Combating Stigma through Art and Community

Submitted by connor@tamarack... on May 1, 2017 - 5:09am

Toronto is the biggest city in Canada and one of the most diverse places in the world.  It has a population of almost 3 million people and 51% of its residents are born outside of Canada. The city is known for its incredible food, shopping, art and tourism industries. Along with these booming sectors, there are also high rates of poverty and inequality in certain areas of Toronto.

These unfortunate aspects of these communities have created a stigma which only focuses on the negative aspects and never the positive. As humans, we tend to base our opinion off what we see. We seldom indulge into things to further understand them because we are often content with our visual assumptions. This way of thinking drives the creative talent of Rania El Mugmmar, an inclusion educator and local artist from Toronto.

Photo by Noor Al Mosawi

Photo by Noor Al Mosawi

Rania hopes to challenge the negative stigma surrounding her community by creating pieces of art that highlight the positive aspects. Her and a group of other artists are working together to illustrate what the neighborhood of St. James Town means to them.

“These young artists are painfully aware of the colour, class and status lines that divide St. James Town and their lives from the rest of Toronto, and the art that is born here is political and necessary, if only by virtue of its place of birth.” - Rania El Mugmmar

 In her personal essay published on CBC, she tells stories of how her community makes her feel safe because of the collective philosophy shared by her neighbors. Rania shares a glimpse into her typical day where she walks to her work, only a couple of blocks away from her home. The most intriguing part of her walk to work, is that she leaves an hour early, despite living close to work. She takes this additional time to connect with her neighbors and other people in the community. Rania knows most of the local store owners and residents by a first name basis and checks in on them every day before work. Another aspect of Rania’s community is the aspect of food and how it brings people closer together. 

“ . . . , St. James Town builds its sense of community around kitchen tables. Whether we eat with bare hands, chopsticks or spoons, sharing food turns neighbours into chosen family.” - Rania El Mugmmar

Photo by Noor Al Mosawi 

This quote resonates with what Deepening Communities continues to achieve and with Paul Born and his book “Deepening Community – Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times”. Paul opens his book with the concept of bringing chicken noodle soup to your neighbor when they are ill. Paul brings to the surface of how giving chicken noodle soup isn’t an easy task. It requires one to know their neighbour, to know they are not vegetarian, to know if they even like chicken noodle soup and, it requires great communication. This devotion that Rania gives to her community makes her a good neighbour and the passion she puts into her art to address the negative stigma put on her community, makes her an outstanding leader.

Make sure to check out Rania’s website for more incredible artwork and to learn more about her work as an inclusion educator!

Did you like this blog? Want to talk about the topic further? Let me know! Send me an email:

Further Reading:

1. Art, Science and Community Connections

2. Check out Paul Born's Book - Deepening Community - Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times

3. Visit Tamrack's Full Resource Library