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Meet the Director/Curator of the School of Art Gallery

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September 4, 2020 — 

Blair Fornwald is the new director/curator of the School of Art Gallery, joining the University of Manitoba just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. She shares with us some of her thoughts about her vision for the Gallery and what she looks forward to in her new position.

What is your vision for the School of Art Gallery?
I envision the role of the School of Art Gallery in terms of service – who are we in service to, and how can we best serve them? We serve many: academic communities at the School of Art and the University of Manitoba, the local art community, and broader publics, including local, national, and international artists who are part of our programming, and art communities near and far who experience our work through touring and publishing activities, criticism and reviews, or digitally. Via publishing and collecting, we also serve future publics and contribute to future art history, which is very exciting but also carries with it a certain gravitas. What we do matters, right now and in the future, so it’s our responsibility to help build a more just and empathetic world through our work.

To that end, I want to ensure that our work reflects and responds to broad and future publics by asking ourselves how our curating, collecting, writing, collaborations and structure can decentre whiteness and challenge patriarchy, cis- and heteronormativity, and ableism. Our exhibitions should articulate many perspectives and positions, and our collecting should address historic oversights that have privileged some voices and marginalized others. Being truly accessible also means presenting programming that looks beyond art-specific discourses and situates work in contexts that are important and interesting to broad audiences. Things like beauty, humor, emotional resonance, or a compelling narrative can also be great points of entry for viewers. I’m interested in presenting work that is generous and generative in these kinds of ways.

Finally, I want to create more exhibition, presentation, curation, and writing opportunities for local artists and arts professionals, strengthening current partnerships and seeking new collaborative opportunities between the School of Art Gallery and other galleries and artist-run centres in Winnipeg.

What unique perspective do you bring to the School of Art Gallery?
Prior to coming to the School of Art Gallery, I was the Curator of Moving Image and Performance at Dunlop Art Gallery and RPL Film Theatre, which operate as part of the public library system in Regina, Saskatchewan. The Dunlop has two gallery spaces – one downtown and one in the suburbs, and the Film Theatre is the only cinematheque in downtown Regina. As part of the public library system, both spaces have mandates to foster visual literacy through their programming, which has really framed my approach to curatorial practice. In this position, and previously-held positions, I’ve had the pleasure of programming for, and partnering with, very diverse audiences, including a large incidental audience that might need some assurance that the gallery is a place that they belong. At the same time, the Dunlop and Film Theatre always aim to maintain a high level of critical rigor and discourse, serving art communities in Regina and beyond, and respecting the integrity of the artists and filmmakers presenting their work. Through this experience, I’ve become quite adept at connecting with different kinds of audiences, and it greatly informs my thinking about exhibition design, the way I write about art, and the exhibitions I produce.

What do you look forward to the most?
Right now I’m working mostly from home, and like many, I’m looking forward to going out into the world more frequently, to more socializing, to getting back to normal, hopefully a new and improved normal informed by the tough lessons we’re learning right now. I’m looking forward to getting to know my colleagues at the School of Art and in Winnipeg’s art scene better. And I’m really looking forward to realizing the gallery programming we’ve been working toward, both on- and offsite.

What is your artistic, curatorial and research background?
My background and training is as an interdisciplinary artist. I have a BFA in Intermedia from the University of Regina and an MFA in Studio Art from Western University. Since 2002, I have maintained a visual and performance art practice that is largely collaborative. I was in artist collectives One Night Only and Turner Prize*, I have a couple of current collaborators that I’m working with, and I recently organized Performance Art Gym, a loose-knit collaborative that meets regularly to do performance art exercises together. My curatorial practice is similarly guided by a collaborative impulse.

My research – which encompasses visual and performance art, curating, and writing – explores the aesthetics of failure, the expression of vulnerability, and the use of humour to confront difficult truths. My recent work is informed by my identity as a rural-born Prairie queer of settler descent, and investigates social class, code switching, Canadian regionalism, and the Prairie queer aesthetic (if there is such a thing).

What pursuits do you enjoy in your free time?
I have a very dilettantish interest in a lot of subjects, so I spend an inordinate amount listening to podcasts and googling things. I like fine dining, cooking and baking, repetitive crafts like knitting and embroidery, and leisurely pursuits that are sports adjacent, like going for bike rides, and swimming in lakes.

Source: – UM Today

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The art of compassionate care – Sherbrooke Record

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Thanks to a very generous donation from an art gallery in Montreal, Grace Village is giving out thousands of dollars-worth of art this week as a way of saying thank you to its staff members for their hard work over the last six months.
“They are dedicated, committed, and have really sacrificed a lot,” said Andrea Eastman, the home’s interim executive director, explaining that the donation was arranged through a board member following a discussion about how the community could recognize the work of the staff during the pandemic. “The board had been trying to come up with a way to thank the employees and do something that is a little bit different.”
The artworks have been put on display for the residents to enjoy, and workers are being invited to come and select a work of their choice over the course of the week, based on their seniority.
Looking back on the last few months, Eastman said that the word “challenging” only scratches the surface of the realities that people working in retirement communities and long-term care homes have been facing.
“Our focus has been on keeping our residents safe and healthy,” she said. “That has guided every decision about what we needed to do.”
Eastman underlined the importance of clear communication and trust as key pillars to the success of the Grace Village community since the start of the pandemic
“It’s a shared responsibility with employees, residents, their families and other people in the community; You have to have trust in each other,” she said. “The more you communicate about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, the clearer it is that we’re all in this together.”
Asked whether the home has faced the same sorts of difficulties with people failing to respect rules and guidelines that have been reported at other care homes in the region, the interim director said that there have certainly been cases where people needed to be reminded of the reasons why things are the way they are.
“We’ve remained quite strict, but we’re trying to be as sensitive as possible,” she said.
In matters ranging from employee scheduling during a time when multiple days off in a row might be needed for a test, to figuring out how to offer residents enrichment when gathering together is largely off limits, Eastman said that her key word has been optimism.
“I try to focus on what we are able to do, rather than what we are not able to do,” she said, adding that the support and commitment of the whole team plays an important role in making a challenging situation more feasible. “What they are doing goes above and beyond what their employer is asking of them.”

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This Magazine → Black art matters – This Magazine

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Photo by Brandon Brookbank

Shaya Ishaq’s work moves fluidly between mediums—words, ceramics, fibres, jewellery—while maintaining a central locus of honouring Black lineages and sparking light toward liberated Black futures. Tenacious and ever-evolving, Ishaq walked away from journalism school and signed up for a hand-building course at a pottery studio in her hometown of Ottawa. “I really fell in love that winter,” she says. “It was pretty magical to come into the studio first thing in the morning to see my work come out of the kiln or even just how the clay would change when the pieces would air dry before firing. I was totally enraptured by the many stages of the medium of clay.”

Now, Ishaq masterfully combines ceramics and fibres to create ornate and intricate wearable art pieces. On the origin stories of these designs, she says, “At their core, [these materials] come from the earth (before mass production and industrialization, before creating synthetic versions) and I am very dedicated to working with them to see what connections arise. Both invite a meditative process that has saved me time and again.” She started bridging relationships between ceramics and textiles when she began art school in Halifax, going on to continue her studies in Montreal. “It’s only been in recent years that some kind of visual vocabulary has emerged.”

Ishaq’s wearable art possesses a distinct aesthetic that plays with the juxtaposition of hardness and softness, gloss and matte, the whimsy of tassels and sharp curves of ceramic. That aesthetic is visible in her Holy Wata collection, showcased on her online portfolio, and her most recent solo show Mirror Mirror, exhibited at the Anne Dahl Concept Studio in Ottawa.

“Some of my stylistic choices are definitely informed by Black and Afro-diasporic futurist and Indigenous aesthetics,” she says. “More and more, I am trying to find inspiration from my own cultural background in East Africa … which requires a lot of digging, but is ultimately worth it because it brings me closer to myself in a way, by allowing me to reconnect with an em bodied sense of self.” Ishaq is also inspired by people who express a certain kind of “unfuckwithable energy,” including characters like Lauren Olamina from Octavia E. Butler’sParable series or Ketara from Avatar, and performers like
Moor Mother, Debby Friday, Backxwash, and Kelsey Lu.

Themes of Blackness in regards to identity, craft, culture, and liberation are integrally woven into Ishaq’s spatial design, as well. During a month-long residency at Halifax’s Khyber Centre for the Arts, she created Black Libraries Matter, for which she reimagined the gallery space by creating a Black library by inviting community members to donate books by Black authors.

Soon after, she had a collaborative exhibit, Reconcile/Overcome, at the Ottawa Art Gallery. It consisted of a handwoven sculptural textile piece and written work reflecting on the consequences of the transatlantic slave trade and labour of enslaved Black people on the foundation of Canada and the United States. Her written work from the exhibit includes this excerpt: “Made by my Black hands in celebration of Black spiritual resilience in all corners of the world. Not all our struggles are alike yet we are gold. We are nuanced and yet are gold. We are resilient and we are gold.”

In reflecting on the intersections of Blackness, fashion, beauty, and culture, Ishaq understands that Blackness and popular material culture are also deeply entwined. “I believe this includes Afro-diasporic cultural production as well. I really believe that materiality is political and omnipresent.” Black culture, she says, “is celebrated yet the people who create it are oftentimes disregarded, treated as disposable, only celebrated when they are dead or in moments like this where the world has to recognize the deep systemic patterns at play. There are so many case studies of appropriation that intersect Blackness, fashion, and beauty.”

In its variety of mediums, Ishaq’s practice seeks to centre Blackness and move closer toward creative sovereignty, despite continued appropriation of Black art and culture. “Ultimately, the more we are able to lean into our own creative sovereignty, the more authentic our creations can be. That sovereignty can look like not fighting for ‘a seat at the table,’ detaching ourselves from Eurocentric symbols of success but really doing things for us and by us.”

TOP: Photo by Cheryl Hann; Models: Francesca Ekwuyasi and Portia Karegeya LEFT: Photo by Mallory Lowe; Model: Jada BOTTOM: Photo by Brandon Brookbank; Model: Candy Contrera

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Newmarket resident finds therapy in chalk art drawings (7 photos) – NewmarketToday.ca

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Kim Egan had purchased the 12-pack of sidewalk chalk on a whim.

“I was at the Dollar Tree in Newmarket, where I always go for arts and crafts supplies,” said Egan. “They were being sold for only $1.25. It was very much a spur of the moment thing.” 

Chalk in hand, Egan had walked to Newmarket’s Haskett Park and had found a secluded stretch of pavement on which to draw. Her Victorian-inspired artwork, a brightly coloured vase of flowers, was finished 14  hours later. 

The experience, she said, took her completely by surprise.

“I suffer from anxiety and depression, something that’s been especially challenging for me — and a lot of people — during the pandemic,” said Egan. “But art, drawing, was therapy. It helped me relax and forget my problems.”

Egan again returned to chalk art when her grandmother, Rose, tragically suffered a stroke mid-August. Already stressed from the isolation of quarantine and unable to visit her due to strict post-COVID-19 hospital restrictions, Egan’s mental health was struggling. 

To help ease some of her anxiety, Egan took to the pavement outside her Davis Drive apartment and designed a special homage to her grandmother. Throughout the painful few days preceding Rose’s passing, working on the drawing gave Egan a small — but much needed — sense of control. 

“The artwork I drew for her was a big pink heart that said ‘Rose’ in it, with roses on either side and a crown, flames, and cross atop it,” said Egan. “I came to learn afterwards that what I drew is actually a religious symbol, representing Christ’s heart. It was odd, because I didn’t know it at the time.”

Egan’s latest chalk drawing, a floral scene inspired by her love for nature, can currently be seen on the outdoor stage at Riverwalk Commons. As rain and wind can wash her art away in minutes, the stage’s overhead awning afforded Egan rare protection from September’s wet weather.

Yet despite the unique challenges her chalk art can bring, from being at the whim of the elements to scraped and sore knees, Egan is confident she’ll stick with it. A lifelong art lover, she has dabbled in mediums as wide-ranging as embroidery, handmade jewelry, flower pressing, painting and more. With chalk art, the most committing of the bunch, she just may have found her calling.

“When I was a kid, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say an artist,” said Egan. “Art is something I’ve always been so passionate about. And now, late in my life, I have a burning desire to explore my creativity more. It’s something I have to do, before I die.”

Apart from using chalk art as a personal source of happiness, Egan is also hopeful that its positivity will spread. 

“I hope people get some pleasure or happiness from seeing it. I hope it’s a bright spot in their day. It’s been great sharing my creativity with others.”

Egan is happy to report that the reaction to her artwork has, so far, been overwhelmingly positive. With each drawing, she’s gained the courage to venture out more and more into the public eye. 

“Because I’m out there drawing for a few days, I get people out for walks who will stop to talk and take pictures,” said Egan. “They’re very encouraging. It’s been nice.”

 

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