Chain Reaction 2021–2022

In Here and There Althea Balmes and Jo SiMalaya Alcampo of Kwentong Bayan Collective present three digital stories about the experiences of Migrant Care Workers.

Chain Reaction Series

Robert Langen Art Gallery’s exhibition programs are valued and well-respected educational resources for Laurier students, faculty and public at large. Chain Reaction represents an online series of collaborations between the gallery and faculty members to integrate a contemporary arts component into areas of course study.

The objective of this experiential learning opportunity is to provide a shared environment where academic and artistic perspectives can come together to foster an exchange of ideas, ignite creative thinking and explore critical debate. Students are invited by the Art Gallery Curator to create a response to a selected work of art that relates to the concepts or issues discussed in their assigned course. The response can be in the form of video essay, creative literary piece, drawing, painting, photograph, spoken word, etc. — the course professor will determine or approve the student’s selected approach.

 

Kwentong Bayan Collective

Artists Althea Balmes (she/her) and Jo SiMalaya Alcampo (they/them, siya), known together a Kwentong Bayan Collective, are smiling at the camera sitting side by side. On the left, Althea is wearing a red scarf that matches Jo’s red shirt on the right. The artists are pictured in front of a background of lush green plant leaves. The picture is cropped into a circle.Black and white illustration of care workers marching, drawn by Kwentong Bayan Collective. A banner is held up by five figures who are women, queer and trans workers, which says, Caregivers are skilled workers. All of the figures are smiling. Two of the figures have their fists raised in a gesture of unity and solidarity. The figure on the right end of the sign is reaching out to touch the shoulder of another woman who just joined the group to march with a baby pushcart. In the cart sits a stuffed animal beside a young child that looks asleep. Along the bottom of the image is the text, Kwentong Bayan Collective

 

In 2012, Althea Balmes and Jo SiMalaya Alcampo formed Kwentong Bayan Collective to explore an intersectional approach to community-based art, labour, and education. In the Filipino language, kwentong bayan literally translates to "community stories". Since then, they have exhibited their work across Canada and internationally. Their art is taught in post-secondary schools and as part of the Ontario school curriculum.

A major part of Kwentong Bayan Collective’s work is in collaboration with Migrant Care Workers who support Canadian families to care for children, seniors, and those with complex medical needs. Many also work as Personal Support Workers, Cleaners and other Front-line labourers during the global pandemic.

 

Here and There (selected videos), 2021

Here and There was first exhibited at Myseum of Toronto’s Intersections Festival, as a series of eight digital stories, by and about, the experiences of Migrant Care Workers. Migrant Workers already know how to socially distance, dividing their mind, body, heart, and spirit when they separate from their loved ones for years to work abroad. Through the art of storytelling, Here and There explores the rhythms of this dual life; how love transcends time and space; and what we can all learn from this time of lockdown and revolution.

Three of these stories are featured in Chain Reaction in partnership with the Robert Langen Art Gallery. The featured stories and storytellers are The Thirst Of A Mother’s Love by Anna Lissa, I Am Determined to Be A Survivor by Gladys, Back Home and If I Could Snap My Fingers by Yolanda.

Acknowledgements:

The Here and There series were developed with the support of theatre artist, Karen Ancheta and digital storytelling facilitator, Christine Balmes. Kwentong Bayan Collective responded to each story with illustrations and audio soundscapes.

Kwentong Bayan Collective would also like to acknowledge the support of: Museum of Toronto, the Ontario Arts Council, Care Worker Connections, Education and Support Organization (CCESO), Martha Ocampo, Bong Castro, and all the Storytellers for making this work possible.

Here and There was dreamed up and manifested in the Indigenous territories under the Dish With One Spoon covenant. We offer our deep thanks to the traditional caretakers of this land who allowed our community to live, love and create alongside them.

We wish to also thank Wilfrid Laurier University, Suzanne Luke, Professor Eleanor Ty, and Marissa Largo for their support with the Chain Reaction exhibition.

-Althea Balmes and Jo SiMalaya Alcampo

The Thirst of Mother's Love

Description of "The Thirst of Mother's Love"

This video description is provided for the blind, Deafblind, and visually impaired.

Illustrated image in watercolour effect, the drawings in the background are pale yellow with vibrant pink lines and pale pink fill to colour the figures. In the foreground is the storyteller, Anna Lissa, a Filipino woman drawn head and shoulders with shoulder-length black hair, a purple shirt, and a big smile. In the background, to the left of the Anna Lissa, is a drawing of her mother, an older Filipino woman holding pink flowers. To the right of the Anna Lissa, there is a church building with a cross on top and more pink flowers. 

 

Yellow text scrolling over a static background image close up of pink tulips in a green field. 

“If you ever feel of giving up,  

just remember there is a little girl 

who can be your strength. 

Stand up, show up and breathe, 

your child needs you. 

Ask for God’s mercy and grace to  

strengthen you. 

Give your best no matter what life 

has thrown at you.” 

 

Static image close up of pink tulips in a green field, zooms out to wider screen to see white flowers in foreground. 

 

[Karen’s voice, reading story of Anna Lisa]: This was my mother’s word every time I felt like giving up.  

 

When I felt weak and helpless.  

When all I can do is shed tears with no way of holding them back.  

She was gone too soon. 

Static image of smiling face of elderly Filipino woman against plain pale pink wall. Image zooms out to wider view where vibrant pink bouquet is visible in woman’s arms. 

She fought it harder than anyone I know. 

Armed with God’s mercy and grace. 

With all her strength she held on.

Static image of a field of yellow and red flowers. Image zooms out to show fuller image of field which fades to black and white. 

 

Back home, when pandemic lockdown came, 

the elderly people back home were strictly prohibited outdoors. 

Where we live there was no way to travel. 

 

All my mother’s appointments for her life saving treatment had to be put on hold. 

As lockdown continued, treatments were cancelled. 

This caused the cells to become active. 

Slowly it spread to other parts of her body. 

Static image of single lit candle cupped in palm of hands, focus on flame and surrounding light against darkness of background. Image zooms out to capture the full cupped hands illuminated by the candle; the rest of the figure is not visible. 

With her strong faith and braveness my sweet mother battled. 

She fought it harder than anyone I know. 

Armed with God’s mercy and grace, 

with all her strength she held on. 

Static close up image of red hibiscus flower in background. Image zooms in to close up of yellow centre of flower. 

2015 was our last meeting in person. 

That same year my father passed away. 

That same year when I had my vacation. 

 

This is the reason why I can’t get over this easily. 

This time of global pandemic, when I can’t do anything but “stay at home,” 

I can’t get back home! 

I can’t even take my mom to her final resting place.

Static image of a red, orange, and yellow tulip. 

Armed with God’s mercy and grace, 

with all her strength she held on

Static image of figurine of angel with cherubs at their feet. Image pans up the body of the figure, coming to rest and zoom in on their face which is encircled by a luminous halo.  

My PR is coming soon! Just a few more months. Hold on. 

To think that I thought things would be more certain with time. 

Be patient. Hold on, I told myself. 

I planned.  

Static image of a garden with tropical plants, groundcover, shrubbery, and a stone pathway. The shot blurs until the image is an unrecognizable panel of colours. 

This year, I will go back to visit back home and reunite with my family.

But even when the time will come and I am able to travel back home, 

my mom is no longer around. 

Static image of hand with open palm turned upward, surrounded by darkness. Shot zooms out to reveal another hand, palm turned down above the open hand, reaching out as though to touch.

She fought harder than anyone I know. 

Armed with God’s mercy and grace. 

With all her strength she held on. 

 

I miss all her loving support and advices. 

Every challenge, everything each challenge strikes me

Static close up image of field of white and red tulips. 

Now I have to learn to stand without her. 

It will be harder to achieve all my goals. 

I love my mom beyond measure. 

Everyday my tears shed. 

Static image of the storyteller and her mother smiling on the street. 

Every day I think of her, our daily conversations. 

She is where I gained my strength. 

What would you say, mom? What do you think about that? 

Working far from home is not easy. 

I don’t have a single first family in Canada where I could run to. 

She was home. 

Static close up image of field of white and pink tulips. Image zooms out to capture more of the field, with pink shaded flowers in the background. 

With her strong faith and braveness she battled her Stage 3 diagnosed breast cancer. 

She fought it harder than anyone I know. 

Armed with God’s mercy and grace,  

with all her strength she held on until it progressively reached the last stage. 

I hold on

Here and There (selected videos), 2021

 

Video Title: “The Thirst Of Mother’s Love” by Anna Lissa
Medium: Digital Storytelling Video
Running Time: 5 min. 16 sec.

 

I Am Determined to Be A Survivor

Description of "I Am Determined to Be A Survivor"

This video description is provided for the blind, Deafblind, and visually impaired.

[hospital sounds including beeping of medical machines, ambulance sirens wailing, and murmuring voices of doctors and nurses] 

(text on screen): 

(Recorded) 

Here: Our designated room, somewhere in one of the COVID Isolation Center of Toronto  

There: Cagayan Valley, Philippines

Illustrated image in watercolour effect, the drawings in the background are pale yellow with green lines and lavender filling the background space. In the foreground is Gladys, the storyteller, a Filipino woman drawn head and shoulders with shoulder-length black hair and a soft smile. In the background to the left of the woman, three other female figures are pictured hugging by a bus stop, with the COVID-19 virus, balloons and banners floating around. To the right of Gladys is a sign asking people to keep a 2-meter social distance in the Filipino language. 

Webcam video of Gladys pictured head and shoulders. She is lit from behind. On the grey wall behind her are three panels of generic linear abstract art in brown tones.  

 

"I am here in Toronto, Canada. Year 2021. 

Inside my hotel room where fourteen days I will be isolating with my youngest son. 

Just ended our second wave lockdown due to COVID pandemic, and now fear is growing because a third wave might happen due to the increasing cases of different variants. 

Stay Safe

Keep Your Distance

Wear Mask

Wash your Hands Properly

Sanitize Stay at Home  

Isolate

These are the words you usually hear and read all over the place or world. "

A montage of images begins, all picturing a large paper bag with handles and pre-packaged food inside, placed on the patterned carpets of hotel hallways outside of Gladys’s hotel quarantine room. 

"The changes in our daily routines, the way we show our affection, and how we socialize. 

Back in the days, when I was in the Philippines"

Static image that zooms out on street scene and city plaza in the Philippines. Two cars line the side of the road, and in the background are vibrant green trees and open nature space.

"I remember. I remember a place where you can go freely. "

Static image pans sideways from left to right. Many people are gathered, including families with young children, all sitting on a ledge in the city that surrounds a tree with cars parked in the background.  

"A place where you can go anytime, anywhere to chat, eat or have a party all day! "

Static image of people playing on a playground in the city with trees in the background and people walking by.  

"Where you can sing and dance without fearing you will catch the virus."

 

Static image of man with grey hair and a mustache. He is smiling at the baby he is holding up in front of him. They are indoors and facing the camera at a quarter profile. 

"Where you can have a tight hugs and kisses to your love ones."

Static image zooms in on a lineup of people at a wrought iron fence atop a stone wall. The top of the fence is waist height and is lined with tall white candles that are burning. The people look solemn with heads bowed. 

 

"Where family gathering is your usual holiday plan. 

Webcam video of Filipino woman pictured head and shoulders. She is lit from behind. On the grey wall behind her are three panels of linear abstract art in brown tones.  

Those are the moments that I missed back there.  

How I wish to go back there. 

Now, here and there have the same situation.
 

Static image of man with glasses and short black hair pictured head and shoulders. He is wearing a blue medical mask and white gloves. His left hand is on his head, gripping his hair in a gesture of stress and uncertainty. He is looking down, away from the camera.

"Everyone is affected. Some are coping, some are desperate. Some are struggling to breath, others doesn’t anymore. 

Webcam video of Filipino woman pictured head and shoulders. She is lit from behind. On the grey wall behind her are three panels of linear abstract art in brown tones.  

Most of us are hoping that this will soon end. But there is no certainty when. "

 

Static image zooms out on lush marina. The water is smooth with reflections of the sailboats and boathouse building pictured. In the background are sandy cliffs lined with green trees. 

"What I want is to feel and breathe a fresh air. Now, I know its essence. How important it is."  

Webcam video of Filipino woman pictured head and shoulders. She is lit from behind. On the grey wall behind her are three panels of linear abstract art in brown tones.  

"So simple before, now too dangerous! However stressful and tiring it is, I am determined to be a survivor."

[gentle music of plucked strings] 

[ventilator pumping air] 

[hospital staff chattering] 

[elevator bell dings] 

Here and There (selected videos), 2021
Video Title: “I Am Determined to Be A Survivor” by Gladys
Medium: Digital Storytelling Video
Running Time: 3 min. 35 sec.

 

Back Home and If I Could Snap My Fingers

Description of Back Home and If I Could Snap My Fingers

This description is provided for the blind, Deafblind, and visually impaired.

Text appears

Here and There

Presented by

Kwentong Bayan Collective

Next text

In collaboration with

Careworkers Connection Education and Support Organization (CCESO)

Karen Ancheta – Storyteller, Facilitator

Christine Balmes – Video Editor

Artist’s video Starts

The video is made up of two parts. The first is “Back home” and the Second is “If I Could snap My fingers”

Sounds of indistinct voices while someone is cutting. Text appears

Back home & If I could snap my fingers by Yolanda     

The camera moves down as someone whistles. water turns on. near a drawing of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem Text now reads,

Here: Richmond Hill, my bedroom at my employer’s home

There: Zamboanga, Mindanao Philippines

The camera moves to show more of the drawn image

In the foreground is the storyteller, Yolanda, a Filipino woman drawn head and shoulders with long black hair, gazing straight ahead. To the left of Yolanda there is a coconut tree with coconuts, an airplane in takeoff, and a kamayan dinner or Filipino traditional style of eating with hands. Beside the coconut tree is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. To the right of Yolanda are bubbles floating in the air. 

 Throughout the video, Yolanda speaks as pictures appear

"Back home at the Philippines, I see many kids running the surroundings at the house and every morning they are playing a game.”

I’m looking at them. I feel happy. I remember when I was a young child that’s what I do every morning, my mother said

I breathe in, and the air smells fresh, especially early in the morning". 

The picture is of a street scene in the Philippines. There is lush tropical foliage and trees lining the street where young children are playing with bikes and basketballs.

New picture

"The green grass is wet. The temperature is normal because we live in the province."  

Lush green hill covered by trees. At the top of the hill sits a small wooden shack with a peaked roof. The image pans on a diagonal down to the left, down the hill to see another small shack.

New picture

"I see, always at my side, is my youngest son. He love to talk to me every minute! I see all of us. My kids sharing a room, they love to sleep with me at their side."

The picture is of three boys playing, seen from behind. One boy is on a bike, and two boys are sitting in a cart alongside the bike. In the cart, the boy on the right has his arm around the one on the left, and both children are smiling and looking over their shoulders at the camera. The image zooms out so the boys can be seen on the street, with the boy on the bike looking over his shoulder with a more serious expression. 

New picture

"I breathe in and I remember, our room smells always of food. We love to cook a food every day.  

We eat together, always." 

The picture is of meat cooking in a sauce with onions sliced into rings and simmering on top. The image zooms out until the rim of the pot is pictured. 

Fade to black. First video ends.

The second video by the artist

If I Could Snap My Fingers

Yoland speaks as pictures appear

"If I could snap my fingers. Yes, if I could snap my fingers… like this!" fingers snap

Picture of beach, hazy at dawn. Colours are mostly grey and light blue. The image pans to the right, where the silhouettes of two female figures are seen walking side by side on the beach.  

"If only with the snap of my fingers and I could go anywhere in the world at any time! 

In just one blink of my eyes, I wish to go to Holy Land."

New picture

"I would go to the Holy Land with my whole family. "

Picture of Jerusalem, with crowds of people on the street and a skyline full of tops of buildings. The rounded golden peak of the Dome of the Rock contrasts against the grey clouds in the sky. 

New picture

"That is my dream. I want my family to be happy."

A picture of Jerusalem provides another angle to view the golden top of the Dome of the Rock. Silhouettes of people are in the foreground of the image, while a stone wall towers to the left, and the Dome central to the image. 

New picture

"And I want them to experience going to a nice place, just to enjoy life, to have a memorable experience, together." 

A picture of a close up on the Dome of the Rock with the golden top. The image zooms out to capture the elaborate royal blue, green, turquoise, and yellow tile work and the stone pillars lining the monument’s entrance. 

New picture

"I love to travel with my family. It’s so nice, visiting places with your family. "

A picture of rooftops and buildings, mostly beige and sand colour with some trees in the distance.

New picture

"Ah, if only I could just snap my fingers." 

A picture of skyline of roofs and buildings with a pale blue sky and puffy white clouds. Tops of churches, synagogues, and other places of worship are visible through symbols on top of spires that contour the skyline.

Man chanting sacred prayer as credits appear

Credits

“Back home”

Written by Yolanda

Performed by Bong Castro

Illustrations and soundscapes by Kwentong Bayan Collective

Photo Credits, list

Sound Credits, list

 

“If I Could Snap My Fingers”

Written by Yolanda

Performed by Bong Castro

Illustrations and soundscapes by Kwentong Bayan Collective

Photo Credits, list

Sound Credits, list

Supported and funded by

Myseum: Intersections

Museum of Toronto, Intersections Festival 2021

With additional funding from

Ontario Arts Council, an Ontario Government Agency                                              

Here and There was dreamed up and manifested in the Indigenous territories under the “Dish With One Spoon”.

Isang malaking Salamat to the traditional caretakers of the land who allowed our community to live, love, & create along side them.

Agyaman kami kadakayoamin.

Kwentong Bayan Collective

2021

 

Here and There (selected videos), 2021
Video Title: “Back Home” and “If I Could Snap My Fingers” by Yolanda
Medium: Digital Storytelling Video
Running Time: 3 min. 10 sec.

 

EN420A Life Writing and Digital Media Course Assignment

In the 2021 Fall term, students in EN420A Life Writing and Digital Media under the guidance of Dr. Eleanor Ty explored course materials on self life writing in the 21st century, focusing on the use and influence of digital media, particularly how advanced technologies such as social media, databases, digital audio, video and fashion can mediate and remediate our identities.

Using the Here and There project by the Kwentong Bayan Collective as a springboard for inspiration, students worked either independently or in groups to create a digital media presentation of a life story of someone they know and/or admire. Through these digital media presentations student will engage in their own personal narration using objects, photos, or videos to engage with themes such as desire, loss, self-representation, family, belonging, and memory.

On behalf of the Robert Langen Art Gallery, I would like to thank our participating students for their creativity, and willingness to share their projects with our Laurier community.

 

Suzanne Luke, Curator
Robert Langen Art Gallery