Create a Positive Change Using Art

Interview with Tina Struthers

By Catherine Bérubé | August 5, 2021

Multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion are among the favorite subjects of Tina Struthers, visual and textile artist. Her works are inspired, among others, by her country of origin, South Africa, but also by her immigration to Canada 13 years ago. She has participated in numerous artistic projects at local, national and international levels. For example, in Quebec, the cultural mediation project entitled “I am” (Je suis) in the city of Vaudreuil-Dorion brought together several leading artists, including Mrs. Struthers, to create collective works aimed at bringing different communities together and combating prejudices. As part of 404 Magazine, she explains how art can create links, interrogations and impromptu encounters to go beyond hatred.

Tell us about your background and your artistic approach?

I am a visual and textile artist from South Africa. I immigrated to Canada in 2008, but I have lived in Quebec since 2011. As an immigrant artist, I fell into the francization system from the start. I have always had a great interest in the needs of others. I try to break down the different barriers between individuals: languages, cultures and origins, religions, etc. These barriers can sometimes create discomfort between individuals. I am very lucky, because in the community of Vaudreuil-Dorion where I settled, there is the “I am” (Je suis) project headed by Michel Vallée, the director of the Recreation and Culture Department at the City of Vaudreuil- Dorion. The idea is to create openness, integration and encounter in the community. I was very lucky, because it was a period when cultural mediation programs and projects were in development. I started with small projects and since then have led over sixty projects in the Montreal area. I also have a background as a professional artist in textile art. I have numerous exhibitions and I am often selected in contemporary textile art internationally. I have received several grants from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and the Canada Council for the Arts in research and creation. I think it’s really important to get involved in the community and build bridges between artists and citizens, but also between individuals. At the centre of it all, I believe that a joint creation between two individuals helps to break down barriers through natural conversation. Openness to others reduces fear and therefore the risk of feeling hatred.

“Openness to others reduces fear and therefore the risk of feeling hatred.”

For the second edition of 404 Magazine, we have chosen the theme: “Beyond hatred”. How does this theme echo your work and how does your artistic approach fit into a movement of social mobilization and the fight against hatred?

For my community art, I always choose themes or subjects that unify. It’s very interesting in my personal approach, because in the interactions I have with citizens, they tell me all kinds of stories. Often, in these privileged moments of trust, people tell me terrible stories. In my personal works, I react to more violent situations and subjects, as well as to the fact that one becomes less tolerant of violence and hate-motivated acts. I recognize that, in my social and community projects, I do not act in a concrete or conscious sense to fight hatred, but I try to create balms of love. I don’t see myself as an anti-hate activist, but I think, if you want to fight hatred, you have to create an eye-catching moment for the audience. Create a moment where, for example, you have a Muslim woman sit next to a Christian woman who would not necessarily cross paths in normal times. In this moment of sharing and openness, we learn that there is no reason to be afraid, that they have the same dreams for their children and the same concerns.

What are the thoughts and reactions stimulated by your works?

It depends on the type of project and the type of work. I did small projects with targeted groups. I followed them for several sessions or several months to create change in individuals. There are also sometimes large-scale public art projects, and these create a bond with the community or place. I try to create a community identity that is catchy in the shared memories. I find that there is nothing better than public art created in a participatory way. It generates a kind of pride and a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging or inclusion is very important, because when you feel excluded from society, you can feel victimized, and this can feed hatred. It is essential to avoid this.

In your opinion, what have been the impacts of the pandemic on social mobilization through art?

The pandemic has had a big impact on social and interactive projects. Several projects have been stopped or postponed. Nevertheless, the pandemic gave birth to several interesting projects. On the participation side, it was tough, but we adapted by doing the activities and workshops virtually. We presented art and creation workshops and had conversations about contemporary arts. We were trying to create weekly meetings for the individuals who were stuck at home. They really enjoyed the experience. Having this exchange allowed them to forget the worries and stress of the pandemic. For visual artists it was a tough time, but suddenly we had an opportunity to access exhibitions all over the world, as artist conferences were made accessible through Zoom.

What are the consequences of feeling excluded with regard to the notion of living together and what can art bring to this dilemma?

Art, through social projects, makes it possible to reach out to vulnerable, fragile or excluded audiences. I have been fortunate to have worked with teens with physical or mental disabilities, or marginalized groups. In addition, I love working with immigrants in francization, because they feel excluded and marginalized in relation to the language. Many people are not open and curious enough to discuss these topics. We are naturally curious, but we have been conditioned to bury this curiosity, so as not to be rude. Still, it’s super important to develop that curiosity while showing respect, because it helps alleviate questions, fears, and distances between people who are marginalized.

As an artist, what part do you play in changing attitudes and putting an end to this hatred?

For me, it’s important to use the power of art to try to create change. You should never underestimate the intelligence of the audience or that of the spectator. I prefer to create a place for reflection for the viewer and arouse curiosity. I try to be a bit of an instigator, in the sense that I sometimes talk about heavy topics without forcing my opinion. I want the spectator to be able to question themselves to leave a more positive mark on the planet.

“For me, it’s important to use the power of art to try to create change.”

What do you think of the current artistic community in Quebec? Are there any changes that should be made to render it a more inclusive environment?

Always, and not just in Quebec. As an immigrant woman who works with textiles, it has not been easy to be taken seriously in the arts. Right away, when you’re doing public art and you come up with some pretty different ideas, you have to be organized to be taken seriously. It’s hard to be understood as an artist. It’s important to talk, to explain, and to be patient. In Quebec, we are lucky to have the Conseil des arts et des lettres, which offers very innovative and very interesting projects in support of artists. There are also several organizations in Montreal, and I find it increasingly inclusive. It allows citizens and artists to benefit from a very diverse visual voice. But there is still work to be done. There are always preconceptions and archaic notions that we must fight against. There is a way to create more lasting change that doesn’t involve violence but revolves around respecting others and their opinions.

In closing, what message do you want people to take away from your art?

That we have to question our truths and not just accept them. You have to be the change to create the future you need.

For more information on his various artistic projects, visit the website:

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