In the heart of south Riverdale, Caribbean artist Kassa creates year-round art in his front yard
By Stan Byrne
“Oh, I like that guy! He’s been there for a while,” says Kassa as he points to a plastic lizard puppet-head with a golf ball shoved in its mouth.
It’s freezing rain in mid-January and the temperature is hovering around negative 10 degrees. The camera I am using is dripping wet and I can see ice forming on the lens. Kassa, an installation artist living in south Riverdale, is gloveless and bouncing around his front yard showing me his handiwork. His enthusiasm for his art is cheap NFL jerseys so uplifting, I wholesale MLB jerseys almost forget how cold and wet we are becoming. Almost.
Kassa was born and raised in St. Vincent and the hasta Grenadines, a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. He is a single dad and he has stocked shelves at the Big Carrot for the past 12 years. His smile, framed by long soft dreads, is so engaging and warm it is hard not to be Hobby-naglerinnen swept up in his infectiously friendly energy.
As a boy, Kassa was drawn to making art out of things he found or objects that had been recycled. He worked for his father building fences the for the animals they raised and in his spare time he fashioned seats and benches out of bamboo and created miniature houses from cardboard and twigs. He now works wherever he goes, “balancing” he calls it, with rocks, sticks, and many other interesting items that he comes across.
Eight years ago, with the permission of his laid-back landlord, Kassa began to create the opus in his front and backyard. Over the years, his garden has crept into the next-door neighbour’s yard and onto the road in front of his house. The intricate mass of old toys, wood-carvings, ice sculptures, woven stick furniture and bicycle parts almost defies description. All of the pieces are found or made and it is a testament to the efficacy of recycling. “You won’t believe what people throw out,” Kassa observes. Even water for the ice sculptures is collected in buckets from the eavestroughs. Nothing in the garden is thrown out, it is just moved into the background or foreground.
“Basically, the garden changes everyday,” says Kassa.” It changes with the weather.” In the winter, he makes large hollow cylinders of ice, in which he places candles. At night, his garden glows and creates an aura that is incredibly magical. Around the perimeter of the garden, he has built a five-foot ice wall with strange spiky ice creatures mounted on top using the bucket/eavestrough technique. “I see faces of people, bugs and animals in the ice or in wood. Nature makes it. I carve it out and bring it for people to see.”
Free Form Ice Sculpture
This winter, Kassa also made a slide for the next-door neighbour’s dog to play on, and a cairn gateway on the road made out of the broken pieces of snow and ice left by the ploughs. Flanking the cairns are two large fish made out of packed snow. Kassa is inspired by whatever the weather brings him. “When it first snows, it is so beautiful because you can step out into something new. You don’t know what it will turn out to be.”
So far, Kassa has received a great deal of encouragement and support from his community.” It makes people slow down wholesale MLB jerseys and laugh,” he says about his yard. “When I light the candles at night everyone comes out and waves to me.”
The garden brings a lot of joy to visitors and neighbours, but Kassa is driven by a deeper purpose to connect his Caribbean heritage to his Canadian home. “People come here [from different countries] and they do different stuff. Some like to sweep their sidewalk or have different plants, but this is what I bring from the islands. We all have something. This is in me.”
Kassa’s work ABM has been featured in The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star. He has also shown his work at the Harbourfront Centre.
Photos contributed by Stan Byrne