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Interview: Artist Jacqui Terry

Mixed Media

Jacqui Terry is an artist and designer who grew up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She has worked for several nonprofit organizations, including Christian Horizons in Ontario, and Youth for Christ, the Sandra Jones Children's Village, and Family Impact in Zimbabwe. Currently she is part of a collaborative effort to publish children's books in southern African languages for the benefit of African immigrants and people who have an African heritage. She is a member of The Journey, a Christian Reformed Church in Kitchener, Ontario.

Q. You have collaborated as the illustrator on the book How Zebby the Zebra Lost His Stripes(Vezani Publishing), available in the Ndebele and other African languages, so that children can read in their own languages. I understand that part of your motivation is to bridge the gap between the North American media’s portrayal of Africa and the Africa that you know. Is the book also available in English?

A. Since English is widely spoken in southern Africa, I consider it an African language—so yes, the books are available in English! We hope that Zebby and his friends will have a series of adventures. If we can create an environment where children learn about the cultures of their homelands and communities in an affirming atmosphere, we can aim for well-adjusted and confident youths who will be responsible global citizens of the future.

I share my story in the hope that people will realize that Africa has far more diversity than we often realize. The Zebby book project ignited my own interest in and desire for promoting  African culture, looking for ways for all of us to celebrate how we are different and discover how we are the same. I followed that interest to launch my company, Positively Cultured!, which offers multicultural and arts programming for children and seniors.

Q. Have you had an interest in children’s books before this? If so, what books were important to you?

A. I’ve always loved books and grew up on [comic book characters] Tintin, Asterix, and Obelix (of course, being an artist, I loved the drawings!), stories of Madeline and the Berenstain Bears, but the most powerful impact was from the oral stories my dad would tell us, stories that reflected aspects of our lives but with the element of imagination and adventure so essential to all stories. And certainly that reflects the oral tradition of most African cultures as well. I keep up to date on art, artists, animations, and children’s story books both in Africa and in Canada.

Q. Why did you live most of your life in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe?

A. My parents are professional people who chose to live in Bulawayo for the wonderful weather and the outdoor lifestyle. They are both committed Christians and have done extensive volunteer work in our community with families and individuals for many years. They still live and work in Bulawayo.

Q. How did you end up in a CRC in Kitchener, Ontario?

A. I followed a job to this area. I attend The Journey CRC; I really enjoyed the inter-cultural element of the church, felt at home, and kept coming back!

Q. Are there any animals that you won’t use in your books?

A. I would carefully consider using animals such as the chameleon, as there are many African cultures that consider this creature to be associated with witchcraft. So to remain culturally relevant and accessible, I probably wouldn't use one in a book.

Q. Have you personally had the opportunity to read your books to children in their native language? If so, what was that like for you?

A. I have read the [Zebby] book both to kids from the Zimbabwean community and Canadian children in schools, and both were super fun! It’s interactive with lots of actions and noise, and I love doing it. They find it interesting that I’m from Africa, and they ask kind of strange questions because they put me into the limited story that they have of Africa. They are surprised at the idea of DVD players and grocery stores in Africa—Africa is diverse!

Q. Does this project have a place in your congregation's ministry?

A. The Journey has supported many projects I am involved in, including the Zimbabwe Canada Association Summer Camp, where I read the story to the Zimbabwean kids. The church is supportive of any multicultural initiatives, including Bring on the Sunshine, an African-heritage bridging event I launched this year in February. More than 750 people came to our first event.

Q. Anything else you want to tell me?

A. Through Positively Cultured! I am facilitating an African cultural summer camp, which grew out of the book and the ZimCan Summer camp of last year, and an inter-cultural arts camp aimed at broadening horizons through arts and cultural activities.  African Cultural Safari day camp runs Aug. 15-19 at Forest Hill United Church in Kitchener, Ontario. Also, Arts & Kultcha Camp is another opportunity; it focuses on Waterloo’s diverse cultures, running Aug. 1-6 at Wellington School in Guelph, Ontario.

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