2023, the 23rd year of the 3rd millennium, is, according to the UN, the international year of Millets. Millet is a super grain – high in protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. It is grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human consumption. As the global climate emergency worsens, the war in Ukraine continues and economic disparities rise, we all face degrees of food insecurity.
In these uncertain times, superstitious beliefs can provide a false sense of control over our lives and provide some relief from anxiety. According to Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion, “superstitions are found probably in all human societies.” These unscientific beliefs may be religious, cultural, or personal but once you know that a superstition applies, most people don’t want to tempt fate.
This year’s series, There is superstition is a collaboration between myself and 12 guest artists. Each video will focus on a superstition proposed by one of the artists. Through different collaborative methods we will create a short video presented the first of each month. So, I dare you to step on a crack, break a mirror and schedule an important event on the Friday the 13th.
Fatik Baran Mandal, Superstitions: A Culturally Transmitted Human Behavior, International Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 8 No. 4, 2018, pp. 65-69. doi: 10.5923/j.ijpbs.20180804.02. http://article.sapub.org/10.5923.j.ijpbs.20180804.02.html
Frazer, Sir James George. “The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion” Cosmo Publications, 2005.
Tao po directly translates to ‘human’ for the word tao, and po indicates respect (there is no English equivalent). “I am a human being” is the more common translation from Tagalog. This phrase is the polite way of requesting permission to enter a person’s home or private interior in the Philippines, similar to the gesture of knocking on a door.
Growing up in the Philippines, I accepted that this was a traditional courtesy when you are visiting someone. You say it to both check if somebody is home, as well as to let any potential people know that you are near. When considering the direct translation to English and how it has been recontextualized, I wondered: Do we have to assert this fact, that one is a human being?
It was then revealed to me that the use of the phrase Tao po! precedes the Spanish invasion of the Philippines. People would exclaim it from the outer fences of a person’s property (often gated to fend off intruders). Announcing oneself as a human being confirmed that the visitor is a person and is safe to invite inside. This was a superstitious measure to identify if the being trying to enter is an animal or supernatural. Only humans have the ability to utter the phrase.
The phrase has evolved into something less literal within the last century, as it has become a greeting in that it is used to signal recognition. Tao po is now akin to how Canadians (and many cultures outside of Canada) state “knock-knock,” which can sometimes be accompanied by the physical act of knocking on a door. The original intention of the phrase is now buried within history.
I still sometimes call out Tao po! when visiting others who understand the language—but muted in my mind is its literal translation. In brief moments while waiting for a response, I reflect on my own existence. -Christopher Dela Cruz. Tao Po!/I am human is a collaboration between Christopher Dela Cruz and Midi Onodera
Christopher Dela Cruz is a Philippine-born, Scarborough-based artist whose works investigate the sociotechnical relationships between objects, identities, and aural cultures. His interdisciplinary practice is composed primarily of sound, electronics, kinetics, sculpture, and technology. Dela Cruz explores deconstructing sonic signatures within acoustic landscapes and objects and examines the function of technology within the realms of interculturality. Dela Cruz has exhibited and performed in public and commercial galleries, as well as contributions to internationally exhibited works. Dela Cruz currently works in Scarborough as the ACM Technician for the Department of Arts, Culture, Media in the University of Toronto, and the Audio Director of Festival Italiano di Johnny Lombardi at CHIN Radio/TV International.
I felt this superstition early on, finding comfort in the pattern of threes. As a child incapable of analytical thinking, patterns were an easy memory game. There are triples in children’s stories (three bears), in comedy (three bears walk into a bar), and in every basic plotline (the set-up, the climax, the resolution). I was wired for resolution, and it was promised by every suit of three. A bowl of porridge, a chair, a bed, oh my! Bad luck comes in threes. It makes for a gripping story. How do I tell a story without three? Lists begin with three. Scribbling only two items in a row can’t qualify as a list, but once you add the third, you have a hierarchy of needs. The triangle builds itself, and the sum of the angles of that triangle is equal to two right angles. Bad luck comes in threes. I find it reassuring. Each grouping is the promise of an ending. Every count of three is sweet relief. -Julian A M.P.
Julian A M.P. (him/them) is an artist, writer and queer settler who resides in Tkaronto. Julian’s writing and studio practice are situated alongside their memberships in pandemic parenthood and the casual, academic workforce. Recent projects include Four Transitions in Water and Light, 2021 (Artworks for Jellyfish and Other Stories, Boetzkes and Hiebert, eds), I emptied everything, 2022, and I can only fold in, 2023. He is currently co-editing Bodies in Friction: Queer and Trans Stories of Kink and Care (Goblin Cat Zines) and completing a collection of auto-biographical fiction. Julian also performs as one-half of Private Robots with Seb Roberts (Poets Barrio TV, 2020, Squint _ _ _ _ _ _Press). –Julian A M.P. In Threes is a collaboration between Julian A M.P. and Midi Onodera
(If a child’s second toe is long, they won’t take care of their parents when they grow up.)
“二拇趾长，不养爹和娘” is one of the Chinese slangs emphasizing the importance of “孝道” (filial piety) in Chinese culture, loosely translated as “If a child’s second toe is long, they won’t take care of their parents when they grow up.” Growing up with a long second toe, my family teased me about it and playfully called me “白眼狼” (white-eyed wolf). This term implies ingratitude towards parents, drawing an analogy to the wild and untamed nature of wolves. I felt unjustly defined by these words. Part of me aimed to prove them wrong, while another part wondered if there was any truth in it. Interestingly, another interpretation links longer second toes to steadier walking, suggesting individuals will travel far for work, hindering their ability to physically care for parents. Despite the varied interpretations, I aim to come to terms with my past experiences, finding my own path forward. -Noah Hanyue Qin
Noah Hanyue Qin is a Chinese multidisciplinary emerging artist currently based in Toronto. She primarily engages in painting, drawing, animation, and video production. Her background in mental health studies, studio art, and social work has inspired her to explore the intersectionality of identities, cultures, representations, emotions, and mental health through her art. She is also passionate about fan art production and fascinated by the diversity of art creations that stem from a shared love for the source material, as well as the sense of community it fosters. Noah is in the process of returning to art production with a renewed focus on exploring and rediscovering the most fundamental and pure motivation for artistic creation—finding joy in the creative process itself. White-eyed-wolf is a collaboration between Noah Hanyue Qin and Midi Onodera
Back then, villagers in Hong Kong would have to use their boats to sail vast distances across the sea to go fishing. As steamed fish is a significant part of a Hongkongers diet, it is forbidden to flip the fish over to eat the other side as it symbolizes capsizing the fisherman’s boat. Next time you go to a Chinese restaurant, notice how the servers prepare and debone your steamed fish. -Erin Lam
Erin Lam is a Mississauga born, Chinese Canadian artist who has a deep passion for storytelling through art. She creates using both visual and performing arts, including sculpture, video, and dance. As a child, she was privileged with access to many different art forms which fostered her love for art. “Flip the Fish” is a collaboration between Erin Lam and Midi Onodera.
There is a Japanese superstition that if you cut your nails at night, you won’t be present when your parents die. While there are multiple theories behind this, it is thought to come from the fact that 夜爪 yo-tsume (night nails) sounds like 世を詰める yo wo tsumeru (shortening age) or 世詰 yo-tsume for short. I used to think that this simply meant you would not be with your parents at their death rather than shortening your own life. Although I don’t believe in this superstition, I often “file” my nails as an alternative solution to avoid “cutting” my nails at night. Such an attempt to get around it also reminded me of a rakugo called Shinigami (The Death) where the man ends up shortening his own life by his sly interpretation of rules told by the Death. -Iori Matsushima
Iori Matsushima is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in Mississauga. Digital media are predominant in her artworks, especially video and animation. She is passionate about exploring moving images as a means of expression. With a background in computer science and statistics, she enjoys experimenting with numbers and data. Besides learning western histories and views of art from her university education, she is developing her own unique style and voice as an artist by relearning Japanese cultures and aesthetics. “Clawless Life” is a collaboration between Iori Matsushima and Midi Onodera.
Hanging a horseshoe over your home’s threshold will bring good luck into your home. There is contention about how to hang it. Hanging a horseshoe ends up, like a ‘u’ means it keeps all the good luck inside and from running out of the cup. But hanging a horseshoe ends down means it flows good luck down on anyone who walks underneath it. A medieval blacksmith is credited with making the devil promise to never enter a dwelling that had a horseshoe hanging over its door. Pagan cultures believed that the iron in the horseshoe saved them from witchcraft & evil, and that its crescent moonlike shape was a symbol of fertility and luck. For all the times I’ve handled horseshoes, I never knew that legend has it that witches were so afraid of iron horseshoes, they traveled on broomsticks instead of on horseback.
Kim Fullerton works in drawing, animation and video and has been involved in disability justice work for several years. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.
“Finish your rice, or else your future partner’s forehead won’t be clean” were words that had been engrained in my mind growing up, being told that those who don’t believe in the superstition paid the price. I am in no position to say whether it is true or not, since I do not have a partner yet, but I believe it to be true based on a few encounters with people till now. Regardless of whether it is true or not, I will continue to finish my rice, as I don’t want to waste food either. – Jason Soesilo
Jason Soesilo is a Toronto based Chinese-Indonesian emerging artist whose works investigate cultural traditions, interculturalism, and individuality. His primary media of works revolve around photography and videography. His works has earned him the Photography Award at the Annual Arts, Culture, and Media Student Art Exhibition at the University of Toronto Scarborough, consecutively in 2019 and 2020. He currently works as a freelance lifestyle photographer in Toronto. Jidat Nasi (Rice Forehead) is a collaboration between Jason Soesilo and Midi Onodera.
Growing up, my mom would cover my mirror every night. When I asked about it, she said it was tradition. However, one night she told me that mirrors were covered to prevent evil spirits from using our reflections to take over our bodies. That spirits used mirrors to travel to our world and that their powers were strongest at night. Afterward, I always made sure my mirror was covered. It is something that stuck with me into adulthood. – Christiana Ceesay
Christiana is an emerging artist, mainly making image and digital-based work. Her work is inspired by her experiences and her Sierra Leonean background. Christiana finds herself both asking and answering, “how did we get here?” and “where are we going?” in her work. She is working on a series about grief and reconnecting to one’s community, titled “From Shore to Shore: The Town That Promised me Freedom.” Last year she did a commissioned photo series for the organization Adornment Stories touching on mental health and blackness. As well she was in Culture Lab’s Festival, “Alice in CypherLand.” “At night your reflection is the most dangerous” is a collaboration between Christiana Ceesay and Midi Onodera.
“Don’t open an umbrella indoors, it will bring bad luck” was a common superstition in my household while growing up. As someone whose family was displaced during the Partition in India, and eventually had to move to England; the adoption of this superstition into our cultural beliefs was another result of the British colonial influence. In choosing this superstition I wanted to explore the idea that it is not always those who open the umbrella that receive the bad luck. – Millan Singh Khurana
Na Kholo (Don’t Open) is a collaboration between Milan Singh Khurana and Midi Onodera. Born in England but now based in Toronto, Millan Singh Khurana is an interdisciplinary artist of Punjabi descent whose work often utilizes coding, design, photography, and filmmaking. His diverse experiences inspire and inform the focus on identity, mental health, racism, classism, religion, and other social issues throughout his work. Khurana aims to create provocative pieces to inform viewers of external issues around the world, whilst also aiding them to reflect upon the issues they may be struggling with internally.
I chose this superstition because I wanted to explore justified and unjustified beliefs. What do we believe? What is the truth? And why? The ‘superstition’ I chose to work with was the act of burning incense. It is believed that burning incense wards off evil and attracts blessings. -Ruba AlWakeal
ابعد البركه و دخل الشر (ward off blessings and bring in evil) is a collaboration between Ruba AlWakeal and Midi Onodera. Ruba AlWakeal works with topics such as identity and religion that they explore through video art, performance, and sometimes sculpture.
As an attempt to provide reassurance to loved ones living under the same roof, some Tamil people will say the goodbye greeting “poitu varen” which translates to “I will go and I will return”. The same saying can be used when leaving the home of family and close friends, to respectfully reassure them, the stay was enjoyable and hospitable. Despite the distance I plan to travel, when stepping outside of my home, I say this to my mom as reassurance I will be back. Every time these words are shared, I reflect on the feeling of immense gratitude for the time I’ve spent under the same roof of loved ones. -Myuri Srikugan
Myuri Srikugan is a Scarborough-based interdisciplinary artist, working with mediums of video, photography and digital space. Through art, Myuri finds herself on this constant adventure of self-discovery while addressing issues within and around her. As her art forms develop, she finds new ways to express herself and amplify surrounding community voices.
In Egypt, Lebanon and in many Middle Eastern cultures, the evil eye is a form of protection from a curse that causes misfortune. The amulet can be worn through jewelry or placed around the house and other spaces to ward off evil spirits. The Evil Eye interests me because it is a reminder for me to stay humble with my achievements without flaunting them to protect myself from envy or jealousy that surrounds me that I am unaware of. – Reem Al-Wakeal
The January video is a collaboration between Reem Al-Wakeal and me.
Reem Al-Wakeal is a Toronto based multidisciplinary creative of Egyptian and Lebanese descent. She works with different mediums including video, photography, design and occasionally artist multiples. Her works explore themes of nature and identity such as culture and religion. As an emerging artist, she continues to explore different topics and mediums of work through research. Reem has had her work featured in ARTSIDEOUT, Gallery 1265, in/progress Magazine, the Annual Juried Art Exhibition the Annual ACM Studio Art Exhibition at the University of Toronto, Beaver Hall Gallery, and Trinity Square.