Each week, What's Online will feature a curated selection of Koffler.Digital artist projects and publications, Koffler Gallery exhibitions and online gallery publications, features on recent community-engaged programs, as well as podcasts of past Books & Ideas events, talks and discussions.

This week, we’ve been sharing snapshots on Instagram and Facebook of a work in progress: Without Borders, Without Limits, a photography and writing project with newcomer and refugee seniors. In partnership with CultureLink and JAYU, and generously funded by the Government of Ontario, Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility and the Ontario Arts Council, this community-engaged project began in January 2020 and was initially scheduled to culminate in late March. Sadly, due to the COVID-19 crisis, we had to postpone the final workshops and public exhibition.

During the initial three months of workshops with writers, youth photographers from JAYU’s iAM program, settlement workers and translators, our group of remarkable Mandarin and Spanish-speaking seniors drew from personal narratives, memories and lived experiences to write stories and create collage-based portraits.

Seniors Liaison Marie Margis has provided insightful and caring community leadership in consultation with representatives from various newcomer and refugee seniors communities, to ensure the project consistently reflects the needs and interests of the senior participants. 

"I witnessed the writing and photography program boost spirits and socialization to a great deal, and was impacted by this group and the cultural values they live and breathe. Suppressed heartfelt stories emerged. In a few simple words with deep tonality, I quote the newcomer seniors: 'What we are doing here is sooo good for us. We love you and thank you for the opportunity to tell our stories.'"

Once it's safe for us to gather again in groups, we'll share their finished photo collages and stories as a public exhibition in English and in their mother tongues, highlighting and honouring the cultural significance of language.

Until then, we’re doing our best to stay connected with our senior participants via whatsapp, email and phone. We invite you to enjoy looking through these reflections from our creative team and participants, text and images from this meaningful project in progress.

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Without Borders, Without Limits is generously funded by the Government of Ontario, Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility and the Ontario Arts Council.

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Storytelling is often described as a universal language. Throughout the Without Borders, Without Limits workshop process, writers Fan Wu and Norberto Rosalez broke through language barriers between the Spanish and Mandarin-speaking seniors using intercultural oral storytelling activities, while encouraging them to develop confidence in shaping their memories and personal histories, into written narratives.

We look forward to resuming the creative process with our project participants, so they can complete and share their stories with the public, as part of the Without Borders, Without Limits online publication and public exhibition in Fall 2020. For now, we’d like to share these poignant reflections from the workshop process, from writers Norberto Rosalez and Fan Wu. 

“My relationship to my Mandarin heritage feels always nascent, and it was a pleasure to work with seniors who are just as much bound by diasporic experience as I was, but from a completely different angle. So it was exciting to see the Mandarin seniors' feelings as we worked through memories and details of the past, and the emotions ranged from ecstatic pride, melancholy silences, and forthright gratitude.” – Fan Wu

“I immediately noticed that they had a vocabulary and idioms very different from mine and that many times I found myself asking them what they meant by a certain expression or word. I didn’t want this richness to be standardized with grammatical rules...but rather honor it as a characteristic cultural manifestation of the diverse richness in the Latin American language.” – Norberto Rosalez


Writer bios:

Born in Baoding, China and based in Toronto, Fan Wu’s practice moves between community organizing and poetry -- activating language’s capacities and exploring language’s beyond.

Culture writer, novelist and literature teacher, Norberto Rosalez, recently migrated to Canada less than two years ago, from Rosario, Argentina.


Social isolation is a reality experienced by many seniors, particularly those with lived experiences as immigrants and refugees. Our primary focus throughout the Without Borders, Without Limits workshop process has been to build an inclusive community of seniors from various backgrounds, through collaborative storytelling, writing and photography.  

Having migrated so recently to Canada from Ecuador, Carolina Dávila-Egüez worked closely with our creative team and participating seniors, and provided thoughtful insight as a community liaison and translator:

“The secret of building community with this marvellous group lies in that bond based on love, respect and admiration that I have for these immigrant seniors. I treat them like my own parents, with all my love, support, encouragement, attention and care. I do not think working with this wonderful Latin American and Chinese group of seniors is a coincidence, I truly believe I chose them to learn from them and, this is exactly what is happening, I am always learning with them.”




During these days of quarantine, we’ve been doing our best to stay connected with our group of senior participants. Photographer Celeste Cole, program manager of JAYU’s iAM program, created a series of photography prompts for the seniors to continue practicing their photography skills that they learned during the Without Borders, Without Limits workshops.

“During the workshops we were able to hear the senior participants share stories that shaped them through their life journeys. Thankful we had the opportunity to take part in building this community pre-Covid. Being physically present to see and hear thoughts shared in Mandarin, in Spanish, then translated back and forth, was pretty amazing. I look forward to seeing their photography created during this lockdown period. Working with these engaged seniors has inspired insights for future programming, and navigating post-Covid life."

Koffler family FoundationCIBC Wood GundyOntario Arts Council | Conseil Des Arts De L'OntarioToronto Arts Council | Funded by the City of TorontoCanada Council