Ella Cooper, Artist – Toronto

(Photo: Yvonne Bambrick)

Ella Cooper is an award-winning cultural producer, facilitator, photo-video artist, educator, and programmer. Her photo series Witness was recently selected as an Editor’s Pick in Canadian Art magazine and can be seen until January 21 in the Fentster window gallery as well as the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Born in Power group show until April 18.

Ella is also the founder of Black Women Film! Canada, a new support network and leadership initiative dedicated to the development of Black women filmmakers across Canada. In addition, she is known for facilitating and designing transformational creative workshops and leadership programs around the world.

She recently received the Tiffany’s 2020 Hometown Hero Award, was nominated for the 2019 TAC Mayors Arts Award for cultural leadership, and featured as one of 33 Black Canadians Making Change in Chatelaine magazine. Her work continues to receive support from the Toronto, Ontario, and Canada Arts Council, and has been presented in galleries, public spaces, and film festivals in Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Berlin.

  1. Motherhood

When I became a solo mom by choice two and a half years ago, I could never have guessed how completely my life and my creative practice would be changed and equally inspired by this intense rite of passage. I continue to challenge myself to keep creating work that centers my experience instead of hiding mother life or putting it on the margins. Whether it’s setting up my camera on self-timer in my living room or taking photographs of m/others in the community, my camera has continued to be an important tool for documenting, playing, and creating new representations of what it means to be a m/other today.

  1. Turning photos of Queer love into illustration and then embroidery…

I have a closet full of crafts, paints, thread, and fabric. With the call to stay at home, I found myself less and less interested in creating online and started to find more solace in working with my hands. Before everything went into complete lockdown, I managed to sign up for an embroidery class at the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre in Scarborough this fall. It was the last class they were able to run. There were five or six of us, physically distanced, all wearing masks at our own designated tables. I still got a high from finally getting to be around community. Since discovering the potential of embroidery and how well it pairs with Netflix binging and wine, I’ve continued to learn new techniques through the online Domestika courses lead by contemporary Latino and Mexican textile artists. This included learning how to turn my photography into illustrations and then into embroidered portraits. It has me revisiting the one thousand images of love and lust I took with photographer Sean Howard in the photo/kissing booth we ran for World Pride and turning them into embroidered portraits of queer love.

  1. Moving Meditation with Denise Fujiwara

As an extrovert, I don’t love having to take workshops from the “comfort” of my home; however, I am still incredibly thankful for the amazing dance and mindfulness offerings that are now online and accessible to all skill levels. For my latest series currently on at WAG and Fentster, I used Butoh classes in Berlin to access the emotional landscapes that finally became a largescale self-portrait series. I’m never sure what Denise Fujiwara’s zoom classes will inspire in me, but I am so thankful to the amazing senior teachers like her for creating engaging yet meditative workshops that allow me to find centre and move around my space in different ways.

  1. Playing with my old Mamiya camera and getting ready for Scarborough Bluffs beach life again

Years back I bought a used Mamiya RB67 camera for $200 at the Toronto vintage camera show, then let it collect dust until COVID hit. As everything moved online and inside, I started spending as much time as possible with my little one outside, while buying rolls of medium format film and learning how to use this beast of a camera. Scarborough Bluffs and other masked moments became my jam.

  1. Skating and coffee in Riverdale Park

Rooster Coffee on Broadview is my go-to coffee joint when I need a fix of sweet espresso and a view overlooking Riverdale Park for a feeling of new normalcy. Now that I have a pair of outdoor skates to boot, I have yet another way to fight the doldrums of pandemic life this winter.