Sheridan Photography Student Co-Creates Ryerson Foreign Encounters Project

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With the motto “Diversity Our Strength”, diversity is a critical part of Toronto’s urban vernacular, identity and pride. However, the public messaging around diversity is often oversimplified and banal, and rarely comes to terms with the complex nature of living in a diverse city.FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS is an innovative, interactive art project that explores the nuances of living with diversity through the personal stories of young Torontonians.

FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS began at Ryerson University with a call-to-action for the community to submit real, uncensored experiences with diversity. With over 250 submissions, the stories ranged from unabashed accounts of positive, transformational moments, to awkward and sometimes heartbreaking encounters. These sometimes controversial stories are a testament to the complexities that surround our understanding and appreciation of diversity.

25-year-old Shamima Orny who recently decided to wear a hijab, shares “some people say I’m oppressed and they’re free. I don’t think ‘free’ is the right word to describe it, because I feel free in my hijab”. Yuriy Malkov, a Russian immigrant, describes how moving into Toronto’s Gay Village changed his prejudices: “Moving to Church Street turned out to be one of the best and fun times of my life”.

These stories and more have been re-imagined into a series of colourful portraits featuring the real-life faces behind these authentic Toronto tales. Featuring real Torontonians, not models, these photographs present a fresh and unconventional alternative to a stereotypical diversity campaign. Rather than proposing a catch-all definition of diversity, FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS presents personal stories about diversity that Torontonians can truly relate to.



FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS is conceived and created by Madeleine Collective, a Toronto-based art and design collective, in collaboration with photographer, Sheridan College Bachelor of Photography student William Pemulis, and Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute.

A research partner on the project, Diversity Institute is examining the current perceptions of diversity and inclusion from Toronto youth. Results from the study will be showcased at the European Group of Organizational Studies Conference in the Netherlands in July 2014.

Madeleine Collective, consists of Ryerson University staff Cheryl Hsu, Alexandra Hong (both from the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation), and alumna Nicole Bazuin (Faculty of Communication and Design – Image Arts, ‘10). Madeleine Collective has presented projects in the Luminato Festival, Nuit Blanche, and Art of the Danforth.

FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS is generously supported by the Ashoka U and PhotoWings Insights Grant. The project represented Ryerson University at the Ashoka U Exchange Conference at Brown University in the United States in February 2014. Ashoka is an organization globally recognized for its efforts in driving social change through its prestigious Ashoka Fellows program. Recently named the first Canadian Ashoka U Changemaker campus, Ryerson is one of twenty-plus universities globally designated as a Changemaker campus.

Stories and photos are featured on the FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS



Instagram: ForeignEncounters


Alexandra Hong



* Full stories for images above:

Shamima’s Story: “Growing up in Canada, I didn’t wear a hijab. When I made the decision to start wearing the hijab here, some of my friends accepted my decision, but others seemed to not like the change in me. Some people say I’m oppressed and that they’re free. I don’t think “free” is the right word to describe it, because I feel free in my hijab. My hijab means pride, freedom, and my identity.”

Yuriy’s Story: “When I moved to Church Street, I was not aware it was Toronto’s gay village. As we were moving in, I saw four buffed-up guys outside my building, and I thought “wow! I’m going to work out too!” Then one of them turned around and said “welcome to the gay-bourhood!” and I thought, “this has disaster written all over it.” I’m originally from Russia, and there they aren’t very accepting of the gay community. But it turned out to be one of the best and fun times of my life.”

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