In the aftermath of the London vehicle attack, a mural painted by the youngest fatality became a beacon of hope and a source of comfort for a community trying to heal.
To mark the anniversary of London deadliest mass murder, the London Muslim Mosque is hosting an art exhibit honouring 15-year-old Yumna Afzaal and featuring artwork by community members of all ages reacting to the aftermath of the attack.
The centrepiece of the art exhibit is a mural painted on the basement wall of the Mosque by Yumna when she was a student at the London Islamic School in 2020.
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On June 6, 2021, the Afzaal family was out for a walk when they were intentionally struck by a man in a pickup truck on the corner of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman’s 74-year-old mother Talat Afzaal were killed. The couple’s nine-year-old son sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries and survived the attack.
“We thought what better way to kind of mark last year than to mark it in a way that really tells the story of the community making sense of the events that happened last year in an artistic fashion,” said Nusaiba Al-Azem, vice-chair of London Muslim Mosque.
“It is a community story of grief and understanding these tragic events.”
Al-Azem, who organized the art show, also hopes when people look at the art, they remember how the community rallied together following the attack.
For Hanni Shahatto, who taught Yumna for two years and first approached her to create the mural, there is no shortage of praise for the 15-year-old.
“Whether academics or social or artistically, for me, she was one of one,” he said.
Shahatto remembers Yumna’s dedication to figuring out how to create the mural and coming in with her family during the pandemic and the summer to finish it.
“I think for me, it brings me so much peace. No one could have seen what happened coming, so to have an enduring legacy is like a mercy,” he said.
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Shahatto says the mural is a testament to Yumna and her loving and supportive family, who encouraged her throughout the whole process.
“For me, it’s not just a memory of her and her talent; I spent weekends with her family here. I know exactly what her mom was doing, what her dad was doing, and what her brother was doing in that space,” he said.
“They were all supporting Yumna as a unit. They were always with her.”
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The mosque received many submissions through a contest they ran for children and adults and as gifts from local artists.
One of the pieces, created by local artist Jan Neville, is a mosaic of a tree made from scraps of letters and flowers left at the site of the crash and outside the mosque.
A sculpture by a student at Oakridge Secondary School, where Yumna attended Grade 9, is a tree made out of folded artwork and letters. After being displayed at the mosque, the sculpture will be gifted to the Afzaal family.
“The intent was to give students a voice as we were online, because Yumna was in my Grade 9 class and some of her closest friends were, too. It felt like the right thing to do,” said Katie Thibert, a visual arts teacher at Oakridge secondary school.
Thibert was Yumna’s art teacher and said she and students were given special permission to be able to come into the school at a time when COVID shut it down to create the tree.
The tree created by students and all other creations will be displayed at the mosque for the next month.
The galley is open to the public every day during June from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the mosque located just off of Oxford Street.
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