Ian Bawa | 2023 Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency

Photo: Daniel Crump. 

The Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency provides professional Manitoba artists with time to focus on their work in the beautiful natural setting of Riding Mountain National Park.

The next artist-in-residence for 2023 is Ian Bawa. Ahead of his time in the historic Deep Bay Cabin, Ian answered a few of our questions about his work and how he’ll be spending his residency.

MAC: Tell us a little about yourself as an artist and your practice.

Ian Bawa: I am South Asian filmmaker living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I originally went to school to become a lawyer, but after my mom passed away, I decided to drop out of law school and pursue film and have never looked back since. It has taken many years of grind, hustle, and eating “dirt” to get to the point to where I am a fulltime artist who gets to focus almost 100% of their time on their own work, and am fully thankful for that.

Tell us about your project—what will you be working on in the Deep Bay Cabin? 

I’ll be working on a short experimental doc, entitled Brown Envelope. Brown Envelope takes a deeper look into the themes of immigration in the 90s, systemic discrimination and workplace racism, and how it can mentally and physically effect the individual who is facing it and their family.

In May of 1992, my father was accused of harassment from his fellow employees at the Canada Post Winnipeg Mail Processing Plant. Not knowing exactly what he was being accused of, my father was then bullied to work at the back of the plant, and began to be given less shifts – a formula to eventually get him to quit. After months of being treated this way, my father hired a lawyer and filed suit, claiming the harassment charges were based on slander and racism. By fall of 1995, my father won his case. However, the many years it took to get this win caused much stress and hardship on my father and my family, both personally and financially.

At the time of this event, I was six years old and did not fully understand what exactly was happening with my father or my family, but only understood that my father was home a lot, was constantly upset and angry, and that he would regularly record his phone calls. By the time I was nine and the case had settled, I had put this in the back of my memory and have never revisited it. It was only till October of 2020, after my father died, that I discovered boxes of files and recordings from entire event that my father saved.

This documentary will use records from my father’s files, notes he had taken throughout the case, audio recordings of my father’s phone calls, interviews with those involved in the case, and my own personal account and reaction to the discovery of this story.

What is your relationship with the park, and what are you most looking forward to exploring?

When I was young, my parents would on occasion rent a cabin in Riding Mountain National Park. We would spend at least a week living up there, and it felt like a mini vacation for us. For me, not having traveled much in my youth, it felt like a whole new world, and I have found memories of exploring the forest, the town, the tourist sites with my family.

I am looking forward to experiencing the nostalgia of being back up in Riding Mountain with nothing more than to work on myself and my own project. There something youthful about going to a cabin and forgetting about the world you left behind. I think that’s something I used to do as a kid when my parents and I would come up to Riding Mountain for vacation, that I have somehow lost as an adult.

How do you hope the park will influence or inspire your project or practice?

My goal is to use the weeks I have in Riding Mountain to outline the story structure, digitize and transcribe the cassette tapes, and begin piecing together arc of this film. I believe my mental health and creative juices would be better supported from a place that is far away from my home and from thoughts of father’s death. Writing a story about my father and his suffering at work was never going to be easy, but having his death placed over me at the same time has proven to make the task uncomfortable, and a quiet cabin would be ideal in helping me collect my thoughts and memories into shaping this film.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers and the Riding Mountain National Park community?

My dog will be coming with me to Riding Mountain! She is part of my artistic process because she forces me to relax, take breaks, and go for walks. If you see us around, please say hi! (She’s very recognizable since she has one eye.)

The Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency is offered in partnership by the Manitoba Arts Council and Riding Mountain National Park.

Interested in the staying in the Deep Bay cabin? Find out how to apply to the Riding Mountain Artists Residency through the Learn – Residencies grant stream. Apply by November 1, 2022 for a residency in the summer of 2023.