Social justice

Emma Paulson and Kate Macdonald make Magic

Meet the creators of the Magic Project photo series

Emma Paulson and Kate Macdonald are co-creators of the Magic Project.   Lianne Xiao

Emma Paulson and Kate Macdonald, creators of the Magic Project, sit on the floor of their apartment surrounded by candles. The smell of jasmine incense fills the air. A string of twinkling lights is draped over their TV.

“We’re floor people,” Paulson jokes as Macdonald, cross-legged, lays out photos from the Magic Project’s first photoshoot, Black Queens Are Magic.

There are a variety of photos, from individual portraits to large images portraying approximately 25 black women. There are smiles and big laughs as well as serious faces.

“It was a crazy experience,” Paulson says. “It was interesting because the Facebook event was created and it caught fire super quick. Fifty to 60 women said they wanted to come, so that was overwhelming for both of us to have something people wanted to do so strongly.”

The photoshoot was held at The Bridge on Dec. 8. Only about 20 women showed up, Paulson says, but it was still “awesome.”

“Everyone was just building each other up and having the best dialogues with themselves and each other.”

Macdonald holds up photos from their first event, Black Queens are Magic.   Lianne Xiao

The Magic Project aims to give a voice to marginalized groups by holding community events and connecting people through art and photography. The ultimate goal is to raise awareness of social justice issues.

Macdonald and Paulson launched the Magic Project at the end of November.

“I was like ‘I want to do this and now I’m going to,’” Macdonald says with a laugh. “That’s kind of how we do things. That’s pretty much how I lived my whole life.”

They have held two community events so far — Black Queens are Magic and Black Kings are Magic. Queer People are Magic will take place Feb. 19.

“There’s no limits. We can run this into every marginalized community,” Paulson says. “We can talk about anyone who feels separated, oppressed, made to feel different.”

They work closely together, but Paulson does “everything,” according to Macdonald.

“Emma does everything from taking the photos to making sure everybody’s happy to helping photographers to taking photos herself to staging to organizing to making the event page. 

“She’s the only person that I can work with,” Macdonald adds. “I’m really floaty, poetic, and flowery. I don’t have both feet on the ground at all times. Emma is the logic and the practicality but is also an artist and really understands me.”

Macdonald pauses and looks at Paulson, who has one arm around her. “This is making me realize how much you actually do,” she says with a laugh.

Connection to art

Paulson, 22, is in the gender and women’s studies program at Dalhousie University.

“I was always immersed fully in art,” Paulson says. “Growing up, my mom was a photographer and painter, nothing too professional or anything, it was just her personal avenue.”

MacDonald, 25, has a performance theatre degree from Ryerson University. She has worked on the set of Trailer Park Boys and participated in two seasons of Studio Black with CBC.

She says she’s been acting her “whole life.”

“It’s basically the only thing I’ve done,” says Macdonald, from Halifax. “I can’t hold a regular job because of all the acting things that come up.”

‘Angry and motivated’

The Magic Project is keeping both women busy. Sometimes it means three meetings a day with various groups.

“It’s a lot of meetings,” says Macdonald, “making sure you have the right connections, making sure we’re getting support from people, and making sure we’re learning things from people that we don’t know how to do ourselves.”

They have big plans for the Magic Project.

“There’s so much we want to do,” Paulson says. “We’re hoping to reach out to some Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia, in particular. Mental health is going to be another one, people with addictions, homelessness. We want to reach wherever we can.”

In the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president in January, Paulson is “sad, angry and motivated.”

“If I get upset and feel hurt, it turns into aggression and wanting to move forward. Aggression gets shit done,” she says. “If you don’t feel fiery about something, you’re doing it wrong.”