Cornwall Police Services’ Chief Shawna Spowart recently commissioned a painting by local artist, Yafa Goawily, to be hung in her office. An unveiling was held on December 20, 2022, at CPS headquarters.
“At the heart of everything I feel like I believe in, that we’re doing in this organization and me personally, revolves around this concept of equity, diversity, and inclusivity. When I look at the walls that’s what I want to see. I want to see a reflection of the work that is being done and the work that needs to continue,” shared Chief Spowart.
The chief told attendees, who included CPS staff, Mayor Justin Towndale, Grand Chief Abram Benedict, as well as members of the local press and art community, about her journey to find the right artist for the piece.
Spowart was first drawn to Yafa’s art at an exhibit she attended at the Cornwall Square at the suggestion of art-lover Councilor Elaine MacDonald (who was Police Board Chair at the time).
“One of the first pieces I stopped at, I looked at it and I thought, ‘I like this’. I’m not very artistic so I don’t necessarily have the words to put to it except to say that I was drawn to this particular art. I kept walking and then I stopped again. That happened three times and it wasn’t until after that I decided to go back and look at the name of the artist and when I did, I realized that the three pieces of art that I stopped at and found a connection to was the art of Yafa,” Spowart reminisced.
Spowart later ran into the artist at an art dinner she attended with MacDonald, which is when she decided that Yafa was the artist she was looking for.
“I am really honored and blessed that I can share this part of me with you,” said Yafa, “When I do art, a part of myself is in the piece. This piece is really special because I was starting with the intention of working with the community in general, but never thought I was going to work with the police.”
Goawily shared that living in Egypt during a time of civil unrest and violence caused her to fear the police and army forces. After living in Canada for just five years, having this opportunity and touring the Cornwall Police offices that day helped Yafa overcome her anxieties and create important connections between the community and those who serve it.
At the reveal, Goawily gave some information about the piece and her process. After taking some time to meditate on the idea, she said it came without struggle. Using different materials, she included white and blue pieces to represent police sirens, something she has had to learn represents help and not danger. She also included feathers to represent our neighbours in Akwesasne, and butterflies to represent newcomers to Canada who are still discovering themselves within their new surroundings.
Before ending the presentation, Chief Spowart took the mic one more time to share a story about her daughter.
“I was giving her a bath and I heard her singing. I recognized the tune, but I didn’t recognize the words. I realized she was singing O’Canada, but she wasn’t singing in English or French, she was singing O’Canada in Mohawk. It brought tears to my eyes. As much as we feel like change isn’t happening and it isn’t happening fast enough, I assure you that change is happening in our community,” Spowart said.