who my 11-year-old son Nathaniel had the blessed opportunity to introduce as a speaker to his peers at Maple Ridge Public School this past February. Mark was busy speaking to someone else and we briefly shook hands and I continued my conversation with Randell. As we moved towards Mark’s installation, I was literally taken aback. As I walked through the glass “hall” leading to the Scarborough Civic Centre, I was enveloped by floor to ceiling transparent photographs superimposed onto the newspaper of the Kings and Queens of Scarborough. Somehow, without words, Mark’s art spoke to my soul.
Familiar faces of Wes Williams (aka Maestro Fresh Wes), Dwayne DeRosario, and Kardinal Official stood out the most from Mark’s larger than life art installation. They stood out for me personally because like most people, I follow them on social media, and every morning I check their posts – not to read about their latest record or newest video or the recent TFC sports score. I check their posts to read their words. There isn’t a day or week that goes by that any of these gentlemen haven’t put up a positive post, an encouraging word, or motivational message on each of their respective pages and at all times they stay connected to the GTA.
Although our paths have crossed briefly, they each have left an indelible impression on me and my family. From the “Toronto Caribbean Business Social” I attended with my mother back in 2017 where Mr. Williams was a featured speaker, to a Kiskofreezies “Mr. Freeze Electroice Sport Soccer Skills Camp” that I won for my son Nathaniel this past summer with Mr. DeRosario, and Mark’s ”Reconnected STC After Party” (held to reconnect the attendees of his Nuit Blanche installation) where I shyly introduced myself and my daughter to Mr. Kardinal himself as fans of his music - these pillars of the community are never too tired to connect to the community at large.
Anyone can take a picture or post a selfie of a “celebrity”. Mark’s installation went beyond “just a photograph”. The expression captured in the eyes of each of these Kings (and Queens), was that of humble regality that showed a look into the distance that projected their hopes and dreams for the youth of Toronto. The photos spoke to you as you walked by with the lights glistening through the transparent newsprint – they seemed to say “Read our stories, don’t be fooled by the glitz and glam. Yes, we have made it, but it came with struggle, hard work, and perseverance. If we can make it, you can too. We are you.” It was the most culturally uplifting spiritual event I’ve ever attended and highly recommend everyone to attend.
Personally speaking, it means a lot to see the faces of these amazing people in the mall where I grew up, to see the faces of children of immigrants who have made some of the greatest contributions to Canadian society, by shining their lights on this part of the world. Having five children (3 girls and 2 boys), all of whom were born in Scarborough, it is an example that I hope my future kings and queens will follow and become leaders themselves when they become adults. I’m beyond grateful to have met Mark Stoddart for creating the wonderful installation that I hope will be a permanent fixture in Scarborough Town Centre, and would like to thank him personally for inviting me to his epic event. So the next time someone asks me “How do you know Mark?” My response will be “He is my incredibly talented artistic new friend, and I highly recommend you check out his work”.
By Sharlene Henry