London

London photographer's exhibit highlights where newcomers to the city feel most at home

Home is not just a place, it's a feeling, according to photographer Bruno Belli of London, Ont. And that's the message he wants to showcase in his photography exhibit at London's multicultural festival on Sunday. 

The 'Home' exhibit will be on display at London's multicultural festival on Sunday

Photographer, Bruno Belli pictured with his son Vicente is ready to showcase his exhibit which focuses on places in London, Ont., where newcomers feel most at home. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Home is not just a place, it's a feeling, according to photographer Bruno Belli of London, Ont. And that's the message he wants to showcase in his photography exhibit at London's multicultural festival on Sunday. 

In his project titled Home, Belli captured six families in London who had recently immigrated to Canada by asking them which public spaces within the city they felt most at home, and allowed them to write a quote of their choice in their native languages. 

"It's basically an investigation into feelings of belonging and ownership over public spaces by newcomers," Belli said. 

As a former newcomer who came to London from his home country of Brazil five years ago, Belli's always wondered what it is that makes other newcomers feel welcome and comfortable, he said. 

"It's about how photography can be used as a tool to negotiate this new identity and your new space in a society that you've arrived in recently, and how it can assert presence and negotiate feelings of belonging both to this new culture and your home culture as well," he added. 

Belli said this project allowed him to reflect on his own experiences while exploring that of others, and he's happy to give others who are navigating life in a new environment a voice.

Public spaces, a unique experience 

Here's Sara Ali, who was photographed by Belli. Her location of choice was the Stoney-Creek YMCA where she and her family spent most of their time during COVID lockdowns. (Isha Bhargava/CBC )

Sara Ali was one of Belli's participants. She chose the Stoney-Creek YMCA because it was a place she frequently visited during the lockdowns, where her young daughter learned to walk.

"This public space has seen us grow as a family. We have experienced it all here, the good, the bad, and the in-between," she wrote on the photo in her native Urdu language. 

Originally from Pakistan, Ali moved to London in February 2020. Being a part of this project, she realized how much trauma she internalized from the attack on the Afzaal family last June, in which four of its members were killed in what police say was hate-motivated due to their Muslim faith. 

"I felt like a responsibility to participate for the sake of representing people like me, a visible Muslim" she said. "I'm proud of my identity, but in this society, I'm often made to feel that it makes people uncomfortable." 

She hopes this can show people that newcomers are just as Canadian as others, and they shouldn't have to live in so much fear of being targeted. 

London photographer captures newcomers experience

6 months ago
Duration 0:50
London-based photographer Bruno Belli wanted to explore where in the city newcomers feel most at home. Here he is describing one of the families he captured.

Belli found that every individual's experience in public spaces was unique to who they are, what their beliefs are, and what memories these spaces spark for them. 

"Some people felt at home at a swimming pool because that reminds them of the water from the river in the city where they grew up; others felt at home in certain public parks because that's where they could make friends and be sociable," he said. 

He says the place that symbols home for him is his neighbourhood park, where he takes his five-year-old son Vicente, close to Jack Chambers Public School. This is where Belli's been able to meet other parents and make friends of his own. 

Belli hopes that viewers can truly see the people who are in the photographs and find common ground with some of their stories. He hopes those in the photos can feel seen and understood. 

"I want them [audiences] to reflect on these stories and how they might interact with people in public spaces, and how this really informs our idea of a multicultural Canada," he said.

Belli's exhibit will be on display at Sunday's festival, after which it'll move to Toronto and where it'll feature part of a bigger project called Under the Tent at the Aga Khan Museum.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isha Bhargava is a multiplatform reporter for CBC News. She's worked for Ontario newsrooms in Toronto and London. She loves telling current affairs and human interest stories. You can reach her at isha.bhargava@cbc.ca or on Twitter @isha__bhargava

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