Growing up in Toronto’s Little Portugal, connecting with his cultural roots was not so important to Danny Custodio.
âI was immersed in it, but I never really felt very connected. And again, growing up and becoming a teenager, I kind of moved a little further from that,â the artist said. 39 years old. told CBC Toronto.
It wasn’t until his later years at the Ontario College of Art and Design that the photographer and visual artist became interested in exploring culture and what it meant to him.
âI started to incorporate some of the traditional Portuguese artistic practices into my work, where I started to really reconnect and instead of looking back and thinking about my family’s experience within the culture, I I started to really connect and do it’s mine, âhe said.
Custodio, who now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, began researching Portuguese tile and flower carpets and used his photographic medium to capture the essence of Portuguese culture through his lens.
âI was also looking at some of these practices that weren’t really made for artistic creation,â Custodio said.
“So the Portuguese tiles … done in front of buildings, the kind of tribute you would see in front of Portuguese houses, with what is called Azulejo … and some of those flower carpets that are manufactured. [I’m] reflect on how these non-traditional artists create works of art and perpetuate these artistic practices in a cultural way. “
He says it helped him bridge the gap between art and its culture and connect that to contemporary Canadian art.
For example, traditionally flower carpets from Portugal are made with the flora found nearby in the region. Likewise, Custodio brings together materials from his backyard or neighborhood in St. Catharines to make art that speaks to him and reflects his Canadian personality and the place where he now lives.
He says his parents inspired him to immerse himself in its culture when they wondered what he was going to do with art school.
âIt was really a bridge between me and my family and my culture to my current practice, in my current language of photography and visual arts, that really solidified that bond,â he said.
Custodio’s journey of rediscovery included viewing family histories, photographs and previous albums to learn more about his family history. In 2004, he returned to the Azores, a region of Portugal, to learn about the histories and laws of the region. This inspired him to create a series of photographs titled leave / stay / come back.
âI watched how Portuguese immigrants, in particular, but immigrants in general, come into a space, occupy a physical space in that context and then share those traditions with their families and children,â Custodio said.
He says that during this trip he learned a lot about his heritage.
âI think what I learned is that there is definitely a kind of cultural passion that is rich in art and culture,â Custodio said.
“They make these rugs in homage to certain religious deities, but also as a way to create a community. Neighbors will come, our families will come out and there is quite an event around these flower rugs.”
âI found that context really interesting because here I am in Niagara doing this kind of cellular and island work frame by frame rather than in a larger context within a community. I’m here in sort of thinking about that based on my experience as an individual within this community.
Custodio says that during his journey of rediscovery, he reinterpreted his culture into a language he understands.
âNow I share these traditions with my own children who come to pick flowers with me and collect materials and they ask questions about why we are doing this,â he said.
âI feel more in the culture than ever before,â added Custodio.
“And not just because it’s important for my family to know that we have this culture and that we share it, but to reinterpret it and create a new sense of what it’s like to be a native Canadian. Portugese.”
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