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Artists wanted to help stamp out racism in South Okanagan community

Click to play video: 'Anti-Racism Summerland Mural' Anti-Racism Summerland Mural
A hate-motivated act of vandalism in Summerland has inspired an outdoor anti-racism mural to promote diversity and inclusion. Shelby Thom reports. – May 27, 2021

A hate-motivated act of vandalism in a South Okanagan community has inspired a grand artistic gesture that aims to promote a culture of anti-racism.

It was July 2020 when the Lekhis, an Indo-Canadian family from Summerland, were targeted by vandals.

Their home was spray-painted with disturbing phrases and images, including a swastika.

Read more: Police investigating ‘hate-motivated vandalism’ involving Okanagan home

A short time later, similar hateful graffiti was also discovered on Summerland’s Memorial Park bandshell.

Since then, Ramesh and Kiran Lekhi and their three adult children have partnered with Okanagan-Skaha School District 67 to engage in conversations around anti-racism education.

That has led to a call for artists, both professional and amateur, to paint a mural promoting anti-racism on the east side of Summerland Middle School.

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Summerland residents welcome discussion around racism in the community – Jul 22, 2020

“One thing that drove this project was racism that my siblings and myself experienced growing up. But it was dozens and dozens of other individuals who came up in July and told us, ‘Yeah, we’ve been experiencing this racism all along, but we never really knew how to speak up about it,'” said Abhishek Lekhi.

His sister, Shivali Lekhi, added that the mural should promote ongoing discussions about anti-racism.

“I really hope that the mural does capture our community, the spirit, and mostly the love that was shown to us during this whole incident, and my hope is that the mural can also tell our story about what happened,” she said.

Read more: ‘Racism exists here’: Okanagan diversity video combats racial tensions amid COVID-19

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The successful artist will be selected by school district staff and the Lekhi family.

“All three of their kids have come through this school and some of their extended family have come through this school, so when the event happened last summer, it impacted our community in a really large way,” said Summerland Middle School principal Darcy Mullin.

Entries will be judged on artistic merit, creativity, and connection to identified themes.

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The goal is to create a colourful and large mural — 18 feet by 80 feet — that best captures the theme of anti-racism.

The school district stated that the piece will acknowledge the strength of the community of Summerland and support a positive path forward in celebrating the diversity and multiculturalism within the community.

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“For me, this mural is about a legacy, turning a negative message into a positive message using the same media that was used by the graffiti artists to put that positive message out there,” said teacher Traci Steves.

Read more: Summerland, B.C., family targeted by racist graffiti raising funds for community mural

Interested artists must provide written statements describing the design, its relevance to the theme, the community and the Lekhi family experience.

The deadline for submissions is June 18. It’s hoped the mural will be completed no later than November 2021.

For more information, artists can email summerlandmural@gmail.com or call 778-931-2197.

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