It was a difficult breakup that led Marisa Gallemit down the path to art, when making sculptures was the only way she could find solace in escaping the life she had built.
From her pain emerged one of her signature art pieces: a winged, feathered sculpture, fashioned out of discarded bicycle tubes from a previously owned business, that has since been featured in numerous shows. It inspired Gallemit to make smaller versions of the disembodied wing, as gifts for friends who are undergoing any kind of transition in their lives.
"Becoming an artist was never an intellectual decision — I just went straight towards it to escape. And I was just making up the techniques as I went along, which has really set the tone for my practice.”
Born and raised in Ottawa, Gallemit is a first generation Canadian whose Filipino parents had set ideas on acceptable career choices — and art was not one of them.
“Being artistic was fine, but not an acceptable way to make a living in their eyes. As a kid I liked making art, but I wasn’t so sure it could be a job - I didn’t have role models who were living successfully as artists,” says Gallemit, who flirted with the idea of journalism, then mass communications, but settled on a degree in film studies.
Along the way she had her son — who entered a neuroscience program at the University of Toronto last fall — and started a business catering to triathletes with her now ex-partner, who was on the Canadian National triathlon team as well as a coach.
Today, Gallemit curates the arts program at three Ottawa restaurants, including Pressd, Oz Kafe, and the Manx, a social hub for the local arts scene where she has also bartended for the past decade. She’s also the arts editor for Ottawa Beat magazine.
“That’s four different organizations that have given me the role of advocating for my peers in the community,” she says. “I’m in such a privileged position to be able to put their work on display as it is a real game-changer. Being recognized is the difference between making stuff and identifying as an artist. It’s the act of focusing attention on something that creates reality – that’s the very foundation for metaphysics.”
Gallemit incorporates materials into her sculptures ranging from objects found on the street to disposable chopstick sleeves and old menus. But old bicycle tubes are a favourite of hers.
“For one, it is an endless resource. For another, each one of those tubes is from a flat tire, which means there’s at least a few hundred kilometres on them and a funny or tragic story of how a trip has ended. Incorporating them is a tribute to those stories,” she says.
In this sense, Gallemit sees a parallel to democracy. “Democracy tries to listen to those stories, to compile these voices and arrange for everyone to get seen and heard in a meaningful way,” she says.
It is fitting that Gallemit’s piece for the CKX/Samara project is in the shape of a branch, referencing both the notion of growth and the concept of the talking stick, an emblematic object in African and indigenous communities.
Her artwork is titled, “With Will to Choose,” after a line from Emily Dickinson’s poem, “#353.”
“When you think about this concept, the initial focus is on speaking — the group agrees that person who holds the object can speak uninterrupted. But what is more meaningful is the implicit listening it suggests, where one person speaks, and many offer their ears,” she says.
“Our civic leaders, particularly the ones I encountered through CKX and Samara, are keen and sensitive to how democracy can thrive in the future and the ways in which we can all improve the system so everyone is represented.”
Gallemit covered the stick in paper that mimics Canadian voter ballots, bearing the familiar black background and white circles for voters to indicate their selections. “The paper ballots cover the branch to resemble bark and leaves, suggesting our choices as individual voters are the seed, the cellular structure of democracy,” says Gallemit.
“Canadian politics never really captured my attention until later in life. After having experienced being a parent, a small business owner and a cultural practitioner, I became more aware of my position in my community and society.
“This awareness prompted me to look at where I stand within our democratic system and to ask how my interests are expressed politically.”
Recently Gallemit became more attuned to her own intersectionality as a woman of colour. “I continue to learn about how women, the LGBTQ community, people of colour, First Nations, Inuit and Metis voices are represented here and elsewhere. Because of this awakening, my relationship with democracy and its terms and limitations has become a priority.
“I care about how these non-dominant voices can be heard.”
As part of their #StrongerDemocracy collaboration, CKX and Samara Canada invited four artists to tap into their creative expression to demonstrate their relationship and experiences with Canadian democracy, and their visions for its evolution for the next 150 years and beyond.
The commissioned works will be showcased in a series of events, while visual art pieces will be donated to democracy organizations across the country.