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‘Doing it my way’: Curator to talk about ‘Kampala to Canada’ at Surrey Art Gallery

Burnaby’s Taslim Samji featured at Jan. 11 event
Taslim Samji is the guest speaker at the Thursday Artist Talk at Surrey Art Gallery on Jan. 11, 2024. (Photo:

Surrey Art Gallery’s first Thursday Artist Talk of 2024 will feature Taslim Samji, an artist, writer, curator, spoken word poet and public speaker.

Curator of the current “Kampala to Canada” exhibition at SAG, Samji will shed light on that and more in a 90-minute session Thursday, Jan. 11, starting at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free at the Bear Creek Park venue, 13750 88 Ave.

In her “Journeys through Storytelling” talk, Samji will share how she was inspired to start curating her own exhibitions, how her practice has evolved over the years and the challenges she has had to overcome to bring her exhibitions to fruition.

She will also speak about her process in curating exhibitions, from start to finish, referencing the “Kampala to Canada” art show and share why the story is so relevant today.

“I used to wonder, am I an artist, a curator or a teacher?” Samji says. “Now I know I’m all three. I’m just doing it my way.”

To close Jan. 28 after a five-month run at Surrey Art Gallery, “Kampala to Canada” commemorates the travels and experiences of Ugandan Asian Canadians at a time when thousands of such refugees arrived in Canada penniless and uncertain of their future.

In 1972 they were were forced out of Uganda by military dictator Idi Amin, who gave 80,000 Asians (those whose ancestors were originally from India and Pakistan) 90 days to leave the country. Close to 6,000 of them came to Canada in the largest migration of non-European refugees to the country at the time.

Samji’s exhibit debuted in October 2022 at the Roundhouse arts centre in Vancouver, and she’s since written a 108-page book about the subject, “Kampala to Canada: Untold Immigration Stories of Ugandan Asians.” Highlighted are the stories of 12 Ugandan South Asian Canadians whose journeys crossed continents, starting in India, before arriving in Canada.

The Burnaby-based Samji completed her BA at UBC, where she majored in Asian Studies, and studied art at Emily Carr University. In 2017, she received the international Women of the Decade in Arts and Leadership award, presented by the Women Economic Forum, a global conference platform.

The Jan. 11 talk at SAG will also feature artist Mehb Rahmetulla and Dr. Galib Bhyani in a panel discussion moderated by Sameena Siddiqui, the gallery’s curator of adult programs. More details are posted on, under the News & Events tab.

• RELATED: Theatre backdrops become ‘star of the show’ in 3-channel video at Surrey Art Gallery.

Both Rahemtulla and Bhayani were born in Uganda and later made their way to Canada.

The Kampala-born Rahemtulla was 15 years old when dictator Amin issued the expulsion of all Asians from Uganda, according to a bio. He, along with his grandmother and three aunts, were stripped of their birth certificates and citizenship, making them stateless. They were on the last flight leaving Uganda, hours before the deadline. They were stationed in a small Austrian town. There Rahemtulla discovered his passion for the arts. In 1973, their visas arrived, and the family immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada. In 1974, Mehb graduated with a BFA (Honours) from the University of Manitoba. He then moved to Toronto; after 18 years he settled in Vancouver.

Bhayani was born in Mbale, Uganda, and arrived as a refugee in Canada with his family in 1972, at age five. After 30 years of policing, Bhayani retired from his last post as operations officer for the Lower Mainland District RCMP, overseeing 13 RCMP detachments. He taught at Kwantlen Polytechnic University for 14 years before accepting a position at Simon Fraser University as chief safety and risk officer. He served as a UN Regional Security Chief in Sudan and pioneered policing initiatives in Baghdad, Iraq. In 2015, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, the highest award for police in Canada.

Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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