Women making their marks in arts and culture

Photo by Lisa MacIntosh

Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, three women share their successes and challenges.

Whether through music, words or fashion, each one knows her place in the world as a woman and creator.

The colours and sounds in the eclectic

Although from Ontario, singer Alysha Brilla’s heart always calls for British Columbia where she feels at home.

“A lot of my music is written in and around nature – the fact that [nature] is so concentrated [in Vancouver] gives me a boost of inspiration,” says Brilla.

Her three favourite artists are Bob Marley, Amy Winehouse and Mexican-American singer Selina Quintanilla-Perez.

“My music is a mix of these three artists and their music, which is old influence pop and jazz. It’s upbeat, rhythmic and it tells stories,” she explains.

Growing up in a mixed household – her mother, a Christian-raised Canadian of European background and, her father, a Muslim-raised Indian from Tanzania – meant that Brilla was exposed to a variety of cultural aspects

“I listened to a lot of different music growing up: my mom would sing us church hymns, Irish folk songs, and I would hear from my dad a bunch of Bollywood music so it was really eclectic growing up,” she says.

Brilla says the Canadian music industry is largely owned and operated by white men; she has received both sexist and racist remarks.

“I’m light-skinned so I have the social capital that comes along with that; in some cases, I’m white representing and have ease of access in certain situations. Even though I recognize my privilege in certain ways, it doesn’t stop me from making the industry positive for people regardless of where they fall on the spectrum,” says Brilla.

Brilla will be performing at the Evergreen Cultural Centre, March 2.

Words on paper and words spoken aloud

They put me in poetry…I was a little disturbed by this,” says Jónína Kirton, poet, author and facilitator.

Kirton, 62, says that although she was grateful for being accepted into the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Writer’s Studio program in 2006, she had assumed she would get into the non-fiction writing group.

The 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Literary Arts emerging artist recipient says being placed in the poetry group was a positive experience.

Jónína Kirton, Métis/Icelandic poet, author and facilitator | Photo by Ayelet Tsbari

“Oh my goodness, I’m such a poet! I thought my writing was terrible and my poetry juvenile and knew nothing about poetry,” she says and acknowledges SFU for seeing the potential in her.

The title of Kirton’s first collection of poetry Page is Bone, Ink is Blood, published in 2015, came from a dream.

“A big part of my journey is tied to my genealogy, checking more deeply into my genealogy, blood and history – how many memories I have of my ancestors. It’s about an exploration of a woman who didn’t know much about her ancestry,” says Kirton who adds her father denied his Indigenous roots.

Kirton writes about taboo subjects including “private information” about family dynamics, though she notes that she is not writing for sympathy, but rather for younger women who may be dealing with similar issues.

Her new book, An Honest Woman out this April, depicts the triangular relationship between mother, father and daughter, drawing from her own experiences and also looking at other families, particularly where fathers were dangerous.

“Every woman can relate to fear, of being threatened. Poetry is largely metaphorical, but it touches upon these feelings women can relate to…but also good feelings such as feeling joyful, feeling good in your body and being in nature,” says Kirton. With an aim to make women feel safer in the world, Kirton considers herself becoming more of a feminist every day.

Dressing the part

What is designer and owner of JAC by Jacqueline Conoir, RozeMerie Cuevas’ go-to outfit?

“Slouchy boy pants with a soft, feminine silk blouse and an interesting coat or blazer. That encompasses my personality: strong, feminine and a bit edgy,” says Cuevas, whose boutique is located in South Vancouver.

RozeMerie Cuevas, designer and
owner of JAC by Jacqueline Conoir | Photo by Lu Weiwei

Cuevas’ love for fashion design started at a young age. She began to sew her own clothes at 12-years–old, citing a photograph of her late mother, Jacqueline Conoir, working by her sewing machine as her influence.

“I’m convinced she’s been there with me the whole journey,” says Cuevas of her mother, who died when Cuevas was five-years-old.

Cuevas, who is half French, half Croatian, started the Jacqueline Conoir line with her husband, Thomas Cuevas, in 1985 upon returning to Vancouver from Paris where she went to study fashion design. Cuevas created her second clothing line in 2011: JAC. The name is derived from the first name initials of Cuevas’ mother, Jacqueline, followed by Cuevas’ daughters, Andrea and Celine.

“The message of JAC is: JAC lives freely, leads by example, loves life, project success, inspires, empower action and knows what she wants” says Cuevas.

Recognizing the evolving nature of fashion, Cuevas identified the need to rebrand her company and develop an all-encompassing line that shifts from business-centric clothing to designs that include more culture and lifestyle.

“What I find is that women all over the world, are essentially the same. What makes us a little different is our culture and our traditional beliefs but a core essence and values of a woman are pretty much the same (the challenges and obstacles): some things that restrict us is that we don’t get to meet women from all around the world,” she says.

For more information:

Rozemerie Cuevas JAC

owner and main designer


Jónína Kirton

Metis/Icelandic poet, author, facilitator


Alysha Brilla

Indo-Tanzanian musician