By Calvin Barr
A mixed a blessing to living in an urban jungle may be an over-abundance of arts and culture opportunities. I always have a good time taking relatives to the ROM or AGO, checking out a Holt Renfrew unveiling, or seeing sold out concerts at big venues. But what of the countless alternatives? When and how often do we prioritize them? What is the foundation of a city’s art world if not: Innovation? Metamorphosis? Community?

Regardless, RAW:Toronto, an independent exhibit of artwork, music, makeup, photography, and fashion held at Mod Club this past weekend proved that our city has no shortage of any of these. The incredible collections, presented across a cool-lit industrial performance space, ranged from gothic, despairing, and cavernous to prismatic, euphoric, and unearthly. Pieces by artists from all over the area reflected mythology, wildlife, portraits, machinery, and scenery, stylized with tantalizing medleys of color schemes, levels of realism, and sentiment.

In tandem with the artwork, a number of local musicians performed their original work, before a lavish fashion show kicked off towards the end of the evening. Lead by bewilderingly fierce models adorned with stunningly hair and make-up, the show exuded themes of nature, burlesque, monstrosity, classic trends, and futurism.

I had the opportunity to interview one of the designers, Annabel Gerke, on her new line, “Homeworld,” and what the Toronto fashion scene means to her. “The main characters are from this other world that I was trying to personify,” Gerke explained, referring to her inspiration for the show, the Cartoon Network phenomenon, Steven Universe. “I wanted it to be unusual-looking and different while bringing a sense of home and comfort at the same time.” The 22-year-old Tennessee native described Toronto’s fashion community as “…very open-minded and full of possibilities. Country is the main style back home, so options tend to be limited. Here, it’s a lot more accepting and diverse.”

Since my fashion knowledge mostly stems from pop culture representation, I asked her about measures to encourage inclusivity and diversity among models in the fashion world. “There are ups and downs,” she admitted. “Sometimes designers stick with sample sizes, but plan them out to accommodate different body types.” She also acknowledged that embracing diversity isn’t always given. “I’ve had instances, for example, of a hairdresser being disgruntled, because they had expected to work on a straight-haired white girl. It’s not just about body type. I think we all need to be supportive and not “other” anyone that we’re working with.”

For many, being fashionable inspires everyday confidence. But for those who thrive on pushing the creative envelope, is it more about self-confidence or self-expression? “Of course, it’s both,” she laughed. “Particularly if you’re shy, or have trouble making friends, it allows you to put your attitude and individuality out there. It kind of speaks to other people on your behalf.”

As “Homeworld” brought the show to an electrifying finale, I asked Annabel her advice for designers getting started. “Make a deadline, and do it even if you hate it,” she smiled. “It can be really hard to resist changing too much half-way through. But even if you’re not happy with the result, you never know if other people will think it’s cool, and who you’ll end up meeting.”

The most gratifying thing to witness that evening wasn’t how much time and thought had been put into the work, but the level of support and dedication the artists brought one another. RAW, as a global organization, is dedicated to art community engagement, making connections, and safe space expression. Perhaps discovering an art scene you’ve never seen has less to do with Googling, and more do with whomever you know.