Montreal artist aims to empower immigrant youth by bringing art into the classroom

​​Veronica Mockler spent six weeks with a group of students from Jeanne-Mance High School, creating a multimedia art piece using video, sound and photography.

​​Veronica Mockler worked with 15 students at Jeanne-Mance High School

These students at Jeanne-Mance High School worked on a collaborative multi-media art project called Les Interprètes. (Les Interprètes by Veronica Mockler © 2019)

​​Quebec artist Veronica Mockler jokes that she's a "​​weirdo artist" — at least, she wouldn't fault her group of high school students for seeing it that way.

Mockler partnered with Turbine, a local organization that marries pedagogy with art-making practice, to create a special project with students at Jeanne-Mance High School in Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood.

Quebec artist Veronica Mockler said working on Les Interprètes was meant to empower the students to think about how they want to tell their stories. (Veronica Mockler/Instagram)

Her plan — to create some "weird conceptual video art" with a group of 15 new immigrant students in an orientation class.

The result is a multimedia piece featuring film, sound, photography and performance called Les Interprètes.

The kids in the class come from diverse backgrounds, but they have a few things in common: they're all relative newcomers to Quebec and they were all brought together to learn French in a hurry.

Mockler described her process with the students as "exploratory," saying that her focus was on creating "a platform for expression."

"My whole goal with this project was not to decide for them, not to tell them to speak about a specific subject matter," she said."I really didn't want to do that. I really wanted to let them come to me."

As soon as you mention the word "immigrant," an audience might come to expect a certain agenda or narrative, Mockler said.

"People kind of expect that it's going to be this dramatic story about the migration over here, and how hard it was," she said. "But the kids, most of the time, didn't really feel like talking about that."

In her project, she aimed to empower the youth in the class to take ownership of their stories and voices, and to think about framing and storytelling.

Most of all, she wanted to allow them the freedom to explore and create on their own.

"They're not, like, immigrant teenagers. They're teenagers who have immigrated," said Mockler.

Over the course of six sessions, the class explored different mediums and wrote an artistic manifesto.

"I was trying to find ways for them to take control of the information they want to put out."

Sarah Salsabila says it was a lot of fun working on the art project and experimenting with different tools and techniques. (Les Interprètes by Veronica Mockler © 2019)

​​Sarah Salsabila, 16, immigrated to Montreal with her family in January 2018.

In an interview, Salsabila said it was a lot of fun working on the art project and experimenting with different tools and techniques.

On the theme of ownership, she described one activity where students were asked to speak on camera about a secret.

"I talked about my secret, but we unplugged the microphone, because I don't want anyone to hear it," she said.

The next presentation of Les Interprètes will be on May 9 at 8 p.m., during l'ATSA's Cuisine ta ville event at Place des Arts. The video screening and live performance will be followed by an artist talk. ​


Marilla Steuter-Martin

Former CBC journalist

Marilla Steuter-Martin was a journalist with CBC Montreal from 2015 to 2021.