What’s the difference between making art for art’s sake and creating art for social change? Find out when Visual Arts eight students present this exhibit of work created in Audain Professor Carey Newman’s “Art for Social Change” studio seminar.
The new exhibit Shift 352: Art for Social Change showcases a mix of painting, sculpture, text and installation, with the pieces offering a considered look at the intersections where art can shape ideas for social change through the process of engagement and interactivity. All the work has been created by third- and fourth-year students and will be on display at the Arts Centre at Cedar Hill from July 30 to August 18.
Kwagiulth/Coast Salish artist and master carver Carey Newman is the sixth Audain Professor with the Visual Arts department. Best known for his 12-metre-long Witness Blanket installation, Newman brings ideas around reconciliation and contemporary art into his classes. He also received a commission through Saanich’s Canada 150 public art competition in 2018, and his winning exhibit Earth Drums will be installed at the same location later this summer.
“Carey invited the class to show works in conjunction with the opening of his public art piece Earth Drums: Music for the Land as a way of broadening the conversations we had in the classroom,” says participating artist and fourth-year student Kiki Paterson.
“Of course, we are really honoured to be part of that: Carey is inspirational as a teacher and artist, and having his support is a real step beyond the confines of the classroom—which is the whole point of art for social change, to move beyond and broaden our concepts of relationship.”
“Social engagement is critical for works on social change, and getting our art seen outside the university or the ‘gallery cube’ widens the conversations, allowing people who might not otherwise attend conventional gallery spaces,” explains Paterson.
“Student shows are often not taken seriously—like we aren’t artists yet—but this is an essential part of our development of an arts practice, the vulnerability to put your voice out there—especially with works that are meant to confront or highlight issues that might be challenging.”
Paterson says art be a motivator for social change by giving people the opportunity to consider a topic from a new perspective.
“Art is a language of symbols and our symbolic right brain can often override our logical mind so we can access different ways of thinking,” she says. “Art-making and experiencing art—of all kinds—can allow us to re-imagine our understanding and relationships with ourselves and our world and to challenge us to make a shift towards something better.”
One of Paterson’s pieces in the show is “The Romance of Canada 2”, an installation featuring a pair of chairs specifically designed to “trip” the viewer into looking—and thinking—differently about the piece.
“I try to make work that speaks viscerally about things people don’t want to talk about,” she explains.
“My piece is a kind of discomforting of the nostalgia around the idea of Canada as a nation, and the story of nation building. The real lives of Indigenous people were—and still are—largely ignored or romanticized, and as an uninvited guest to this land it is part of my work to confront our complicity and the complicity of our ancestors in a way that acknowledges our roll in that. It isn’t the job of Indigenous people to have to educate the whole populace; it’s important for settlers to have conversations about the colonial legacy too.”
Shift 352: Art for Social Change runs from July 30 to August 18, with a 6-8pm opening reception on Friday, August 2. The exhibit is open 6:30am-9pm Monday-Friday, and 8am-4:30pm Saturday-Sunday, at the Arts Centre at Cedar Hill, 3220 Cedar Hill Rd.