DesignTO’s annual show returns with a showcase of inclusive and post-pandemic design


For this year’s DesignTO festival, artist and designer Yaw Tony decided to build on his previous work and explore how bright colors can affect mood.handouts

If adaptability is a key element of good design, then the upcoming DesignTO Festival showcases his talent. Even amid the recent pandemic restrictions, more than 100 projects will be available to audiences across the city and beyond January 21-30 to showcase how design in its many forms is a driving force for community building, collaboration and understanding can be.

Entering its 12th year, DesignTO celebrates the works of emerging and veteran creators across a range of disciplines – from architecture to fashion, interior design to future system innovations – through a mix of online lectures and workshops, window installations and even digital recordings that are available through the DesignTO Members Library. And while some projects have to be postponed, the festival is proving timely: this year’s annual symposium, titled No Such Thing as Normal, will bring 11 multidisciplinary experts together online to discuss inclusive design, new approaches to healthcare and post-pandemic design . “What we have learned during the pandemic is that there are many ways to engage with each other and with design,” says Deborah Wang, Artistic Director and Co-Director of DesignTO Festival.

Here six participants share their thoughts on how design brings people together and what it means for their work to be part of the festival.

For apparel artists and designers Justin Woods, this year’s festival presented a unique opportunity for collaboration. Woods, a Penetanguishene-Aabitaawikwe from the Georgian community of Bay Métis who was born and raised in Tiny, Ontario, has collaborated with Randi Samsonsen, a textile artist in the Faroe Islands, a North Atlantic archipelago, to create an exhibition. The pair are part of Shared Terrain, a show exploring the cultural and geographic connections between Canadian and Nordic regions. Woods and Samsonsen relied on video calls to share ideas, photos of their physical surroundings, and scans of their hands. They also sent each other packets of materials related to their individual practice, such as knitting and crochet samples, as well as porcupine quills and cedar wood, in the case of Woods, who is pursuing her PhD in indigenous fashion technologies. The result is textile pieces that “come together in dialogue” through shared objects and ideas, says Woods.

January 27 – March 20, Artport Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queen’s Quay W.

As the designer and creative director of Toronto-based streetwear brand Aadhe, which creates bespoke clothing from popular fabrics and leftover stocks, Aman Gil loves bold statements.

The message behind the non-binary artist’s DesignTO showcase of fashion and music performances was unique: “Come party with me!” as they put it. That spirited message hasn’t changed even as the in-person event was postponed due to the current health restrictions, with pre-taped clips of performances online. For Gill, who also identifies as queer and South Asian, the festival facilitates community building and collaboration: “It’s been such a blessing to be in a place where I could be so connected.”

January 29, 7-10 p.m. Register at

For this year’s festival, artists and designers Greed Tony decided to build on his earlier work and investigate how bright colors can affect mood. Last year he researched the use of color in fashion and discovered that people can be reluctant to wear bright colors – despite the positive effects on mood. Pandemic lockdowns have prompted Tony, whose background is in architecture and graphic design, to expand his color palette by designing home accessories – from chairs to curtains to vessels – in hopes of improving the experience of being stuck indoors. “You need color in everyday life,” he says. “If we look around in nature, you can find every color you can imagine and they all work beautifully.”

21st-30th January, italDesign Showroom, 325 King St. E. and online at

The Placemaking exhibition is the result of a six-week residency program run by DesignTO Youth, giving participants access to creative professionals for mentoring. Enna Kim, a visual storyteller, her work usually focuses on human relationships, but for this year’s festival she explores the interplay between cyclists and the city. Kim, a Korean-Canadian whose practice began in architecture, is drawn to the design and function of public spaces. “I have a road bike and it was really eye-opening,” she says. Kim explores the “tension between cars and cyclists and pedestrians” with her exhibition, which features a painting surrounding the exhibition space. “I’m talking about access and how important it is to people,” says Kim. “It’s possible that Toronto is bike-friendly.”

Yasmine Hassen, another residency participant, is a multidisciplinary artist and member of the Black community who completed his Masters in Gentrification. Grew up in Hassen, Toronto’s Rexdale neighborhood learned how to extend the “Rexdale Handshake,” where two people greet each other by folding opposing hands so their index fingers form an X. To this day, Hassen shares the handshake when paths cross with others in the community. Hassen explored “gentrification and revitalization as tools of the state to destroy Black and Indigenous geographies,” they explain, and through design work they explore how embodied experiences like a handshake can bind a community just as much as a physical place. For DesignTO, Hassen created a papier-mâché clay sculpture of the Rexdale Handshake to honor the community and spread their story amidst an ever-changing landscape. “They can try to kill these neighborhoods, but their spirits will persevere,” they say.

Both works run January 21-30 at The Gallery at Mason Studio, 91 Pelham Ave.

For makers and designers Daej Hamilton, DesignTO marks the launch of their first furniture collection. Influenced by mid-century modern aesthetics, Hamilton hopes to create what she calls “sentimental furniture,” handcrafted pieces special enough to become heirlooms. “I want people to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is real wood, and I want to be able to pass this on to my kid or a friend,'” she says. Another aspect of Hamilton’s practice is her use of power tools, rather than a traditional chisel, to carve pieces. “It’s a bit dangerous, but fun,” she says. Hamilton is no stranger to breaking new ground. “Being a furniture maker and being a black queer woman…doing a solo show is huge,” says Hamilton. “I’m becoming the representation I want to be.”

Jan 21-2 Feb. 6, Band Gallery, 19 Brock Ave. and online at

Visit for a full schedule.


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