I stepped into OnlyOneGallery out of a dark and rainy Toronto evening. Exposed brick as well as beautiful and deliberate lighting welcomed me into the space. The curator and owner, Cais Mukhayesh, immediately shook my hand and invited me into the kitchen to chat privately when I asked for a word about the show.
Self-described as being passionate about art and marijuana; the curator himself took on this photography project alongside Tokyo Smoke out of a desire to share his love and respect for what cannabis can do medically and recreationally. The people who attended the event could see this love expressed through photos designed to bridge the gap between the current uses of marijuana and the strong stigmas surrounding it. This show allowed people to view the industrial process for themselves – from the grow stage to drying – in huge, bright pictures which were as amazing in scope as the gallery itself.
Larger than life; the vast print of a cultivation room full of plants caught the eye of a young woman wishing to be known as M, as well as Sean Berrigan who took photos of the event. Sean explained that this was his favourite image of the show, “the large print of the grow room with all the cannabis plants showed the true scale of how large the actual grow operation is. It was colourful and eye catching.” Whereas M appreciated this photograph less for its expression of the sheer scale of the growing operation and more for “the chaos of the plants themselves, their spikiness and their vibrant colour” that drew her to the piece pictured above.
Sarah, another visitor to the show, told me that her favourite part of the exhibition was the long stretch of photographs pictured below depicting the stages in which the cannabis plants were dried and processed. She said that “it was a cool behind the scenes look at safe and legal marijuana being processed for consumer use.”
The sentiment expressed by every attendee seemed to echo Tokyo Smoke and Cais’ hope that the project would decrease negative stigmas and increase understanding of the modern-day use and users of marijuana. M’s impressions of the show and its crowd were that it was “a sign that perceptions are changing and that generational gaps are being bridged.” When giving me his impression of the project, Sean explained, “I loved the whole show. The mix of great atmosphere, likeminded people, fulfilling conversation, great cocktails, and of course, a really important cause to rally behind. I felt that the imagery itself showed a very intriguing look behind the closed doors of one of the largest cannabis producers in Canada. These sorts of events being spearhead by Tokyo Smoke are crucial to reducing negative public perception and the age-old stigmas that have been following cannabis for the last 50 years.”
Alan and Lorne Gertner of Tokyo Smoke
Sarah said she felt like she was “coming home” when she found so many people with the same sentiment and desire for a change in perception as she had all in the same room. She said that “OnlyOneGallery’s exhibit was a perfect way to show that changes in the way the public views [marijuana] are not only necessary, they are welcome.”
When asked what he thought of Tokyo Smoke and marijuana use in general, Sean let me know that Tokyo Smoke’s initiatives are “imperative to the success of winning over public perception.” He suggested that this is the perfect way to change the general public’s view of average cannabis consumers as “just” a stereotype.
When quizzed about marijuana use in general, Sarah and M explained to me how important marijuana was to them on a personal level. Sarah told me that she still feels like she should be “looking over her shoulder” when she goes into a dispensary to pick up her prescription for her anxiety and hoped that events like this one would help “make this feel as normalized as it is.” M told me that someone close to her is fighting cancer and that marijuana use is helping regain their appetite.
OnlyOneGallery is much more than the unimposing sign on the door indicates. Just the right amount of static, it is ready to be a stationary fixture for the flow and ebb of the effervescent and ever changing art of Toronto. It is a place of hope and companionship for art minded individuals and groups in a city where six galleries recently closed.
Words by Rachel G.
Author’s note: all source quotations were gently edited for grammar. Names were changed as per sources’ requests. Photos courtesy of Sean Berrigan.