2019 RBC Arts Access Award Recipients

The 2019 RBC Arts Access Award recipients are: 

Close up of man's faceVolodymyr 'Volo' Bedzvin’s music is a unique combination of cello and vocal empowered by sound effects pedals. Born into a family of professional musicians, Volo started violin lessons at the age of five and the cello shortly thereafter. Volo went on to study at the Lviv National Conservatory. With a growing interest in contemporary music, he began to perform and record world music, folk, and pop-rock music, all the while exploring looping and special effects. Volo has performed throughout his native Ukraine and toured throughout Europe and North America. He recently performed at the Luminato Festival, Makers Festivals, and opened shows for Dakha Brakha, Tamar Ilana, and Balaclava Blues.

Banafsheh - black and white photo of womanBanafsheh Erfanian is a Toronto-based painter, illustrator, and educator. She was born in Tehran, Iran, and graduated from Tehran University of Art with a Bachelor of Graphic Design and also holds an MFA in Illustration. Banafsheh has illustrated 30 books and magazines and has written more than 25 articles in art publications. She has been painting and illustrating for 15 years, and her work has been exhibited in 45 shows around the world in Iran, Italy, U.S., Canada, Russia, China, Japan, and Serbia and has won the award of excellence at the Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrators Competition (China) in 2016 and an encouragement prize from the 15th Noma Concours for Picture Book Illustration (Japan) in 2004. Banafsheh has been shortlisted in numerous international illustration and painting catalogs and awarded grants from Toronto Arts Council, Neighbourhood Arts Network and the City of Toronto. The stories she has illustrated, such as Arabian Nights, Ardavirafnameh (Zoroastrian Paradise, and Inferno) and Shahnameh (the epics of Iranian kings) convey mythical themes and are full of rich imagination. The stories that share their messages through magical realism or surrealism stimulate ideas for her because she is able to use them as a platform to illustrate what is beyond reality.

Tareq - musician holding a guitar in the streetTarek Ghriri began playing guitar when he was 14 years old, influenced by the artistic environment that surrounded him in Damascus. Tareq focused on classical music until he was introduced to Flamenco music, then dedicating his musical practice to learning Flamenco and mixing it with traditional Arabic melodies to revive his own heritage while paying homage to another. After all the music Tareq loved vanished during the Syrian crisis, music again saved his life when he was jobless and living in exile after fleeing his home in Damascus in 2013, giving him new hope and a source of inspiration. Once in Toronto, Tareq decided to make a living through music, and notes he sees its effect on his family, friends, and fellow musicians and artists who are touched by the music and often also collaborate, adding their own touch to make the outcome richer and unique.

Woman signing with eyes closedLeen Hamo is a professional singer, violinist and visual artist originally from Syria, where she graduated from the Arabic Institute of Music in Aleppo (2013). Leen has presented and participated in numerous concerts and musical events throughout Syria, Turkey and Canada. Additionally, Leen has worked as a music teacher and used her skills and knowledge to provide psycho-social support to displaced refugee children in both Syria and Turkey through her work with the Syrian Red Crescent and Assam, a Turkish non-profit organization. Since arriving in Toronto in 2016, Leen has joined the Canadian Arabic Orchestra of Mississauga as a choir member and violin teacher. Additionally, Leen founded the band Diar, in collaboration with fellow musicians Tareq Ghriri and Nour Kadan. They have performed over 30 concerts across the GTA, in addition to performing with the Canadian Arabic Orchestra choir at numerous events, including the Luminato Festival (2019).

Painting of a boy's face using loose strokesXuefei Ji is a Chinese-born Canadian painter living and working from her home studio in Toronto. A graduate of animation and design schools both in Beijing and Quebec, Fei has always been interested in capturing body language and the human figure. Today, Fei's work is inspired by the pioneering Western painters of the early 19th century, most notably Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach. She lives with two flat-faced cats, Feta and Chips, and her partner Frankie.



Siavash Kavehmaryan is an Iranian electronic-music composer/performer based in Toronto. He integrates technology and computer-assisted sounds in Iranian traditional music to explore novel sonic experiences in his quest to build a broader musical landscape, originating from a wider range of sounds and musical genres. His works transcend the compositional forms of Iranian traditional music and its instrumental gestures into the realm of wide-open synthesized music. Siavash graduated in Iranian Music Performance, specializing in kamancheh and daf, from the University of Art in Iran in 2011. He later became passionate about synthesized sounds and obtained his Master's degree in Music Technology from the University of Toronto (2019). He was a gold medalist at the second national Kamancheh Competition at University of Art. With more than a decade of experience playing solo and chamber music, he says a professional highlight is his solo performance of Mychael Dana’s score with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall.

Nour Kaadan - musician holding percussion instrument in front of brick wallNour Kadaan began learning percussion in 2011 in Damascus, Syria. Music allowed her to emotionally communicate, interact with others, step out of her boundaries and comfort zone, and learn new things about her potential and capabilities. Nour learned multiple variations of Flamenco, Arabic, and Western rhythms, which she then used in camps in Damascus and Lebanon, writing and playing music with children. She experienced how music can help children express their feelings, overcome trauma, and find commonalities with each other through making music, playing rhythms, and creating simple songs and beats. Nour is a core member of the Syrian-Flamenco band Diar, who create Arabic music infused with Flamenco flavour, an original genre that reflects the musicians' backgrounds and memories. Nour still inspires young people through music in the Music from Hope collective, a creative outlet where children can express their feelings, communicate through art to overcome trauma and break emotional barriers, and establish friendships by creating music collaboratively. They experiment with the process of making music with no limitations or boundaries.

Yannis Lobaina - woman holding a blue rockYannis Lobaina is a Cuban writer, filmmaker and storyteller based in Toronto. Yannis loves to explore themes of immigration, diaspora and motherhood through storytelling. She was a recipient of Neighbourhood Arts Network's 2018 RBC Arts Access Award. In 2017, she received a micro-grant for her short documentary Where the Magic Happens, her first work as an emerging filmmaker in Toronto. She has been working for more than a decade at the International School of Cinema, Radio, and TV (EICTV) as a director-producer, assistant director, script consultant and still photographer.



Portrait of man sitting on a stool and looking straight at the cameraAhmed Moneka has made himself indispensable as an artist to the collective narrative behind theatre and music in Canada. Driven with inspiration to preserve the unique perspective of an Iraqi immigrant in the Canadian diaspora, Ahmed began by humbly presenting himself to audiences in Toronto. He has participated in numerous projects with organizations including the Canadian Opera Company, Tafel Musik, Aga Khan Museum, Driftwood Theatre and Jaberi Dance Company. Ahmed co-founded the diverse band Moskitto Bar, a harmonious blend of Celtic, Balkan and Arabic music. Inspired by the diverse potential of live music, Ahmed also founded Moneka Arabic Jazz, a project rooted in jazz and blues with connections to his Afro rhythms and Iraqi maqam style of singing. Ahmed was awarded the Rising Star award from the TD Toronto Jazz Festival in June 2019. Ahmed is "honoured to share these projects with his angels," referring to the amazing local musicians with whom he creates a distinct, funky, and unique sound.

Image of woman looking straight onto the cameraParisa Pajoohandeh is a filmmaker and an academic who is interested in sociopolitical issues and the struggles of human life, such as identity, migration, war, solitude and women's stories. Her tools to tell these stories are film and participating in academic panels about cinema, as well as writing articles. Originally from Iran, Parisa moved to France in 2007 where she earned her MA in Art and Digital Media, Parisa later obtained her PhD in Cinema Studies from Sorbonne University. This chapter of her life added a lot to her vision of the world and greater understanding of life. Parisa’s most recent short film, A Bright Day, features the story of a prisoner waiting for his execution day in complete solitude while struggling with his wish to say goodbye to his mother in his last moments of life. The film screened at the Court-Devant Film Festival of France (2014) and the Tele Bocal short film program before Parisa immigrated to Canada in 2015.

Melika Saeda - black and while profile of womanMelika Saeeda was born and raised in Tehran, Iran, and graduated with an MFA in Graphic Design from Tehran Art University. Over the past 10 years, she has illustrated more than 30 children’s books in Turkey and Iran. Many of Melika's illustrations have also appeared in Iranian children’s magazines and books, and her artwork has been exhibited at book fairs in Iran, Canada, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. Her art is about telling stories that draw on her experiences as an Iranian artist. She is inspired by traditional Iranian methods of depiction, such as the narratives in Persian miniatures – tiny, ornate paintings that tell traditional stories. This visual tradition has inspired her own art practice and representational choices, which she explores through drawing, painting, lithography, and murals. "I am excited to join community arts initiatives here in Canada, now that I feel free to express myself in ways I could not before," Melika notes, adding she wants to draw on those traditional depiction methods and their narrative potential "to tell new stories that depict the full range of human diversity and that reflect on social justice while celebrating the freedom. Rather than simply commenting on life in Iran, however, I want to explore how these stories can be retold, made contemporary, and shared in a new culture."

Omid Shakib - man behind the cameraOmid Shakiba is a refugee filmmaker with 20 years’ experience working in the film industry in Iran, Iraq, the United Kingdom and now in Canada. He has directed and produced over 25 documentaries, docudramas, short fiction and experimental films, as well as TV ads, promos, and reports. He has also worked as assistant director on high-budget feature films and as cinematographer, camera operator, 1st and 2nd assistant camera, gaffer and assistant editor on various TV series, short films and music videos. As a university lecturer, he has taught documentary filmmaking, experimental and feature film, and digital cinema courses to undergraduate students for over four years. In July 2018, Omid was the recipient of a Newcomer and Refugee Artist Mentorship grant from Toronto Arts Council for one of his fiction short scripts. He holds a Master of Arts (MA) in Filmmaking from the University of Bradford in England.

Alice Il Shin - woman's profileAlice Il Shin is a Korean filmmaker who received her formal film training at Nihon University in Japan. Since then, she has worked in Japan, Korea, the U.S., and Canada as a director, producer, and editor. Her independent work has screened at the Cine Rail International Film Festival (France) and Jeonju International Film Festival (Korea), and has been showcased on major networks like Fuji TV (Japan). Currently, Alice lives in Canada making independent films. Her most recent project follows a young immigrant living in Toronto – the film, Haru’s New Year, was supported by the Reel Asian International Film Festival, Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Council for the Arts. Haru’s New Year recently received the Best Short Film Award from the Seoul Guro Kids International Film Festival (Korea), was screened at the Forest City Film Festival (Canada) as an opening night film, and also has been shown at the Hanoi International Film Festival (Vietnam) and Durham Regional International Film Festival (Canada). In May 2019, Haru’s New Year was programmed as part of Reel Asian’s May Asian Heritage Month School Tour and screened in 3 different schools across the GTA.

Image of man looking straight at the camera with his mouth openRouvan Silogix is a queer, new immigrant Pakistani-Tanzanian director, writer, actor, producer and classical pianist. Rouvan's playwriting work has received grants from the Theatre Centre, Carousel Players, and arts councils, and is the Artistic Director for Theatre ARTaud. In his time in Toronto, Rouvan has taken part in the Summerworks Festival, including as a director in 2017 and assistant director, performer, and producer in 2018. He was also the writer and director of Grab ‘Em by the Pussy and Blood + Soil at Theatre Passe Muraille, and director of Ill Met By Moonlight, a burlesque Shakespearean farce. He was a Writer-In-Residence at Factory Theatre (2018-2019) under Nina Lee Aquino and Matt McGeachy, and was recognized as a finalist for the Emerging Director Residency Award by Crow's Theatre. He also works as an artist and producer as part of the Mammalian Diving Reflex collective. Prior to his time in Canada, Rouvan worked in New York City, and Karachi, Pakistan, including as a resident artist under Pakistani icon Zia Mohyuddin.

image of Indian dancer with arms openMegha Subramanian is a storyteller in dance, writing and film, who associates with the world through stories and believes in their ability to foster communication. The audience (or the ‘rasikas,’ as referred to in Indian texts), play a very important role in completion of an art. In keeping with this Indian thought process, Megha has made it her vision to communicate modern contexts and concerns in Bharatanatyam. She believes the Indian philosophers who codified dance probably did not think that it would be restricted to stories of the past. Building on Eliot's theory found in Tradition and the Individual Talent, Megha believes that the past and present are bound to complement each other, and that this is possible when we contextualize past ideas for the present moment. She believes that dance goes beyond performance and is a very potent medium to communicate ideas succinctly and in-depth. Megha’s teaching philosophy is similar, teaching dance as a language, so that we can become thinkers and communicators through dance. Megha also employs her other strengths in writing and  filmmaking to support this holistic approach and vision.

Image of woman looking straight onto the cameraSalbhi Sumaiya was born and bred in Bangladesh in the metropolitan city of Dhaka. She started painting at the age of seven and, as a hard of hearing (HOH) individual, was drawn to visual arts naturally because of its accessibility to her as a visual art form. As a child, painting was an instinctive way for her to express her ideas and creativity, and as she turned her passion into her profession, the medium turned into a larger platform for her to be an innovative conduit for social and political change. Her themes are usually based on raising awareness on the various contemporary issues faced in today's world. Some of the previous themes in her body of work are on the mass extinction of animals caused by human interference and the calamities faced by Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya population. Salbhi is currently spreading her artistic footprint across the world in both solo and group exhibitions in numerous countries, including South Africa, Poland, Japan, Bangladesh and India. Her art has also been exhibited in partnership with social organizations associated with the subject matter of her work.

Namie Ueno - photo of woman in front of white wallNami Ueno grew up in a little town called Arashiyama, an important sightseeing district in Kyoto, Japan. Her first artistic experiences were with her grandfather, a self-taught artist and craftsman. At 15, she began formal art lessons with a local artist, and four years later entered the Kyoto University of Art and Design. Using delicate techniques and careful detail, Nami spends a long time with each painting, but approaches every work with childlike wonder. Her wide-ranging work bears many influences and references – the strange creatures creeping through 16th-century maps, the fantasies hidden in Northern European altarpieces, the symmetry and colour symbolism of religious art. Historically, such visions in art gave form to inner personal and collective yearnings or anxieties. Beyond their decorative beauty, the styles and sensibilities in Nami’s art are unified by an inner exploration in which her fairytale or narrative-themed works and her more overtly spiritual art each reflect this journey in different ways. Like dreams, these artworks look for a balance between fear and longing away from the materialist status culture of today, a truce between the often duelling aspects of our own selves.

Toronto Arts Foundation would like to thank the 2019 award panelists: 

Lamis Haggag
Lamis Haggag’s practice is an ongoing process of attempting to disturb social autonomy and displacing boundaries, without giving alternatives. She perceives her projects as subtle infiltrations to social confines. Well aware of the fact that those attempts are contradicting themselves and absurd in many ways, she sees them as a reflection of how people cope with restrictions. Haggag developed this approach to her work as she saw change proceeding towards her home country, Egypt, in 2011 and then re-evaluated it as she witnessed how far back the situation in Egypt has receded.

Haggag has been living and working in Toronto since 2016. She received her Master of Fine Arts from The University of Calgary, Canada in 2013 and her Bachelor from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Helwan University, Cairo, Egypt in 2008. She works with a variety of mediums, such as performance, installation, interactive installation, painting and public intervention. She has participated in exhibitions and residencies in Toronto, Calgary, Cairo, Beijing, Dakar, Lagos, Berlin and Incheon.

Marta Keller
Originally from Spain, Marta Keller-Hernandez is an arts administrator who moved to Toronto in 2012. She holds degrees in Tourism and Humanities, a Masters in Social Media Marketing from the University of Alicante (Spain), and became an international student of the Culture and Heritage Site Management program at Centennial College in 2013. In Toronto, Marta has worked with a wide range of arts and culture organizations, such as Black Artists’ Networks Dialogue, Latin American Canadian Art Projects, Sur Gallery, Heritage Toronto, and Art Starts. Currently, she is Managing Director at Mural Routes.

Marta is the co-founder and Director of Programming of Paralia Newcomer Arts Network, a Toronto-based non-profit that supports newcomer artists by providing them with the skills and resources needed in order to establish an artistic presence in Canada. She is also the recipient of the 2017 Newcomer and Refugee Artist Mentorship grant from the Toronto Arts Council in the capacity of mentor and was a 2018 Toronto Arts Council Leaders Lab fellow.

Padideh Ahrarnejad
Padideh Ahrarnejad is a musician, arranger, composer, and educator. A graduate of the Tehran Art Music School and the Art University of Tehran, Padideh has studied tar with major figures of Persian music. She has been a member of the Iran National Music Orchestra and the Radio and Television Orchestra for 10 years, and has performed around the world, bringing Persian music to numerous countries including Switzerland, China, Kuwait, Germany, Austria, and Canada. Padideh has received Toronto Arts Council Newcomer and Refugee Artist Mentorship (NRAM) grant, among others, and has been awarded “Best tar player” at the Fadir Music Festival in Iran several times.

Shortly after her immigration to Toronto in 2016, Padideh became a member of KunĂ©, Canada's Global Orchestra, a group of elite players from different musical traditions organized by the Royal Conservatory of Music. She plays and teaches setar and tar, a plucked-string instrument central to Persian music, and continues to pursue a wide range of performance and recording projects, working in Iranian music and in collaboration with a wide range of global musicians in the Toronto area and beyond.

Himanshu Sitlani
A theatre artist for over ten years, Himanshu has worked as an actor, producer, director, stage manager and sound operator for over 36 productions with multiple theatre groups in Mumbai, India and Toronto, Canada. He co-founded Le Chayim Theatre Productions in 2006. Since he moved to Toronto, he has also worked with Why Not Theatre. He was a part of the Factory Theatre’s Training Enhancement Program in the Foreman (Directing) and the Foundry (Playwriting) units for the 2017-2018 season. Currently he is working at Factory Theatre as their Patron Services Manager. 

Himanshu has been a key organizer of India’s premier youth theatre festival, Thespo. He also was editor for online magazine The Script from 2007-2015. He has been instrumental in bridging theatre artists between India and Canada, which has seen plays from Canada performed in India, including Spent (Why Not Theatre), Iceland (Why Not Theatre) and 3 Men in a Boat (Pea Green Theatre).