Ama Ouattara is a documentary photographer whose art, for her, is a form of vindication that aims to represent and give space to voices that are often not represented, in particular the Afro, Afro-diaspora, and Francophone communities. The photographer’s work has stood out, earning a nomination for the Prix Relève ON 2021 in the Leadership and Inclusion category for her photographs published as part of the 2020 Salon du Livre Afro-Canadien (SLAC).
According to Ama, the place in Vanier that feels most “Vanier-esque” is simply the route she often walks to the gallery Voix Visuelle that follows Barrette Street and Beechwood Avenue. Wandering these streets, she explains that you pass by Francophone art, flower boutiques, cafés, and restaurants that feel quintessentially Vanier.
Like elsewhere in Ottawa, those cafes and boutiques have been permanently shaped by the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, her favourite place to meet friends was the Rafetna Cultural Café that used to be situated at 25 Montreal Road. The big window was full of colourful African clothing, musical instruments, and a community vibe that made it a perfect gathering place. But, unfortunately, the cafe closed last spring. Owner Marème Thiam described the heartbreak of having to close her business to Radio-Canada last spring, a clip that’s worth a listen.
Luckily, many other local businesses have withstood the hit from the pandemic. Ama is now working on a new photography series that explores how food contributes to shaping identity and how chefs from diaspora communities approach food. A place that has inspired her in that respect is Soca Kitchen. Ama says everyone should visit them at 224 Beechwood Avenue, as she really admires the creativity and work of the chef, Daniella.
Heading north, the giant Richelieu Vanier Park (300 Pères-Blancs Avenue) is a place that Ama explains “is a good option to be in nature without having to drive all the way to Gatineau Park.” She cites the nearby cemetery as a place for reflection among those who have come before us, a spot that teaches her to take a bite out of life while we’re still young and able to savour the moment.
If she wants to spend some time alone, she usually heads to YKO BBQ Chicken (375 McArthur Avenue). According to Ama, the restaurant makes very spicy chicken that she considers a refuge and an art form in itself. As she describes it, it’s a love story between her and their food.
Finally, a place of special significance is Louis Pizza at 181 McArthur Avenue. During her first student job with the Regroupement étudiant franco-ontarien (RÉFO), the office was in Vanier and they took the employees to lunch after their onboarding at Louis Pizza, where they made pizza in the shape of a heart. While she often chooses a Hawaiian pizza, she acknowledges her pizza choice isn’t for everyone.
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From a cemetery to a closed-down café, Ama’s list is rooted in a moment in time of her life. Like her photography, her list of notable spots is ephemeral and likely to evolve as new spots open to fill the storefronts left empty by COVID-19. But just as Ama’s creative interests are evolving in new directions and new explorations of identity, so too will Vanier itself.
Explore Ama Outtara’s work on her website.