• 'nique

At Home, In The Game with Ebti Nabag

Ebti Nabag is a Toronto-based photographer and the eye behind the lens of At Home, In The Game photography exhibition. The series of portraits features youth that took part in Lay-Up’s virtual summer program during the pandemic, posing in front of their homes and communities. Lay-Up’s virtual curriculum addressed the ever-increasing importance of physical activity during quarantine, and met the holistic needs of the communities, which continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 (particularly in regards to food resources and access to technology). Check out the virtual gallery here.

Nabag sat down with ‘nique over Zoom to chat about the exhibition and spoke with such passion, conviction and emotion, we felt it best if we left it in her own words.

I worked with Lay-Up in the past, developing some of their content on their website and I’ve been around the basketball space and Lay-Up’s program for a while now. For this particular project, I first was able to take pictures of this home kit they created for the youth, as they moved all of their programming into virtual. Other than a basketball and a basketball pump, the home kit has a mini-net, but also colouring books, cards, balloons and other things they would be using during their Zoom sessions to have the kids engaged. I went to photograph those tool kits and saw a huge warehouse of thousands and thousands of basketballs and colouring books. Which was really impressive and heartwarming to know, that this kit is going to be shipped off to kids in these communities who have probably been going through COVID the same way that I was experiencing it. Just to visualize how they would feel opening that box, that Lay-Up would be creating in that household, was something really nice to be a part of.

After they started their online programming, Lay-Up reached out to me to photograph the youth in their neighbourhoods, because that's where the basketball program is taking place, in their backyard, in their home. The idea was to visit those neighbourhoods and get portraits of the youth in a very grand way, to document the space that they are going to be spending a lot of their time in. And also to have the photos feel like you're travelling from one neighborhood to the other.

Jeff O. Jane & Finch

This was the first project that I started since COVID, so it was my first interaction with people other than my family. I was nervous about interacting and making sure that I’m safe and they’re safe and there was no worry when it comes to that. I wanted to spend more time with them, I wanted to be around that energy, that positivity and optimism that the kids had. Feeding off their energy just made it easy, I photograph adults and they are a bit more self-conscious ...kids don’t care!

The stories I wanted to tell with these photos was to create meaningful connections during COVID. There’s a story for the youth, the optimism they have, that energy they have. They’re kids being kids, wanting to experience what they should be experiencing at that age with abundance. I think kids in these underserved neighbourhoods don’t get to experience those opportunities, because of very narrow perspectives that people and organizations just have about those neighbourhoods, and its due to the media and outlets who only highlight those communities are in crisis.

I think my favourite shot is the Sakina photo. Sakina is the girl in the hijab and just how large that building behind her looks. But I also think it’s one of my favourites because it’s everything about diversity, its everything about empowerment and it’s a girl in a hijab playing basketball. We talked about why this is one of the powerful photos to lead with and it’s because of all of that. I love her.

Sakina U. Flemingdon / Thorncliffe Park

I’m not a mom, but I’ve seen my sister really struggle keeping my nephew and niece engaged and active. I think these programs really help the parents, even getting some time away or having some time for themselves, knowing that the kids are in good hands - I think it’s important for both. Sometimes we don’t think about how kids can be experiencing emotional and mental wellness and mental well being, we really neglect that, I think these programs really give these kids the opportunity to be distracted in a good way and to put all that energy towards something that they do enjoy.

I really hope with Lay-Up, we continue to highlight the youth in their programs and continue to make a difference. I really encourage people to listen to the audio because it’s so light hearted. Every time I listen to it, it’s just like “Ahhhh” someone talked about being in the NBA and I’m just like “Yes!!” It’s just so great. I think we all need a little bit of that humour and innocence in these times.

Amelia R. Regent Park

Pryce N. Scarborough


Photography by Ebti Nabag

Co-Curated by Ebti Nabag and Chris Penrose

Design by Trung Hoang

Audio Editing by Martin Annon

Production Support by Marion Mendoza and Micaella Riche

Interviews Conducted by Collins Amofah, Mahal De La Durantaye, Matthew Augustine, Christianna Crooks, CJ Bennett, Deidre Beaumont

Ebti Nabag is a graduate of Ryerson University’s MFA program Documentary Media in Film and Photography. She is a visual artist who works with photography, video, and installation.

©2020 by Nique.