AGYU’s ‘Ring of Fire’ will set Toronto ablaze with cross-cultural energy

Toronto is set to bear witness to one of the most extraordinary images of its cosmopolitan self.

On Aug. 9 at 12 pm, Ring of Fire, a commissioned procession by internationally renowned artist Marlon Griffith, takes to the streets of Toronto.

Ring of Fire costume construction
Marlon Griffith in York’s sculpture studio working on the large scale production of Ring of Fire during the Louis Odette Sculptor in residence program, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design. Photo: E. Chhangur

This 300-person strong street procession, punctuated by spoken word poetry by some of Toronto’s most promising “word-warriors,” weaves through the heart of Toronto’s downtown core, along University Avenue from Queen’s Park to City Hall. At 2pm, the procession culminates in a round dance worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records, an unbelievable image to open Toronto 2015’s cultural program at Nathan Phillips Square that day.

The procession is based on the Marlon Griffith’s concept drawing showing the costume for courages of wisdom, courage, respect, honesty, truth, humility and love. Each of these themes will be dramatized in the elaborate, custom-designed costumes and newly conceived mobility devices that structure the “bands” of the procession. Importantly, these teachings are also the ethical basis of the project and inform the working principles it is made up of.

The artist's concept rendering for the mask representing "courage".
The artist’s concept rendering for the public mask of Courage

More than two years in the making, Ring of Fire features persons with disabilities, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, capoeira athletes and young spoken word poets from Jane-Finch, Malvern and Regent Park. The procession redefines public ritual in the city of Toronto. As a project dedicated to the future of Toronto, it is made by Torontonians for Torontonians through the multigenerational and transcultural contribution of hundreds of people from across the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. Members of the public are invited to join Ring of Fire by emailing

Using the structural dynamic of Trinidadian Carnival and appropriating the “mas camp” as a site of co-authored exchange, this elaborate and multifaceted project innovates a new kind of pedagogy. From spoken word poets learning from First Nations and deaf youth who sign their poems in the procession, to institutions and organizations learning from persons with disabilities (and becoming more accessible in the process), to mixing integrated dance with traditional forms of capoeira, this project seeks to mobilize Toronto’s latent energy and position it as a place for a new form of collective and performative cultural resistance that is also a contemporary form of festive celebration.

Marlon Griffith's concept drawing showing the costume for courage
Marlon Griffith’s concept drawing showing the costume for the sentinel Courage
Duke Redbird works with the community for Ring of Fire
Duke Redbird works with the community for Ring of Fire

Griffith has participated in residencies and exhibited extensively across the globe. Recent projects include new commissions for 7th GWANGJU BIENNALE (Gwangju, Korea, 2008), CAPE09 BIENNIAL (Cape Town, South Africa, 2009), Manifesta 9 Parallel Projects (Hasselt, Belgium, 2012), Aichi Triennale (Nagoya, Japan, 2013), Tate Modern (London, England, 2014) and the Art Gallery of York University (see May 25 YFile story). In 2010, Griffith was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and a Commonwealth Award.

Ring of Fire is commissioned by the Art Gallery of York University and curated by Emelie Chhangur. The project is produced in partnership with York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, Art Starts and SKETCH, where “mas camps” have been developed and hosted. Legendary artists, activist Rose Jacobson and elder Duke Redbird (MA ’78) are project mentors.

Editor’s note: The Ring of Fire website contains a wealth of images documenting each stage of the event and the participation of the many community partners. There’s also a Ring of Fire Instagram that offers a dynamic visual story of the work as it progresses. Visit the AGYU’s Instagram account at