By: Natalie Clark
When the quaint and beloved Westdale Theatre closed down in early 2017, residents of the Westdale community and many McMaster students were especially upset. Although fairly run down, the Westdale had been the community’s hot spot for Friday night dates, Hollywood’s must-see films and the best popcorn in town for as long as anyone could remember.
On Feb. 14, the Westdale community celebrated the long-awaited re-opening of the Westdale Theatre. Guests were told to dress in period attire for a special event accompanied by cocktails and a screening of the 1942 classic, Casablanca. The event also featured a silent auction, where guests could explore the new and improved venue while admiring local Hamilton art.
With searchlights lighting up the night sky and a red carpet gracing the floor of the doors of the theatre, the Westdale certainly dressed to impress for their grand re-opening. The 350 ticket event sold out in two weeks.
For the past 30 years, the Westdale was owned by an elderly man in Toronto. It wasn’t until he passed away that his family put the theatre up for sale, allowing new owners to claim the theatre, known as the Westdale Cinema Group.
“An enormous amount of changes were made… the theatre was in terrible condition, we spent 2.5 million dollars restoring it,” mentioned Fred Fuchs, chairperson of the Westdale Cinema Group.
“Besides equipping it with state-of-the-art projection, screens, new seats, new sound, new acoustic panelling, we also had to completely redo the air conditioning and the heating, the electrical system, the roof, the bathrooms — it was a complete overhaul of the entire theatre,” said Fuchs.
About two years later, the Westdale Theatre is back open for business, and the community is thrilled. Westdale resident and Silhouette alumnus, David Simpson, had one word to describe the re-opening event, “fabulous”.
“I think that the re-opening will be great for Westdale and for McMaster too, creating a hub for the community,” said Simpson.
Members of the Westdale community are thrilled about the re-opening of the theatre but are also admiring the other advantages that the theatre welcomes to the community.
“It’s wonderful to see it revitalized, and to see hundreds of people in the theatre is great,” said Vivian Lewis, a member of the Westdale community.
“I think that the theatre is going to bring a diversity of films to the community,” mentioned Lewis. “Right now in Hamilton we just have lots of box theatres that are showing the same thing on every screen, and so this theatre will be our chance to see more art films and more alternative films that aren’t currently available in Hamilton.”
Aside from standard film movies, the Westdale Theatre will also be hosting frequent live music shows, talks, performances and other special events.
“I’m excited about the idea that it’s not just a movie theatre anymore and that it’s also performance based,” said Sue Trerise-Adamson, another Westdale resident.
“I think that is a really good idea, and it expands all the possibilities of the theatre… I think it’s a real anchor for the whole community of Westdale,” mentioned Trerise-Adamson.
Westdale locals have already begun visiting the theatre for their regular screenings and are grateful to have the theatre back in the community.
Experience the new and improved Westdale Theatre on your own and check out all available screenings and shows on their website: https://www.thewestdale.ca/now-playing/
From side tables to sex toys, Hamilton-based artist Lauren Goodman’s work is all about blending functionality, feel and form.
Formally trained in fine woodworking at Williams & Cleal Furniture School in England, Goodman has a business designing and creating handmade furniture.
She also collaborates with other artists at Hamilton Audio Visual Node (HAVN), a multimedia arts collective. Additionally, she co-founded Sister Moon Collective, which focuses on fostering community and safer spaces through art.
In 2013, she helped create sex-positive submission-based zine Milkweed, where she was introduced to the erotic art scene. However, it was only recently that she began making erotic art of her own. She began creating hand carved wooden sex toys as a way to experiment with erotica.
“A friend of mine and I were talking about how wood is not a medium that people make sex toys out of,” said Goodman. “So just kind of sort of playing around using these offcuts to make different shapes and forms and sort of coming to forms that I like.”
Sex toys are a personal project for Goodman. Whereas her furniture is commission-based, her sex toys are more about personal exploration.
“This is me exploring my sexuality and what I want, and breaking down stigma that I have myself,” she said.
Through her erotic art, Goodman aims to normalize discussions about sexuality. By making beautiful, artistic sexual objects, she hopes to help break down taboos around sexuality and encourage people to explore sex openly.
“The idea is to break down this stigma of sexual objects, that they have to be in a little box under your bed,” Goodman said. “Why can't we put our ‘dirty’ thing on a plinth in our living room, and then when we want to have sex we grab it off the plinth and go have sex?”
Goodman finds that the sex-positive movement is slowly becoming more widely accepted. In some ways, Instagram is helping to encourage this shift.
Instagram facilitates connections between like-minded artists from around the world, and in doing so builds an online community for an art form such as erotica that may have otherwise been considered niche.
Additionally, sites like Instagram provide opportunities for people to explore sexuality while maintaining some level of anonymity. Goodman notes that people who are reserved about sexuality in real life can find a sense of liberation and openness through social media.
However, the advent of digital media presents a unique set of challenges for Goodman. As a woodworker, the visual element of her work is only one part of the picture. The tactile component of her art is also vital.
“Even with the tables that I make, or lamps, or anything like that — I want you to touch them and feel like it's silky.,” she noted. “I want it to be tactile pleasing as well as aesthetically pleasing, as well as functionally working. And all of these things intersecting to make a beautiful piece of art.”
As online markets replace brick and mortar stores, consumers lose the ability to physically interact with work and provide real time feedback.
Goodman noted that many queer-centric, sex-positive shops are shutting their doors. This means that people lose tactile access to sex objects, as well as the ability to talk to people about sex.
Goodman points to the need for an independent, sex-positive sex shop in Hamilton.
“I would love a Girl On The Wing that just sold sex toys — you know, like the local stuff, really curated with nice colours — that would be amazing, that would be a great store,” she added.
The absence of sex-positive shops in Hamilton speaks to a larger observation about the city’s approach to sexuality.
While Hamilton is known for being an artistic city, it does not have an erotic art scene. She observes a history of sexual repression that pervades into the present day, noting that Hamilton only legalized burlesque last year.
“I think that those deep-seated ‘ickies’ towards sex is really fervent here. And that's maybe why it's a little stifled on the erotic side,” she said.
Goodman also points out that the absence of an erotic arts scene in Hamilton is in part to due with the city’s proximity to Toronto. Hamilton-based artists can take their work to Toronto if they are interested in pursuing erotic art in an already established scene.
Despite the lack of an erotic art scene in Hamilton, Goodman finds that artists often explore themes of sexuality in their work. She finds the artist community in Hamilton to be open, progressive and welcoming.
For Goodman, this openness is key. By exploring sexuality openly and honestly in her work, Goodman hopes to work away at her own internalized shame, and encourage others to do the same.
By: Rya Buckley
Mia Sandhu’s paper cut outs depict images of women partially or entirely nude, amidst backgrounds of leaves or behind curtains. She began working on these figures four years ago as a way of working through her own ideas about women’s sexuality.
Sandhu is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in Toronto. Her work has been exhibited in Toronto, Kingston, Halifax and Hamilton. She is a member of The Assembly gallery here in Hamilton, has done an artist residency at the Cotton Factory and also exhibited her work at Hamilton Artists Inc.
Last November, Sandhu exhibited her collection Soft Kaur at The Assembly, which featured playful figures who are comfortable with their sexuality. The name of the exhibition, which alludes to both to the softness and fierceness of women, incorporates the half Punjabi artist’s cultural background into her work.
“It's the idea [of] a female warrior spirit and the idea of equality that exists… Singh and Kaur are these given names and it was designed to eliminate status and… [create] men and women as equal. And I liked the play on this idea of soft female spirit slash warrior spirit [and] also the sexual undertone,” Sandhu explained.
There are other motifs in Sandhu’s work that suggest a dialogue between Sandhu’s culture and her evolving ideas on sexuality. A lover of Indian fabrics, silks and tapestries, Sandhu includes these aesthetic features in her work through the exotic plants in the environment her figures reside in. With the evolution of her work, she now references more domesticated plants that humans have formed a relationship with.
The silhouettes that are seen in Soft Kaur are also the result of Sandhu’s art’s progression. Her earlier work featured brown-bodied figures because Sandhu felt it more appropriate to use brown bodies in a work related to her upbringing and culture. Over time Sandhu employed more silhouettes in order to represent any woman, regardless of race.
The silhouettes do not broadcast as a uniform but as a canvas onto which women can project their own sexuality and ideas about sexuality. Sandhu is a believer in the fact that no one should decide for a woman how she should be represented sexually in society.
“I want women to be safe and I want them to feel safe and feel free and strong and empowered… [W]e're autonomous [and] each of us should choose for ourselves how we want to be represented sexually or in any other way because we're individuals. Hopefully we're not represented with any sort of attachment to shame. We should just be proud of who we are,” Sandhu said.
Facilitating space for women to speak about their ideas on sexuality was one of Sandhu’s aims behind this body of work. She finds it interesting to observe how her audiences connect with and interpret her art. By enabling dialogue, she finds that women can begin to realize the experiences that they share.
Exhibiting at The Assembly also gave Sandhu a location to speak with others about her work and to receive feedback. One thing that she appreciates about the Hamilton art scene is the sincerity of the participants who she feels are open to talking about important issues and are creating art that is driven by content.
While there is no linear narrative to Sandhu’s work, the content is obviously evolving as Sandhu’s own views develop. One of the motifs whose symbolism has changed over the years is the cloak that Sandhu’s figures have covering and revealing their bodies.
“[The cloak] represents shame, it represents personal space and it represents a number of other things as well… But it's like they're choosing how much of themselves that they're revealing and then as the work evolves, it's like the… cloak… stops being on them directly and starts being like in their space around them and they're allowing you in, or not letting you in,” explained Sandhu.
Through her work, Sandhu is also choosing to what extent she decides to let her audiences in. She is working on a new set of drawings and will continue to explore women’s sexuality and empowerment in the future. Her artwork is her diary, the paper cut outs and pencils replacing the thousands of elusive words that would be required to speak on the complicated ideas that she depicts.