December 6 memorial paintings project

Below are the 14 paintings created by York University artists and students as part of a commemoration of the lives of the 14 young women of the Montreal Massacre. The paintings are permanently installed on the second floor of the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence.

Lassonde faculty, staff and students met in 2016 to create descriptions and reactions to each painting. 

See all descriptions and paintings below.



Somaly Mam with Gladiolus

Artist: Ana Paula Gonzalez Urdaneta

When someone first looks at this painting, they are impressed by a wide range of small photos, making a larger image. The artist uses all of these photos in conjunction with one another to create an image of a human rights activist. They can see a diverse range of women of different ages and cultures. It is assumed that all of these women are shaping who she is now. However, it is only after careful observation, that the viewer realizes that men are also a part of this compilation. This makes the viewer believe that this woman is here because of the impact of all of these before her – male and female. It is as though the activist springs forth and gives a voice to all of the people in the smaller photos, and addresses their aspirations. It also seems like the painting is asking if you are, in turn, also representing these people through your own life.

Written by: Albara Hassan, Mohammad Khan, Amin Aljiani and John Amanatides



Artist: Ana Paula Gonzalez Urdaneta

When we first looked at this picture, our attention was pulled towards the unravelling bridge. What does this symbolize? Why is the bridge made of yarn? And why is it coming apart?

Our team believes that this bridge is a representation of how fragile our society is. The yarn itself is weak, unstable, and slowly falling apart. Much like this yarn, there is a lot of work to be done to fix issues within our society, and make our interpersonal communication strong again.

After further analyzing the painting, we also took notice of the fading background. We believe this background symbolizes us losing our connection with nature.

Ultimately, we believe this disconnect comes from us becoming too invested in insignificant things, hindering us from forming and maintaining relationships. We, like the bridge, are a work in progress, but we must work to strengthen these connections to ground us again. 

Written by: Salma Ibrahim, Pamela Edgecombe and Richard Wildes

Our Place in the Sky

Artist: Sangavai Easwaran

This artwork symbolizes the incredible disconnect between humanity and reality.

The image to us, at first, looked like a woman’s uterus. We believe the branches resembled the fallopian tubes and the swirl in the center, the womb. However, after closer examination, we see that these pieces seem to be disconnected, and separate. To us, the image then symbolized a detached uterus.

This detachment could be relative to our human disconnect to the world, and reality. Because of this separation, we are unable to form connections, or to grow and learn. This uterus, the core of all creation, has an artificial sense of reality, which, ultimately, is not sufficient enough to hold a life. Life has the potential to be lovely – prosperous, full and real –but because of this disconnect, no real life can grow.  The world has sadly miscarried the embryo of humanity.

Written by: Dana Alexander and Gillian Wright

Mouth of Screws

Artist:  Abigail Shabtay

At first glance, this painting makes us feel uncomfortable. The screws in the woman’s mouth seem painful, stopping her from speaking, swallowing or breathing. The colour in the woman’s lips and skin is a vibrant red, suggesting she is alive with brilliant and spirited ideas; however, the dark inside her mouth feels like a gruesome force that holds her back, stifling her.

 The screws also remind us of the pins and needles feeling we get when applied pressure cuts off the blood flow to our limbs. We wonder if the woman is being constrained somehow in a way that is taking the life from her.

 Every time she expresses her ideas, emotions and opinions, does someone add a screw to her mouth by putting her down, telling her to not to speak or making her feel insignificant? And is the painting a metaphor for repeated oppression that becomes a buildup of screws over what appears to be a young life?

Written by: Nidamary Pinnock and Marisa Sterling

Ursula Franklin

Artist:  Joy Wong

There are many things about this artwork that surprised us after further analysis.

At first glance, there seems to be a particular focus on the woman in the artwork, Ursula Franklin. We described her as someone who is knowledgeable, respected, and has a great deal of wisdom – something that may come with her age. By looking at the piece, you can also feel the influence she has left on the world.

Our eyes also were drawn to the images over her head. We believe they are meant to represent her thoughts, knowledge, aspirations and accomplishments - all that her mind holds. We notice that one side of her thoughts is clearly defined, while the other is not. This makes us think of the left brain/right brain analogy, where the left brain is logical, and the right creative.

The images that constitute as part of her “left brain” are factual - formulas, equations, and charts - which shows her knowledge. Conversely, the images in the “right brain” are her thoughts, opinions, and creativity – all which cannot be properly depicted in images. What’s most appealing is that she is able to be active in both sides of her brain, which shows the duality of her mind.

The colours in the image also popped for us. They help us to understand her personality - pink and yellow make us believe she is passionate and joyful. Their brightness suggests she has a bright mind, and she exuberates positivity and a welcoming personality.

Overall, the painting has many great features, all which captivated us in different ways. We were very surprised and impressed in how our ideas have come together to form this analysis. 

Written by: Omer Ibrahim and Jackie Zeni

Elsie MacGill

Artist:  Joy Wong

This painting prominently features a portrait of Elsie MacGill atop a canvas of graph paper with a background of aeronautical sketches. The first woman to earn a degree in electrical engineering in Canada and the first in North America to earn a Master’s in aeronautical engineering, MacGill was also the world’s first female aircraft designer and had a huge influence on Canada’s role as an air power in World War II. She worked as Chief Aeronautical Engineer for the company Canadian Car and Foundry, the first woman to hold that role. While there, she designed and tested the Maple Leaf Trainer II and later earned herself the title of “Queen of the Hurricanes” through her role in streamlining and managing the manufacture of the Hawker Hurricane fighter plane for the Royal Air Force.

After the war, MacGill played a prominent role in advocating for women’s rights. She was a member of the Ontario Status of Women Committee, an affiliate of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. In recognition of this role, she was awarded the Order of Canada in 1971, Most recently, she is one of the finalists for the next woman to appear on a Canadian banknote. MacGill’s enduring impact on engineering in Canada provides another example of the long history of contributions women have provided to the technical fields.

The contrast between the graph paper and the free-flowing field of plane sketches across a blue sky alludes to a combination of technical precision and pure creativity -- creativity which is too often forgotten to be a fundamental part of engineering. This vital component of the design process is easily stifled in an environment where everyone is the same, but thrives in a diverse environment which encourages many different perspectives and experiences to draw on. Women’s contributions to engineering have long been overlooked or denigrated. The lesson from Elsie MacGill’s life is that when women are able to contribute, everyone benefits from the broader and deeper perspectives true diversity brings to engineering.

Written by: Toni Kunic, Calden Wloka and John Dupuis


Artist:  Abigail Shabtay

In looking at this painting, we believe the artist is aiming to help eliminate the stereotypes in STEM. These stereotypes make us believe that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math disciplines are not welcoming for women, but rather is extremely male dominated. The artists, in our perspective, does a great job in proving that this is not the case, especially for engineering.

We see the number of cups as a representation of the numbers of engineering fields there are, and the colours as a representation of how diverse these fields can be. Each picture within the cups also helps to prove that women are capable, just as much as men, to learn and practice engineering.

Written by: Saad Saddiqui and Talha Tanweer


Artist:  Abigail Shabtay

Contrary to what the general stereotyped conceptions say about women, this painting felt like a scream of defiance to all the molded images we grew up with, and what we think women should represent. The painting is trying to tell us a story about these two young ladies.

As if they are trying to overcome the image others portray of them.

As if they are telling us: “let us make out own mirrors! Our own reflections! Where we would be the only ones in charge of our future!”

Written by: Marwan Alani and Majd Abuasab

To those struggling against violence …

Artist:  Michelle Liu

Struggle + Revolution

Seeing the allusion to V for Vendetta reminds me of a struggle, a conflict. It showcases the very real divide between females nowadays. I personally grew up thinking girls were always against me. It isn't a very far-fetched idea when you see shows, movies, and songs that allude to something along the lines of "Don't trust that girl, she's out to get you", whether it's her stealing 'your man' or 'getting back at you because she's jealous'. Instead of this divide, we need to band together. We are only so powerful on our own, but together we can create tremendous change.

The V for Vendetta allusion also stirred feelings of revolution: by identifying these struggles, whether amongst women, between women and men, or society in general, we can open a dialogue and start a movement to improve our current situation. The fight to create an inclusive and diverse society is one we must take up together.

Written by Theresa Nguyen and Diana Frasca

… here we are, linked in struggle

Artist:  Michelle Liu

The painting conveys a feeling of chaos taking over nature while the landscape is being polluted. In a composition that includes recognizable symbols, there are layers of dark colours which appear to obscure other elements. The contrast between the dark background and the fluorescent pink makes this painting very striking.

The pink is reminiscent of warning signs and adds a sense of danger to the composition. The bright symbols scream for help and a feeling of imminent emergency over the calmness in the background. The painting evokes a feeling of panic and urges action.

Ultimately, the viewer must juggle a mixture of emotions brought on by the allure of the bright colours and the discomfort generated from the bleak setting. The white corner suggests that perhaps there is still some light left in this world.

Written by: Wendy Galarza and Paulina Karwowska-Desaulniers

Icarus Dreams

Artist:  Sangavai Easwaran

We believe that this painting is made to send a very specific message: A woman has the same potential to dream, achieve and fulfil her goals as her male counterpart.

We see every part of this painting – and there are many, upon closer look – as a time in this woman’s life, and in the lives of all women for that matter. Each part, although small, help to show how a woman can become empowered. This is represented by the bare, lifeless, roots on the right, which move into the vibrant left side, where her dreams, aspirations and potential are recognized by not only the world, but by herself as well. This woman is meant to represent all women, and the progress they have made.

Written by Akshay Sood, Arsalan Shah and Saleh Kamal Ahmad

Zaha Hadid

Artist:  Angel Aghajani

Zaha Hadid, that is who we were looking at, not that we knew when we glanced over this painting. Gaudy colours, weird lines and a wooden texture. Doesn’t seem appealing unlike the bright or fluorescent colours next to this one. Ones representing Elise MacGill, Ursula Franklin and the abstract. This painting seemed Picasso-esque; different, skewed, somehow alien.

The gaudy colours contrast with the softer human features, causing us to overlook experience and wisdom. The painting was asking us to choose between focusing on the superficial colour highlights and the deeper meanings – judgment or suspicion? Perhaps she was looking over her shoulder? And her eyes.  It was hard to draw our attention away from them.  The overlay of the curves with lines drawn down from points on them, like representations of integrals or steel cords holding a suspension bridge was brought to mind.

But this wasn’t enough, the more we looked at the painting the more we wanted to see. The piece seemed to morph with every glance, the features seemed to become softer and more natural. The cold, scary look in her eyes now seemed softer almost like she was tired. The overlay of colours and the highlighting of the eyelid, cheeks made us think of make-up. Was this to draw attention away from her mouth? Much like society looks at a person and not what they have to say, especially to the disenfranchised?

As we looked, although she became more human and relatable, there was a disconnect. There it was, a familiar lingering feeling, but we were unable to place it – the one you get when you’re looking at something new.  We realized that in this dissonance, we could choose to overlook or to embrace.

Is engineering supposed to be cold and clinical, or fluid and non-linear? Be about straight lines and rigid formulations or can it be more like this painting, more natural in its indirectness, in its curves, textures and layers?

As men (in STEM), this painting reminds us of the importance of not overlooking or underestimating the value that our female counterparts bring to the table, even when it makes us uncomfortable.

Written by: Aryaman Doctor, James Smith and Simone Pisana

December 6 Memorial

Artist:  Angel Aghajani

When you first look at this painting, you see a billowy grey sea of what seem to be 14 half-masked faces merging and melding together, sinking away beneath what seems to be a stick figure of a man, the only entity in red on a canvas full of grey.  As all art, this could be interpreted in many different ways. We took the sea of faces to represent the female victims of the Ecole Polytechnique shooting. It’s interesting to note that they’re faceless and seem to be wearing identical half masks of emotion which are reminiscent of the tragedy mask often used in theatre. They also melt into each other indistinguishably and are largely bodiless. This could represent the almost communal and tragic loss of their lives. The stick figure stands out in striking contrast above the 14 figures, perhaps chosen for the intent of being the common human representation. The figure can either be the shooter (the red is evocative of violence and blood) or a spirit watching over the faceless figures. It may also allude to how one mediocre stick figure man is given more primary attention (by our eyes, by society) than the numerous faces and stories it borderline-cloaks.

Written by: Brandon Loy, Sandra Younis, Maira Zafar

Elsie MacGill in the Sky

Artist:  Ana Paula González Urdaneta

The main message is ‘the more you look, the more you see’. The beauty of the painting draws the viewer in, and they discover that there are multiple layers within it. This represents the many things that make up a woman. The transition from top to bottom of flowers to gears reminds us of how she might have changed and grew in her life. The looseness of the pieces that make up the picture remind us how fragile life itself is.

Written by: Emily Martino, Kyra McLellan and Franz Newland