Times Colonist Features Tompalski & Thompson

January 7, 2018 Times Colonist article Features Tompalski & Thompson

Sherry Tompalski

Sherry Tompalski in front of 2 of her 4 paintings at the Intangible States Show

Robert Amos (Times Colonist Archive) (Amos Web Site) featured Sherry Tompalski and Graham Thompson in his January 7, 2018 Times Colonist Art Column. Tompalski & Thompson were privileged to be Amos’ final interview in his 32 year career writing for the Times Colonist of Victoria BC, Canada.


Robert Amos’ article ran as follows: (Click here for PDF version)

Robert Amos: A thoughtful look at art and the mind

During the past year, I have heard the name Sherry Tompalski in relation to a number of art activities. With her partner in life and art, Graham Thompson, Tompalski has painted video-enhanced portraits of refugees and female boxers training in Afghanistan. I recently visited the artists in their Oak Bay apartment.

iStock_000001104169Small2-w800 copy

Tompalski retired from her career as a psychiatrist, working for the Canadian Armed Forces and then the federal government. She and her husband moved to Victoria 18 months ago, from their home on 20 acres near Stittsville, outside Ottawa. But painting is by no means a hobby she picked up in retirement.

In fact, after high school in Saskatoon, she says she “horrified” her parents by enrolling in the art program at the University of Saskatchewan. Later, sound sense prevailed and she switched to medicine, graduating from the University of British Columbia. An internship led to a residency in Ottawa.


“It was really quite fantastic,” she told me. “There is a large psychiatric community, easily 300 psychiatrists, in Ottawa.” But when she finished her training in 1992, she couldn’t get a billing number in B.C. “So I stayed in Ottawa.

In Ottawa, she started painting again.

“I got involved with a group of senior artists outside of Stittsville,” she explained. They shared 13,000 square feet, with large studios for all and two exhibition spaces. A huge benefit was the community of senior artists. The mentorship of Ken Finch led her to create big portraits with a strong narrative tendency.


As an outgrowth of life-drawing sessions, she began her Band-Aids series.

“Band-Aids hold you together while you heal,” she realized. “It was natural that I started painting about various psychiatric concepts.”

With the confidence that came from her full-time employment, she was able to ignore the art marketplace.


“I never really focused on whether it was commercial,” she told me. As it turned out, a great deal of the work was funded on grants.

That’s where Thompson came in. The two have been partners since undergraduate days. In the 1980s, with the emergence of the internet, he found work that led to desktop publishing, video, graphics, websites and then social media. His special skill was preparing video grant proposals.

Tompalski produced the content — the Wet Nurse series, the Reassembled Self series. And Thompson took the material to the world with a multi-tiered approach. His presentation of her paintings online with strong search optimization led to the publication of her images in a magazine in Brazil. Thompson’s video of her paintings in production was shown in film and video festivals as far away as Croatia.


His early videos resulted, to their surprise, in an invitation to present their work in the Philippines — all expenses paid.

“Things would start clicking,” Tompalski recalled, “and the more they clicked, the more they clicked. It worked really beautifully.”

Tompalski did not wait until she retired to take up art. At first she was well-supported by her friends in the psychiatric community, and submitted applications for every show going.


“Each time you write a grant,” she said, “it’s like having an art show. A jury of senior artists looks at your work. There is a lot of rejection, but they do look at it. And, before you know it, you start getting calls.” The Museum of Civilization in Ottawa heard about her and, out of the blue, asked to present her portraits of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Her Refugees series is striking. Beginning with refugees from Afghanistan, the series eventually included people from many continents and backgrounds, including “internally displaced” First Nations and Métis people. And the series required much grant writing, as subjects were paid to sit for their portraits for three days. And later, there was translation to English and French.

In many cases, the artist did not understand what the model was saying, but, all unbidden, the sitters began to talk.

10 (4)

“They were trying to sit still,” Tompalski remembered. “It was meditative, with no one talking to them. And people would just start.” Thompson recorded the progress of the painting on video while Tompalski painted.

Regarding the video, “we would include a sample, just a minute or two, from three hours of tape, to enrich the portrait,” Tompalski said. “This was not an interview. They’d come in and just start talking non-stop, for three hours. Many of the sitters wanted people to know what they went through. For some, it was their first opportunity to really talk about what happened. They can’t talk about it with their families, who just want to put it behind them. And they can’t share it with other Canadians, who don’t really understand … and it’s just such a downer. So they’re just sort of left with it.”

The portrait sittings were the beginning of the processing of what happened to them. The subjects seem to be happier people just for the fact of having been heard.

“As a psychiatrist,” Tompalski reminded me, “I was trying to help people discover their own narrative and to figure out their own story. This started to manifest itself in the art.”

The artist had spent a summer here long ago. In retirement, she and Thompson have come back, and they are already part of the Victoria art scene. They are producing work for a show at the Gage Gallery (2031 Oak Bay Ave., Feb. 14 to 27). Featuring collages and paintings, costumes, online presence and performance, it’s entitled Sex and the Single Seagull. See you there.


Sherry Tompalski, Graham Thompson, Robert Amos, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Ken Finch, Museum of Civilization, Oak bay, Oak Bay ave., Afghanistan, Croatia, University of Saskatchewan, Brazil, Saskatoon, University of British Columbia, Philippines, Canadians.





Tompalski Paints Intangible States

​Sherry Tompalski, Kirsten Brand and Shelby Assenheimer’s Intangible States Show at Gage Gallery, Oak Bay.

Intangible States poster was designed by Graham Thompson

Intangible States poster was designed by Graham Thompson

Sherry Tompalski, Kirsten Brand and Shelby Assenheimer exhibited their paintings in the Intangible States Art Show, which opened February 1 at the Gage Gallery of Oak Bay British Columbia, Canada.

Sherry Tompalski

Sherry Tompalski in front of 2 of her 4 paintings at the Intangible States Show

Three artists capture on canvas memories and glimpses of the present and future.

Ineke van Hasselt

Oak Bay artist Ineke van Hasselt in front of Tompalski’s painting.

Tompalski believes the nature of everything is illusory and ephemeral and consequently, unknowable.

James Dodd

Surrealist painter James Dodd in front of Shelby Annesheimer’s paintings

This manifests as a magical and meditative quality in her work. Brand imagines the mystery of a soul’s journey and uses memorabilia to stimulate emotion, bringing to mind a life gone by.

Artists in Gage Gallery

Artists in Gage Gallery

Assenheimer contemplates humankind’s challenge to identify the illusive balance between the natural and the artificial.

James Dodd and Sherry Tompalski

James Dodd and Sherry Tompalski

Intangible State runs from January 30 to February 10th, 2018.

Dwayne Annsenheimer, Liz Wells and Agnes Aananichuk

Dwayne Annsenheimer, Liz Wells and Agnes Aananichuk at Intangible States Show

The Intangible States show was inspired by Quantum physics which tells us that objects exist in a suspended physical state until observed. Once observed, the object’s state is altered. All photos by Graham Thompson.

Tompalski at Hermann’s Jazz Fund Raiser

Sherry Tompalski featured at Hermann’s Jazz Club Art Auction @ Martin Batchelor Gallery Dec 27 2017.


Margaret Hantiuk, Martin Batchelor and Sherry Tompalski

Artist Sherry Tompalski donated her “Ice Woman” painting (shown below) to the December 27-31, 2017 Hermann’s Jazz Club Art Auction at Martin Batchelor Gallery in Victoria Canada.


Ice Woman by Sherry Tompalski

Tompalski’s Artist Statement

I have been blessed with two parallel careers over the past 25 years: psychiatry and art. While they are intrinsically different fields, the work of each has informed the other. I assessed and treated adolescents, adults, couples, and families, and also worked for the military treating soldiers. Throughout, I maintained my art practice working on projects often with my husband, and invariably exploring visually, psychological concepts, questions and understanding.

I experienced my art and my art career as vitalizing my work with patients, while my psychiatric career underlined the importance of people feeling understood and understandable. Consequently, in my art I often wanted to “put myself in anothers’ shoes”, maintaining that the individual’s world or point of view is worth looking at and paying attention to.

The Ice Woman being offered for auction is from my The Reassembled Self Series. This series began as graphite drawings that were torn up and reassembled with fragments of musical score, portraying the process of coming undone, reforming and coming together again. This is the process many of us will experience when dealing with change and upheaval. The Ice Woman makes this process visible. She embodies a fragmented, difficult history which hopefully with healing and strength becomes music.

I do not believe we give people a voice, anymore than we can empower people. However, when we listen in an authentic way people develop a voice and experience themselves as more effective. Ultimately, I hope my work helps to contribute to an environment that embodies trust wherein people can feel their needs are legitimate and experience themselves and the world as a safer place to live in.

I thank the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Ottawa for their financial support of these projects.

Sherry Tompalski, http://sherrypaints.info


Heather Atkinson, Martin Batchelor and Sherry Tompalski

The 5-day auction was organized by Margaret Hantiuk and Heather Atkinson and presented by Jazz on View as part of an ongoing effort to purchase and operate the Hermann’s Jazz Club. Jazz on View is a B.C. non-profit society dedicated to turning Hermann’s Jazz Club into community owned and operated facility. The December 27th 2017 opening program also featured pianist Tony Genge shown below.

Hermann’s Jazz Club, which began 35 years ago, has provided a venue for artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Wheeler, Dewey Redman, Hal Galper, Rob McConnell and Diana Krall .


Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Wheeler, Dewey Redman, Hal Galper, Rob McConnell and Diana Krall videos are linked below.

Hal Galper

Wynton Marsalis

Rob McConnell

Diana Krall

Tompalski at Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Tompalski’s Talking Portrait Talk at Art Gallery of Victoria

Dr Sherry Tompalski gave a talk about her Talking Portrait series at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria on September 8, 2017. 

What is a Talking Portrait?

A Talking Portrait is a portrait that includes traditional portraiture and an accompanying video. Initially the video was of the painting developing in Sherry’s studio with audio of what was said spontaneously during the portrait sitting. However, over the seven years of the project the portraiture and the accompanying video evolved. The portraits expanding to include drawing, collage and mixed media and the videos becoming more biographical and stylized. The work has been exhibited extensively, including the Museum of Civilization, Library and Archives Canada, the National Gallery and internationally in Chicago, New York, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, France, the UK and Montenegro. Currently there are Talking Portraits of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, artists, Pierre Trudeau, Lotta Hitschmanova, refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador, Congo, Sudan, Guinea, Afghanistan, Iran and also several Residential School survivors. The work has been supported by the United Nations, Ministry of Citizenship Immigration and Multiculturalism, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council and the City of Ottawa as well as several other organizations. Sherry Tompalski did the portraits and her husband Graham Thompson the videos. There are a total of 50 Talking Portraits.


Sherry Tompalski and Yvonne MacKenzie, Programme Chair of the Associates of the AGGV

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Since the 1950’s, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has been at the center of the Greater Victoria community. Over the past 60 years the AGGV has grown to be the second largest public gallery in the province. Located in the heart of the City of Victoria’s cultural precinct, the AGGV collection currently contains over 19,000 pieces held in trust for the people of Victoria, British Columbia and Canada. Every year, over 100,000 people visit the Gallery to view captivating and innovative exhibitions and attend entertaining and informative events. The AGGV also provides accessible outreach programs to families, youth, school districts and post-secondary institutions across Southern Vancouver Island. Each year, in excess of a quarter million people also access the Gallery online through the AGGV’s extensive community-based programming website and comprehensive art database.


The Associates of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The Associates share a rich and vibrant history with the Gallery. The Associates were founded in 1952 to, “foster interest in, and give voluntary service to the gallery.” Over the years, the Associates have raised well over $800,000 to contribute to the Gallery. Celebrating and fostering enjoyment of the Gallery continues to be at the heart of their activities. The Associates also offer a wide range of educational programs and art related activities in their programs for members.

Art_Gallery_of_Greater_Victoria_-_Spencer_Mansion_interior_pano_01_(20318046960) (1)

The Associates of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria include: Pieta VanDyke President; Scott Vannon First Vice President; Wendy Lovitt Warren Second Vice President; Cindee Wind Secretary; Marci Shilliington Treasurer; Paulette Moser Membership Chair; Yvonne MacKenzie Programme Chair; Patti-Anne Kay Past President, Art Tours & Artist’s Studio Tours Joan Huzar and Wendy Warren; House Tour  Bill Huzar; What’s It Worth? Bill Huzar and Penny Davies; Newsletter Joan Shimizu and Charlene Brown; Book Club  Joan Shimizu, Pat Katz and Joan Fraser; Government House Nancy Newton and Alma Alexander; Social Helen Mawson and Sheila Mawson.



Lotta Hitschmanova Remembered on Rain’s Blog

Rain’s Blog Lotta56Sparks features Friederike Knabe Remembers Lotta Video.


David Rain’s blog Lotta56sparks.ca, is dedicated to the woman who made 56 Sparks Street one of Canada’s most iconic addresses, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, C.C. (1909-1990).  In his site, Rain a 22 year veteran with Lotta’s Unitarian Service Committee (USC), explores the emotional connections that Lotta made with so many of us, and offers a space for younger folks to learn more about her.


In 2009, more than 50 events were held coast to coast to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-2009). In Ottawa, USC Canada organized a special “Lotta 100” event to honour their founder. Sherry Tompalski and Graham Thompson were on hand and recorded interviews of participants who shared their recollections and stories about Lotta.

As described in Rain’s blog, “Friederike was the Director of Canadian Programs for USC from 1991 to 2001. She travelled frequently across Canada to meet with USC donors and volunteers, and often had the chance to speak directly with people who knew Lotta personally, or who had received a visit from Lotta in their school classroom. In this video, Friederike talks about Lotta’s uniform, her frugality (she wanted all the money donated to go to those in need), the engaging stories she would write during her overseas visits (her “jottings”), her passion to focus on women’s development (years before other aid agencies), and her legendary personal touch with volunteers and donors. Thank you Friederike for these reminiscences, and thank you Sherry and Graham for recording these interviews and for adding to our knowledge about this great Canadian humanitarian.”

The above recording includes a National Research Council Scientist Jim Neelin’s account of the Lotta at the 100 anniversary celebration of Lotta Hitschmanova. In the background of the interview you can see Tompalski’s portraits. Sherry Tompalski’s portraits of Lotta Hitschmanova were painted in 2009.

In the above video, David Rain talks about planning Lotta Hitschmanova’s 100th-anniversary celebration in Ottawa

In the above video, Shirley Cross Remembers Lotta at Lotta Hitschmanova’s 100th Anniversary Celebration in Ottawa.

In the above video, Dr. Susan Walsh spoke at Dr. Lotta Hitschamanova’s 100th anniversary event on November 12, 2009 at Arts Court Theatre in Ottawa Canada.

The above video features Bob Carty’s presentation at Lotta Hitschmanova’s 100th Anniversary Celebration on November 12, 2009 at Arts Court Theatre in Ottawa Canada.  Bob Carty is an Ottawa-based documentary radio producer for The Sunday Edition and The Current on CBC Radio One. Prior to entering journalism Bob spent a decade working on human rights and international development in Latin America. In 1981 he joined CBC Radio as a producer (later foreign editor and senior producer) for Sunday Morning. In the late 1980s, Bob and his family spent five years in Central America. His wife, Frances Arbour, worked with internally displaced people in Guatemala and Guatemalan refugees in Mexico while Bob covered military conflicts, human rights, development and ecological issues throughout Latin America for the CBC, The Globe & Mail and National Public Radio. Returning to Canada in 1993, Bob resumed work for the CBC on feature documentaries. Bob’s work has won numerous awards including a Peabody and a Gabriel, several New York International Radio Festival Awards, and multiple investigative journalism prizes.

The above video features Clyde Sanger’s presentation at Lotta Hitschmanova’s 100th Anniversary Celebration on November 12, 2009 at Arts Court Theatre in Ottawa Canada. Clyde Sanger, author of Lotta and the Unitarian Service Committee story, an international journalist, and former Canadian correspondent for The Economist worked for forty years as a journalist in Britain, Africa, and North America. He has served as director of communications with the North-South Institute and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Carleton University.

In the above video, Gatineau Artist / USC Translator, Marie-Jeanne Musiol, speaks at Lotta Hitschmanova’s 100th Anniversary Celebration on November 12, 2009 at Arts Court Theatre in Ottawa Canada. From: http://www.musiol.ca/index-en.php Marie-Jeanne Musiol’s photo installations have evolved from archeological itineraries to journeys exploring the nature of energy. While working in Auschwitz in the 90s, she experienced the limits of photographic representation and began searching for a more direct way to express the felt presence. She now records the luminous imprints of plants in electromagnetic fields. The “energy botany” she is constituting has been the object of several gallery and outdoor exhibitions in Canada, Europe and Asia. Her more recent work probes the light fields surrounding plants to uncover a mirror image of the cosmos enfolded in the light corona. Her presentations of electrophotography in national and international forums speak to the importance of magnetic fields as carriers of information and speculate on the holographic nature of the universe. Marie-Jeanne Musiol lives and works in Gatineau, Quebec.





















taoist taichi victoria Philippines Travel Talk

Taoist Tai Chi event revisits Thompson’s media art tour of the Philippines, including an outbreak of civil war in Mindanao.


At Victoria’s 2016 Taoist Tai Chi dinner, Thompson spoke of his 2005 trip to the Philippines, 8 media art shows sponsored by the Canadian Embassy in Manila. Check-out the online version of the show at http://medicine-wheel.co/


The talk outlined Thompson’s adventure in the Philippines during an out-break of civil war in 2005. On Valentine’s Day 2005, at the start of a planned inter-cultural exchange sponsored by the Canadian Embassy in Manila, one of several bombs were detonated two blocks from Thompson’s hotel room. The bombings were what rebel group “Abu Sayyaf” called retribution for government assaults in the southern Philippines, a flash point of resistance since Spanish colonial efforts in the 1500s. In the bombings, 11 people were killed and 160 injured.


The tour, which was accompanied by Canadian ambassador Peter Sutherland, proceeded through the island of Mindanao with a military escort. Presentations were given at the Regional Education Learning Centre in Cotabato, the University of the Philippines in Davao and the Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga. The installation and artist talk was also presented on Busuanga Island at the Darayonan Centre of Coron and on Palawan Island at the Kamarikutan Gallery in Puerto Princessa. On the island of Luzon, the NSEW interactive video was presented in Manila at the Ateneo de Manila University Art Gallery and in Baguio at the Tamawan Village Art Gallery. The purpose of the dinner was to raise funds for the Victoria Branch of the Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism were daily classes of Taoist Tai Chi are offered.


Taoist Tai Chi Arts in Canada

In 1970, Master Moy Lin-Shin arrived in Canada with the goal of making the Taoist Arts he learned growing up in China and Hong Kong available to all who wished to benefit from them. For Master Moy, making these benefits available to all, regardless of background or belief system, was his life’s work. Taoist Tai Chi® arts are founded upon a rich tradition of Taoist training. They are intended to return both body and mind to their original nature. According to Taoist teachings body and mind cannot be separated. Each step in the training is intended to help the mind return to stillness, clarity and wisdom, and the body to a balanced, relaxed and healthy state. Taoist Tai Chi® arts are distinguished at the physical level by stretching, full range of motion and the continuous turning of the waist and spine. The movements exercise the whole physiology; including the tendons, joints, connective tissue and internal organs.

Residential School Survivor Drawings & Videos

Research in Art exhibits Residential School Survivor Drawings & Videos, curated by Petra Halkes in 2013.  


Ottawa based Research in Art exhibited the Residential School Survivor Drawings & Videos. The May 2013 show was curated by Petra Halkes.  The exhibition included drawings and videos of Irene Lindsay who is a Board Elder at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (http://www.ahf.ca/).


Irene Lindsay, a Wolf Clan descendant, from the Cree/Sioux community of Wakaw, Saskatchewan is a survivor of St. Michael’s Residential School in Duck Lake Saskatchewan. As a youth, Irene resided on One Arrow First Nations Reserve in Saskatchewan, she moved to Ottawa for employment, and later to complete her schooling in nursing. Her personal and professional pursuits have consistently directed her toward activities that help to enrich and complement the aspirations of Aboriginal people and communities. She is particularly concerned with the unique challenges that face Aboriginal women and children, and is committed to doing what she can to assist them.


One example of that commitment is demonstrated by her work in establishing a group called, The Wisdom Keepers, a Grandmothers Circle through the Minwaashin Lodge, the Aboriginal Women’s Support Centre. She has also served on the Women’s Council for the Lodge for four years and has been a board member for an Aboriginal Men’s Healing Lodge. Irene is a guest lecturer on Native Culture and traditions for university and high school students in Canada. Her interest in giving back to her community eventually led to a career in the helping profession, facilitating a Residential School Survivors Circle, fund raising committees, numerous health video documentaries to promote awareness of Aboriginal Health Issues, and assisting organizations in developing culturally based programming which benefit all people in accordance with Aboriginal culture and traditions. Irene Lindsay is presently an integral part of the dynamic team that is Minwaashin Lodge, the Aboriginal Women’s Support Centre.


The Residential School System in Canada Overview  

FROM THE WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN SITE wherearethechildren.ca: Since their first arrival in the “new world” of North America, a number of religious entities began the project of converting Aboriginal Peoples to Christianity. This undertaking grew in structure and purpose, especially between1831 and 1969, when the governing officials of early Canada joined with Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, United, and Presbyterian churches to create and operate the residential school system. This partnership came to an end when the federal government took over sole management of the schools, and then began transferring the control of First Nations education to Indian bands. The last federally-run residential school, Gordon Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, closed in 1996. One common objective defined this period: the aggressive assimilation of Aboriginal peoples.

Métis children, initially turned away by the Canadian government, were later encouraged to fill school spaces left by Indian children. Métis students encountered racism from all sides: they were often outsiders within the student body, and were also treated as second-class citizens when they were made to work longer and harder to “earn” their education. They were not wanted in white schools, but neither would the Department of Indian Affairs recognize them as Indians. With limited options, Métis parents often had to pay for children’s education, and would place them at any school that would take them.

Life at residential schools

The journey to residential schools was often a long one, particularly for Aboriginal children who came from communities that were thousands of miles away. Some could walk to the schools, but many others arrived by wagon, train, boat, or, in later years, by bus. When they remember that long journey, many Survivors recall feeling like they were walking into a prison. When they entered the schools, they were robbed of their identities: their hair was cut and de-loused, they were stripped of their garments and possessions and clothed in uniforms, and they were called by “Christian” names or by numbers instead of their own names. For the few students who had been prepared by their parents, the schools may have initially appeared less ominous, but for those who were taken to the schools by force, the experience was all the more traumatic.

Int’l Settlement Canada, Refugee Voices

International Settlement Quarterly features The Voices of Refugees Installation in 2010.


International Settlement Canada published from the Centre for International Migration and Settlement Studies (CIMSS) at Carleton University of Ottawa Ontario featured The Voices of Refugees Installation in their 23rd volume in 2010.


What is the Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation?

The Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation is a collaborative portraiture, video and live performance project that engages artists and activists from the refugee community. It provides an opportunity for refugees to tell their stories and celebrate their achievements through the creation of a modern multimedia installation. For example, the following is an excerpt from one of the Voices of Refugees’ videos:

“I was almost killed in my country, I was tortured…I have found some peace in my heart, after 2 horrible experiences in prison…More than 1 week the first time, with no food, no sleeping, no water. Being beaten up by 7 soldiers…The first time I was put into a torture chamber, they put me on a chair, and I was blind folded, I was hand cuffed in the back. There was a minute of silence, complete silence, before they started to beat me up. It was at that point, when I could feel them around me – the breathing of these….people.” (Victor Fuentes, a musician/painter from El Salvador)


When is the next Presentation of the Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation?

The Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation is planning a 5-day event from June 16-20 at Library and Archives Canada during World Refugee Week 2010.

Who are our Supporters?

We have been very fortunate to receive support from the City of Ottawa, the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Library and Archives Canada, the Centre for Afghan Progress, the University of Ottawa, the University of Oxford England, Carleton University, York University, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization, the World University Service of Canada, the Canadian Centre for International Justice and the Coalition of New Canadians for Arts and Culture.


Who is Organizing the Project?

The Voices of Refugees project has been developed by Sherry Tompalski (installation designer) and Graham Thompson (videographer). The concept was based on the realization that many refugee artists and activists arrive in Canada with highly developed artistic skills and compelling personal stories of survival. As a result, the refugee’s work is uniquely suited to a multimedia presentation where audiences have the opportunity to see, to hear and to understand their personal accounts of, for example, walking across Chad, without food or money to escape the horrors of Darfur.


What is the Method and Process of the Project?

Tompalski and Thompson endeavour to create an environment for audiences to interact with the refugee artists and activists. Thompson engages the refugees in the creation of a short video about their work. Tompalski creates large-scale portraits of the refugees. In combination, they create a backdrop for the presentation of refugee’s work – setting the stage with multiple video screens and pictures of the refugees. As well, Thompson and Tompalski employ the use of posters, vinyl banners, web sites and streaming media to publicize the project.

What are the benefits of Voices of Refugees project?

  • The Voices of Refugees project helps to:
  • Promote inter cultural dialogue.
  • Provide a forum for the personal expression of refugees.
  • Address problems of isolation and cultural barriers that refugees may face.
  • Acknowledge the courage, determination and energy refugee populations have brought to Canada.

What is the history of the Voices of Refugees project?

Parliament of Canada, June 16, 2009: As part of World Refugee Week celebrations, the Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation featured 8 portraits of refugees from Central America, Central Asia and Africa, segments of their life stories displayed on four large screen video monitors and a live performance with Guatemalan revolutionary singer Tito Medina. The event included speeches by the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and Abraham ABRAHAM the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Representative in Canada.

Library and Archives Canada, June 15, 2009: As part of World Refugee Week celebrations, the Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation featured 16 portraits of refugees from Central America, Central Asia and Africa, 2 large video projections and a live performance with Guatemalan revolutionary singer Tito Medina.

University of Ottawa, June 2, 2009: As part of the 2nd Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, posters, videos and performances by revolutionary singer Tito Medina were presented at the conference.

National Gallery of Canada, February 25, 2009: The Refugee Portrait Workshop provided young artists with a first hand view of the creation of the Voices of Refuges Multimedia Installation and a workshop in portraiture development techniques. The seminar also discussed issues of forced migration.

Canadian Centre for International Justice, June 26, 2008: Posters from the Voices of Refuges Multimedia Installation were shown at the formal launch of the Canadian Centre for International Justice at Library and Archives Canada. The featured speakers were Maher Arar, Lloyd Axworthy and Ellen Gabriel.

World Refugee Day, June 20, 2008: Posters and videos from the Voices of Refuges Multimedia Installation were presented on World Refugee Day 2008 at Ottawa City Hall, European Economic and Social Committee of Brussels and the Bell Green Community Centre of Coventry England. Video was presented on the University of Oxford England web site. Posters were distributed to relief organizations in Islamabad, San Francisco, Dublin, Tokyo, Melbourne, New York, Washington, London, Brussels, Cairo and Johannesburg.

Who are the Refugee Artists?

Dependent upon funding, we are hoping to feature the following refugees in the World Refugee Week 2010 installation at Library and Archives Canada:

Victor Fuentes is a songwriter, painter and activist who was born and educated in El Salvador. Through his music, art and social activism, Fuentes has helped rebuild communities in his homeland which have struggled to overcome the hardships of a civil war which lasted from 1980 to 1992.

Hamid Ayoub is a painter who was born and educated in Sudan. He fled the horrors of Darfur on foot across the deserts of Chad, living under the constant threat of starvation and attack by wild animals.

Tito Medina is a music producer and activist who found his voice as a revolutionary singer/songwriter in the streets of Guatemala City during the turbulent national protests of the early ‘70s. His passionate songs cry out for justice in solidarity with the struggles of his countrymen.

Hawa Kaba is a painter from Guinea West Africa. She was jailed when she was 15 for requesting a passport, as she was trying to escape the dictatorial regime of Ahmed Sékou Touré, which killed as estimated 50,000 people from 1958 to 1984.

Martin Mbesha, who was director of the Centre Artistique de Gitega Burundi, is a sculptor from DR Congo. Mbesha survived the Second Congo War, which is considered to be the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II.

National Gallery Canada Workshop

Refugee Portrait Workshop at National Gallery of Canada features African, Central American & Central Asian Faces.


Sherry Tompalski conducted her Refugee Portrait Workshop for art students at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa Ontario on March 28, 2009. The drawing and painting workshop featured the paintings and videos of the Voices of Refugees Installation.


The Voices of Refugees Installation was launched by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The following text is from their news release.

Ottawa, June 16, 2009 — In recognition of World Refugee Day, “Voices of Refugees,” a new multi-media presentation combining portraits with videos of refugees telling their stories, was unveiled today by Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney and Mr. Abraham ABRAHAM, Representative in Canada of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Voices of Refugees enables refugees to share their stories with all Canadians, to show that there are real people in real danger,” said Minister Kenney. “Refugees are sometimes forgotten as a faceless group stranded in a far away land. We need to heed these voices and listen to their stories.”

This project came from two ordinary Canadians — Graham Thompson and Sherry Tompalski — doing extraordinary things. The partnership between these two Canadians and the refugee artists featured in the multi-media presentation is the kind of initiative that will help bridge communities and build a more inclusive and cohesive Canada for all.

“These works of art speak for themselves and help us understand that refugees are not faceless statistics, but real people with talents and with real needs like you and me. Ask them and you will know that every refugee has a moving story to tell,” said Mr. Abraham.

Every year Canada’s refugee programs provide protection to more than 30,000 people.  We have a fair and generous domestic refugee protection system that is well regarded internationally. Through our resettlement program, we provide protection to 1 in 10 refugees who are resettled globally. In fact, since World War II, Canadians have provided refuge to over 1 million refugees.

Even so, the Government of Canada is exploring ways to improve the refugee status determination system and our resettlement approach in order to better help refugees. Canada must focus our resources where they can do the most good. Working with its many partners including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, private sponsors and service providers, Canada is helping refugees begin their lives anew.

Voices of Refugees is a testament to those who have already come to Canada and of the thousands still in need of protection. This presentation highlights the remarkable bravery of these individuals and the important contributions they are making to Canadian society.

Radio Canada Link Program Refugee Voices

Voices of Refugees Installation at the Parliament of Canada reviewed by Radio Canada International of Montreal.


The Voices of Refugees Installation, shown at the Parliament of Canada, was reviewed by Marc Montgomery and Robert Jaros December 2009 on the The Link Program of Radio Canada International in Montreal Quebec.  Radio Canada International (RCI) is the international broadcasting service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Until 1970, it was known as the CBC International Service and, in its early years, it was also referred to as the “Voice of Canada”.


In June 2012, shortwave services were terminated and RCI became accessible via the internet only and was reduced to service in five languages in contrast with the 14 languages it used in 1990. CBC also ended production of RCI news.


The idea for creating an international radio voice for Canada was first proposed as far back as the 1930s. The CBC Archives website, however, has no archived news stories showing the historical documents where this early shortwave service is discussed. Several studies commissioned by the CBC Board of Governors in the late 1930s had come to the conclusion that Canada needed a radio service to broadcast a Canadian point of view to the world.


By the early 1940s, this need was also recognized by a series of Parliamentary Broadcasting Committees. Finally, in 1942, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced that Canada would begin a shortwave radio service that would keep members of the Canadian Armed Forces in touch with news and entertainment from home. The CBC International Service became a reality with the signing of an Order-in-Council on September 18, 1942.


Designed by CBC’s chief architect D. G. McKinstry, the building opened in 1944 and was scheduled to be closed in 2012. A portion of the large RCI shortwave antenna system is visible in the background. The antennas were removed in 2014

By the end of 1944, both the production facilities and the transmitting plant were ready for test broadcasts. These tests, which began on December 25, 1944, were broadcast to Canadian troops in Europe in both English and French. Psychological warfare in German to Europe began in December 1944 as well. The German section was staffed by refugees such as Helmut Blume and Eric Koch and would go on to broadcast “denazification” programming as well as broadcasts aimed at East Germany during the Cold War.


In early 1945, it was announced that the CBC International Service was ready and would go on the air for real on February 25 using the name the “Voice of Canada”.

By 1946, the CBC International Service had expanded to include regular transmissions in Czech and Dutch. Beginning in July, special once-a-week programs were broadcast to Scandinavia in Swedish and Danish and later in Norwegian, as well.

In November 1946, daily broadcasts started to the Caribbean in English. There were also Sunday night programs broadcast to Cuba, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador in Spanish and to Brazil in Portuguese.


Daily Spanish and Portuguese transmissions began on July 6, 1947. At around the same time as the expansion into the Caribbean and Latin America, the CBC International Service became involved with the newly formed United Nations. United Nations broadcasts through the CBC International Service continued until November 29, 1952, when they were transferred to larger shortwave facilities run by the Voice of America.


Early Cold War broadcasting (1950–1967)

Throughout its early years, the CBC International Service concentrated on broadcasting to Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II. By the early 1950s several international shortwave stations began to beam programs into the Soviet bloc countries in an effort to circumvent heavy censorship of world news to their citizens.  The CBC International Service’s Russian-language transmissions were jammed during the 1950s and into the mid 1960s stopping about 1967. On March 4, 1961, the Danish, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish services were all discontinued. In addition, the German service was reoriented from its previous emphasis on West Germany to focus on East Germany. New English and French programs directed to Africa were added giving the International Service direct coverage to every continent except Asia.


The Cold War era (1967–1991)

The CBC International Service played a major role in covering Canada’s Centennial celebrations in 1967. Ceremonies from coast to coast were carried over short-wave to the world on July 1, 1967 as Canada marked its 100th birthday.

In July 1970, the service was renamed Radio Canada International.

The change took place because it was felt that RCI should have its own identity, separate from the CBC domestic network, even though RCI had just been fully integrated into the CBC system.

On November 7, 1971, RCI inaugurated its new 250 kW transmitters which were five times more powerful than the existing units. This significantly improved RCI’s signal quality in Europe and Africa. Canada recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1971. Before beginning its Mandarin Chinese service, RCI produced a 40-week series called Everyday English which was broadcast in 1988 and early 1989 over local stations in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. With an estimated audience of almost 20 million, the course was a huge success.

Just 10 months after beginning the Chinese broadcasts, RCI started a series of Arabic broadcasts to the Middle East. This coincided with the United Nations effort in the Persian Gulf to support the Gulf war, of which Canada was a participant.

RCI under threat (1991-2006)

In early 1991, facing further budget deficits, the Government of Canada ordered an across-the-board budget cut. Every ministry and Crown corporation, including the CBC, was required to participate.

After evaluating its own budget, the CBC decided it could no longer pay for Radio Canada International without extra funding from the federal government.

To save the service, RCI Program Director Allan Familiant announced a major restructuring that took effect on March 25, 1991. Six of the 13 languages – Czech, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, and Portuguese – were discontinued. And while the English and French services survived, all RCI-produced programming, except for news broadcasts, was eliminated and replaced with CBC Domestic network programs. Since then some RCI-produced programs in English and French have been restored. RCI then began a two audio stream, later three audio stream programming delivery structure after 2000.