A passion for art history fuels Aashna Kulshreshtha’s international experience

Taking online classes during COVID at 3 a.m. India-time may not have been the ideal first-year experience, but it didn’t deter Aashna Kulshreshtha from enthusiastically pursuing her undergraduate degree in art history.

Born and raised in New Dehli, Aashna finished high school at an international boarding school in Uttarakhand, India, before initially enrolling at university in Rome. Unfortunately, she found that art history program to be excessively Eurocentric (and somewhat racist), which didn’t particularly match her own interests.

“We spent months on Italy and France, but only did a week on India and Mexico, which were clearly not so important from their perspective,” she recalls. “We weren’t even going to be tested on them!”

Attracted by the buzz around UVic’s AHVS

Unimpressed with Rome, Aashna was instead attracted by the buzz around UVic’s Department of Art History & Visual Studies, which offered a far more international approach to the field . . . despite Victoria being significantly smaller than either New Dehli (population 33 million) or Rome (4.3 million).

“Going to school in Rome prepared me to be in a culture that wasn’t India, but it also meant I’ve always been a third-culture kid everywhere I’ve gone,” she admits with a quick laugh. “So yeah, I had a bit of culture shock when I came here, but I don’t know from which culture.”

Rather than the excessive focus on big movements (Baroque, Renaissance), Aashna has been energized by UVic’s more global approach.

“I was just so surprised to see the amount of diversity here and the focus on Indigenous cultures, which had never even been brought up before in other places,” she says. “UVic is a great place to study art history because the people here will support you and believe in you and are there to help you get your work done. Every day I found people in the department who would tell me what I could do with my degree, what they’ve done with it . . . honesty, that open dialogue has been the most important thing for me.”

Learning core skills through workstudy

Like many UVic students, Aashna spent her off-hours at campus hotspots like Cinecenta, Felicita’s and the School of Music’s free concert series, but her favourite part was time spent as a paid workstudy student in the AHVS Visual Resources Collection. “Working here, you kind of get to see your degree in action before you even finish it,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about how to archive and research properly doing this job.”

Aashna’s responsibilities include scanning images from books required by the AHVS faculty members, researching online  gallery and museum collections, and updating the department’s database. “It’s a big responsibility to keep the database updated,” she explains. “Since we’re talking about India, for example, there’s a city called Kolkata but the British name for it was Calcutta—so we’ve been changing that in the database. It takes a lot of data entry just to keep up to date with global events. I’ve also gotten to know so many of the professors and staff up close, which has been nice because a lot of my degree was online during COVID so I felt like I didn’t know anyone.”

Understanding the world through art history

Yet despite a childhood interest in history, she feels the general attitude in India doesn’t exactly encourage cultural studies.

“It’s all about making money there, and most people feel you can’t really do that with these streams,” she says. “But art history is just a different way to help us understand the world: it’s a more subjective look at a time and allows you to have more introspective conversations with that era. It can also help you find your own identity and—when you see that in a historical sense—it gives you a more holistic approach to past civilizations.”

Indeed, Aashna has been so taken with her studies that, now that’s she’s completed her BA in art history, she’s already been accepted into the AHVS Master’s program for the fall, looking at India’s own vibrant history of art.

“I’m interested in looking at the effects of colonialism on modern Indian art, specifically in the case of women—not only as artists but also subjects and patrons,” she explains. “When we think about the 1800s onwards, it’s so influenced by colonialism; no one in India at that time was making art without the influence of colonialism. Even if they were rejecting it, the art was still in response to what was happening . . . that’s the research I’m wanting to pursue, in a very broad sense.”

Advice for future students

Now that her undergraduate studies are complete, she’s looking forward to her parents coming over from India for her convocation ceremony this spring. But does she have any for future students?

“Get out of your comfort zone and keep an open mind, because what you’re studying can really surprise you. Everyone tells themselves that they already know everything and don’t need any help, but it’s so important to be open to new experiences.”

She pauses and then laughs again. “Um, and keep frozen food handy. There’s no shame in it—you have to eat.”

Orion Series presents filmmaker Ali Kazimi

The Orion
Lecture Series in Fine Arts

Through the generous support of the Orion Fund in Fine Arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Victoria, is pleased to present:

Ali Kazimi

Documentary filmmaker

“Documentarian as Witness: The Making of Beyond Extinction

10:30am-noon, Thursday, May 30

Online only via Zoom  Free & open to all

(Meeting ID: 839 7959 0560. Password: 119640)

Presented by UVic’s Department of Art History & Visual Studies

For more information on this lecture please email: arthistory@uvic.ca

About Ali Kazimi

A professor of cinema and media arts at Ontario’s York University, Ali Kazimi is a filmmaker, writer and visual artist whose work deals with race, social justice, migration, history, memory and archive. He was presented with the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Visual and Media Arts in 2019, as well as a Doctor of Letters honoris causa from UBC. In 2023 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

“My body of work reflects a commitment to storytelling that addresses social issues, cultural complexities, and historical injustices, aiming to provoke thought, inspire change, and foster understanding within diverse communities,” he says.

Kazimi has interwoven themes of place and belonging through many of his works—including Beyond Extinction (2022), which traces three decades of action by the Indigenous matriarchs of the Autonomous Sinixt for recognition of their existence and their claim to their ancestral territories and is an important document of BC history.

About the Orion Fund

Established through the generous gift of an anonymous donor, the Orion Fund in Fine Arts is designed to bring distinguished visitors from other parts of Canada—and the world—to the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and to make their talents and achievements available to faculty, students, staff and the wider Greater Victoria community who might otherwise not be able to experience their work.

The Orion Fund also exists to encourage institutions outside Canada to invite regular faculty members from our Faculty of Fine Arts to be visiting  artists/scholars at their institutions; and to make it possible for Fine Arts faculty members to travel outside Canada to participate in the academic life of foreign institutions and establish connections and relationships with them in order to encourage and foster future exchanges.

Visit our online events calendar at www.events.uvic.ca

Submission call for Student Impact Awards!

Are you a current (or graduating) Fine Arts undergraduate student who’s been involved with a community-engaged creative project in Greater Victoria between Jan 1/23 & May 31/24? If so, you could qualify for $1,000 via our annual Fine Arts Student Community Impact Awards! Since 2021, we have awarded over $8,000 to 8 different students! (Read about our 2023 winners here.)

Arts activities may include (but are not limited to) any exhibit, performance, workshop, publication, curatorial, educational, digital, production and/or administrative role within the regional boundaries of Greater Victoria (Sidney to Sooke). This award is open to any current or graduating undergraduate student in Art History & Visual Studies, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts or Writing.

This year’s Impact Awards will be presented in Fall 2024 to 1 or more undergrads who’ve demonstrated an outstanding effort in community-engaged creative activity that went over & above their academic studies. Good news: if you’ve applied before but didn’t get an award, you can apply again (as long as the project falls into the current timeframe).

A completed submission package—including the submission form and all supporting materials—must be received by 5:00pm Friday, May 31, 2024. Full details & application criteria can be found here: https://finearts.uvic.ca/forms/award/

Questions? Contact fineartsawards@uvic.ca 

Annual BFA grad exhibit opens April 19

Our final public event of the 23/24 academic season is the annual Department of Visual Arts BFA graduation exhibition, this year titled Silver Bullets. After the public opening night gala on April 19, the free exhibit runs 10am-6pm daily through April 28. With pieces ranging from sculpture and painting to drawing, photography, installation, digital and multimedia art, Silver Bullets features 36 emerging artists transforming the entire Visual Arts building into one giant gallery with 10 different rooms to explore.

The concept of a silver bullet embodies speed and precision: an absolute, instantly effective tool with no ability for error. Its magical powers are compacted into a small space travelling in a  specific direction. Creative practices mimic such a journey in search of a magical solution that remains elusive; the ability to compact the complexities of life into creative thinking and making has the potential to soothe what concerns us, though few would describe the effects as instantaneous or absolute.

Uniquely, this exhibition is organized, curated, installed and run by graduating art students as a for-credit course—you can see examples of all the work via the show’s Instagram feed—but the 36 artists featured in Silver Bullets all explore a means to solve something within them or their environment.

Themes present in the exhibition include locating and quantifying oneself through explorations of sexual, cultural, and racial identity, as well as relationships to the body. Several artists in the exhibition are in dialogue with memory, grief, trauma and generational shifts; their approaches vary from representation to abstraction. Others focus their efforts on issues outside the self, investigating consumerism, propaganda, political ideologies and the deterioration of natural and urban environments. From the safety of their studios, magical explorations of art present the possibility to cure these complex, intangible issues.

Two special alumni receptions

UVic Alumni are also invited to a special pair of guided tours, offering a fantastic opportunity for alumni who work at UVic to get to know campus better, and for alumni in the community to come back to campus and explore the work of our newest Visual Arts grads. These free tours are being offered at noon on two dates—Wednesday, April 24 and Friday, April 26—but capacity is limited, so you’ll need to register in advance. (Any questions about the reception, contact alumni@uvic.ca or 250-721-6000.)

Celebrating our Rubinoff Scholars

Congratulations go out to the Fine Arts graduate student recipients of the inaugural Jeffrey Rubinoff Student Scholarships, many of whom gathered at the University Club on March 5  to offer their thanks and mingle with the Rubinoff Foundation’s Betty Kennedy and Karun Koernig. Among those who offered their thoughtful and insightful comments were Arnold Lim and Holly Loveday (Writing), Vithória Konzen Dill (AHVS), Stephen Markwei and Narges Montakhabi (Theatre), Eva Bradavkova (Music) plus Charles Amartey, Ryland Fortie, Sina Khatami and Parvin Hasanibesheli (Visual Arts).

Not able to join us were fellow recipients Jaiya Gray (AHVS), Jamie Davis (Music) plus Liz Bently, Eeman Masood and Rainy Huang (Visual Arts).

 

Meet two Rubinoff Scholars

One of our inaugural grad student Rubbing Scholars is award-winning Korean-Canadian filmmaker, producer and photographer Arnold Lim. Currently pursuing his MFA in Writing, Lim was twice selected as a recipient of Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program, is a graduate of the National Screen Institute’s Features First program, has been a juror and programmer for numerous film festivals, and the photography manager for four Olympic Games. “I’m a storyteller at heart, and the opportunity to continue that journey as a grad student has been so much greater than I could have ever imagined,” says Lim.

This year, he was writer/director of the mystery/thriller Whisper, the latest (and most ambitious) short film yet created for Writing’s popular film production class, where local film professionals mentor a student crew. “Writing and directing a film in concert with like-minded, passionate classmates under the tutelage of instructors and a supervisor who has gone above and beyond to tailor the program to our learning outcomes has supported tangible and important growth for me as a screenwriter and filmmaker and is a gift I could never repay,” he says.

International student Stephen Markwei is another our Rubinoff Scholars. Hailing from Ghana, Markwei is continually evolving as a dancer, choreographer and multi-disciplinary artist; his artistic talent, combined with a strong social conscience, demonstrates his commitment to his craft and his devotion to addressing important societal issues. His passion for artistic expression and commitment to enhancing human experience through the arts is evident in his dedication to addressing societal issues related to learning disabilities.

Currently pursuing his MA in Theatre by investigating theatre-based interventions to assist individuals with dyslexia, Markwei aims to understand how incorporating sensory modalities into interventions through theatrical activities can benefit those with learning disabilities. “Utilizing multi-sensory methods, including movement and visual cues, in designing learning experiences for individuals with dyslexia can be valuable,” he explains.

About the Rubinoff Scholarships

The Faculty of Fine Arts has developed a strong relationship with the Jeffrey Rubinoff Foundation since 2016 when the late BC sculptor created the Jeffrey Rubinoff Scholar in Art as a Source of Knowledge Endowment at UVic.

That relationship was further strengthened in December 2023 by the creation of the Jeffrey Rubinoff Nexus for Art as a Source of Knowledge, which includes $230,000 in new funding plus a named professorship, this robust set of graduate student scholarships, and the expansion of experiential learning initiatives at the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park (JRSP) on Hornby Island.

Rubinoff himself understood art to be a source of knowledge because of its capacity to influence the viewer’s perspective by means of original perceptions. Those Fine Arts students who have spent time at the JRSP since 2017 have expressed profound appreciation for their experiences, while their perspectives and ideas have grown.

You can stay up to date on future activity via the new UVic_Rubinoff Instagram account.

$1500 student mural call

All current UVic Visual Arts students are invited to submit a proposal by March 26 for a new $1,500 mural project in the lobby of UVic’s Island Medical Program. This uplifting & welcoming mural should reflect any of the following themes: health & wellness, happiness, pursuit/enjoyment of good health, Indigenous health & wellness (etc).

What to submit

Student artists or teams should submit a proposed design in a 2D medium (including, but not limited, to painting, prints, photography or drawing) plus a short proposal outlining how their design would be suitable for this project. The selected student(s) will then design & create the mural on the designated stand-alone wall in the IMP lobby.

The mural will be located on a 14 x 6 foot standalone wall, which will have the current plaques removed & will be prepared prior to project start date. An honourarium of $1,500 will be paid to the artist(s) once the project is completed (or split evenly between a team), with up to $500 in additional material fees.

About materials

Art must not have any sharp or harmful elements, and all paint and adhesives must be water based (no spray paint or spray adhesives).  All materials proposed to be used must be described in full in your proposal. The curved wall must be able to support the art without triggering structural design concerns.

Deadlines

Deadline for concept submissions is March 26 and the mural must be completed sometime between April 22 and May 30. The artist(s) must be currently enrolled in UVic’s Visual Arts department. Artist(s) will be chosen by a selection committee. This project is part of the new Fine Arts creative partnership with IMP that is also seeing an AHVS grad student curating a new collection of art for their lobby.

Please visit UVic’s IMP building (between MacLaurin A-wing & Cunningham building) prior to submission to get a sense of the wall & surrounding environment.

For more info or to submit a proposal to finecomm@uvic.ca