’Tis the season for choral celebration

Downtown’s Christ Church Cathedral was filled beyond capacity for the School of Music‘s annual winter choral concert on December 2. But you can still experience the harmonious sound of 150+ voices resonating in the cathedral’s beautiful acoustics in this video of the event, which featured the combined talents of UVic’s Chorus, Chamber Singers, Vocal Ensemble and Vocal Jazz Ensemblem plus organist
Mark McDonald.

Allan Antliff named inaugural Rubinoff Legacy Professor

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 in 2016.

Today, that relationship is being strengthened further by the Jeffrey Rubinoff Nexus for Art as a Source of Knowledge — this includes $230,000 in new funding which creates a named professorship, a robust set of graduate student scholarships, and the expansion of experiential learning initiatives at the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park (JRSP) on Hornby Island.

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

The Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park on Hornby Island

New professorship rooted in engagement

Art History & Visual Studies (AHVS) professor Allan Antliff has been selected as the inaugural Rubinoff Legacy Professor in Art as a Source of Knowledge. Antliff brings to the position not only a personal history with Rubinoff and an interest in the Modernist ideas expressed in his sculptures, but also a deep history of engagement with the JRSP’s annual Company of Ideas forum — an international gathering of scholars, artists and thinkers which has been exploring key issues in art and knowledge since it was established in 2008.

AHVS has been involved with the Company of Ideas since 2016 in a variety of ways, including a four-year PhD graduate fellowship, travel awards for AHVS grad students, and smaller fellowships for outstanding AHVS grad students in need — all of which was initiated by Antliff and quickly brought to realization by former Fine Arts Dean Susan Lewis and UVic’s Development Office.

“I first met Jeffrey in summer 2015 and we quickly forged a personal friendship based on shared intellectual interests and ethical concerns related to the arts,” recalls Antliff. “Since then, I’ve been organizing annual graduate student participation in the Company of Ideas with the invaluable help of JRSP curator Karun Koernig and Company of Ideas Director and Cambridge University art historian James Fox . . . . Our students derive great benefit from these forums: they are ‘idea generators’ and a chance to meet scholars of note in a congenial atmosphere unlike any other.”

An unparalleled opportunity for students 

AHVS PhD candidate Munazzah Akhtar attended the Company of Ideas forum in 2016 and found the experience invaluable. “The forum offered an unparalleled opportunity for students to learn from and engage with artists, writers, curators and academics from distinguished universities,” she says. “These are fantastic occasions for students to network with renowned scholars, which could certainly be beneficial for their future endeavors.”

The Rubinoff Foundation itself is excited by Antliff’s appointment. In response to the news, the Board of Directors have affirmed that “Jeffrey had the opportunity to exchange ideas with Dr. Antliff on many occasions, and he would be pleased to know that Allan was named as the first Jeffrey Rubinoff Legacy Professor. The Jeffrey Rubinoff Foundation is honoured to continue Jeffrey’s legacy through support for the University of Victoria that contributes to innovative scholarship, connecting art and knowledge.”

Expanded scholarship opportunities

A significant part of the Nexus for Art as a Source of Knowledge is $100,000 in annual funding for a set of new graduate scholarships to be shared by each of our five Fine Arts units — plans for which Antliff and Rubinoff discussed back in 2016.

“The scope of Jeffrey’s critical interests encompassed the entirety of the arts, and it is appropriate that these awards be divided equally amongst our five departments,” says Antliff. “The scholarships reflect Jeffrey’s spirit of generosity and commitment to learning, which the Foundation board shares — and, of course, they are testimony to how important he felt artistic endeavours are for advancing knowledge, both culturally and politically.”

Antliff (centre) at 2023’s Company of Ideas

Fifteen graduate students in AHVS, Theatre, Writing, Visual Arts and the School of Music will benefit from this new funding during the 2023/24, providing them with the opportunity to both visit the JSRP and further their own academic and creative work.

“These scholarships will give students time to contemplate and develop their research free of economic pressures,” notes Antliff. “This is an extraordinary gift — the gift of creative freedom.”

The late Jeffrey Rubinoff with one of his sculptures at the JRSP

New experiential learning opportunities

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Rubinoff’s legacy is his 200-acre sculpture park on Hornby Island, where he lived and worked for over four decades. Home to over 100 of Rubinoff’s steel sculptures — which range from human to monumental scale — the JSRP not only hosts the annual Company of Ideas forum but has also welcomed several Fine Arts field schools since 2017.

With the new Nexus funding, experiential learning opportunities on site will be further enhanced with an annual budget of $75,000.

In his new role as the Rubinoff Legacy Professor, Antliff — who has previously taught a course at the JRSP exploring the intersection of Rubinoff’s views with those of select artists and art critics — is developing a new AHVS seminar, “Sculpting Modernism”. This will offer students three days at the sculpture park to engage with Rubinoff’s artwork firsthand, with accommodation and expenses funded by the Nexus.

“My intent is to transform May into the ‘Faculty of Fine Arts Month’ at the JRSP, with different departments bringing groups of students to the park every week for short residencies,” says Antliff. “To this end, I have invited faculty in other departments to develop their own seminars incorporating the JRSP and offered to underwrite related costs drawing on my Legacy Chair funding. Additionally, I’ll be visiting Hornby Island to consult Jeffrey Rubinoff’s archive and library: this research will enhance my ongoing engagement with his ideas.”

Plans are also underway for the first of a series of related biannual conferences, tentatively scheduled for fall 2024 or winter 2025. “I have a series of topics in mind, which will be themed to my department’s research areas and incorporate issues that concerned Jeffrey Rubinoff,” explains Antliff. “For example, I am in conversation with Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, Senior Curator at National Gallery of Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum,about collaboratively organizing a UVic-based conference devoted to art historian and anti-colonial activist Ananda Coomaraswamy.”

Inspired by a previous conference Mustafa organized at the Dhaka Art Summit in 2018 (where Antliff gave a talk on Coomaraswamy’s impact on US modernism during the WWI period), this conference might also involve UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives.

“Ideally, I imagine these conferences serving as a catalyst for enhancing the faculty’s impact in the University of Victoria and beyond,” says Antliff. “The conferences will also draw attention to the JRSP and Rubinoff’s legacy as a critical thinker and artist. Finally, they will be a catalyst of learning for faculty, students and the general public.”

Fine Arts students during
previous JRSP field schools

Building the future

As someone who knew him personally, Antliff thinks Rubinoff would have been excited by the renewal of this important relationship with both UVic and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

“Before he passed, Jeffrey gave me a copy of a critical anthology edited by James Fox, The Art of Jeffrey Rubinoff (2016), with this dedication – ‘Allan: Builder of the Future.’ I think that speaks volumes regarding his faith in my commitment to furthering the synergy between the JRSP and Fine Arts,” concludes Antliff.

He adds, “Jeffrey spoke of his initial [2016] endowment to AHVS as the ‘institutional mainstay of the unfolding, permanent educational program at the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park, which will continue to explore the future of art as a source of knowledge.’ When he characterized art as ‘a source of knowledge,’ he had the interface of art and society in mind, which dovetails wonderfully well with the values propelling research and teaching in the Faculty of Fine Arts.”

Transformational reconciliation through exhibitions

Dr Heather Igloliorte at UVic, November 2023 (UVic Photo Services)

If it wasn’t for a hurricane, the life of globally renowned Inuk and Nunatsiavut art historian and curator Dr. Heather Igloliorte would have taken an entirely different turn.

Back in 2003, she had just graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (major: fine art, minor: art history) and intended to pursue an MFA with the intention of becoming a practicing artist.

Then came the plot twist: Hurricane Juan blew in from the Atlantic and blew out Halifax’s power grid — including the traffic lights — resulting in a car accident that left Igloliorte seriously injured and requiring a year of painful physiotherapy. “I had muscle damage from my neck to my shin . . . but particularly in my shoulder and arm, so I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to paint again,” she recalls.

Thanks to that BFA minor, however, Igloliorte was able to switch her focus to art history while she was in recovery. That’s when she first began exploring the history of Inuit art, which soon inspired her to pursue a master’s degree.

“I learned for the first time how much of Canadian Inuit art history had been written by non-Inuit,” she says. “Although there were thousands of exhibitions and articles and catalogues and books about Inuit art, almost none of it had been written by Inuit . . .. I came to realize that there was so much work to be done and felt I needed to contribute to that.”

A well-deserved global reputation

Igloliorte was announced on Nov. 16 as UVic’s inaugural Canada Research Excellence Chair in Decolonial and Transformational Indigenous Art Practices — an $8-million research chair funded through the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program and administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on behalf of Canada’s federal granting agencies.

Read the UVic news release.

Canada’s first Inuk art historian to hold a doctoral degree, Igloliorte has developed a well-deserved reputation as an internationally renowned curator whose work has positioned circumpolar Indigenous arts and knowledge at the centre of global exhibition practices.

Her many accomplishments as an independent curator and scholar include holding the Tier 1 University Research Chair in Circumpolar Indigenous Arts at Concordia University; co-directing the Indigenous Futures Research Centre; directing the nation-wide Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq Project; co-curating a ground-breaking survey of contemporary Inuit art as the inaugural exhibition of the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq Inuit art centre; and co-curating a program of northern Canadian Indigenous-made 360° films, ARCTIC XR, in conjunction with the Sami Pavilion during the 2023 edition of the Venice Biennale.

Fine Arts Dean Allana Lindgren with Heather Igloliorte at the official announcement on Nov 16 (photo: Megan Dickie)

Exhibitions that change lives

By focusing on decolonizing institutions and foregrounding Indigenous knowledge, perspectives and creativity — while challenging colonialist understandings of resilience, health, resources and technologies — Igloliorte has created or co-created more than 30 curatorial projects throughout her career. Indeed, her first major exhibition — 2008’s oral history project “We Were So Far Away:” The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools for Ottawa’s Legacy of Hope Foundation — is still in circulation across Canada today.

“That exhibit really sparked my interest in curatorial practice and what it can do for people who are from rural, remote and northern communities. Unlike in cities in southern Canada, a lot of places throughout the North — not just Inuit communities — don’t have access to conventional art galleries, don’t have southern Canada-style museums, and don’t necessarily have easy access to post-secondary programs to learn about being a curator or a museum professional. But we figured out how to make that exhibition tour throughout the North, so that the primary stakeholders in the project — Residential School Survivors and their families — could see their stories shared.”

Since that first major exhibition, the joy of Igloliorte’s career has been supporting community members to find innovative ways to share their stories and achieve success on their own terms. “I think big institutions in the south can also learn a lot from the resourcefulness of northerners,” she says.

Igloliorte’s multifaceted and interdisciplinary work aligns with UVic’s commitment to ʔetal nəwəl | ÁTOL,NEUEL, as well as its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals focused on quality education, decent work, economic growth, reduced inequalities and peace and justice.

Installation view of INUA:InuitNunangat Ungammuaktut Atautikkut(2021-2023) in the
main Inuit gallery at
Qaumajuq, courtesy of Winnepeg Art gallery (photo: Lindsay Reid)

Decolonizing and transforming

Now based in UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts as the Canada Research Excellence Chair in Decolonial and Transformational Indigenous Art Practice, the prestigious, eight-year position will advance reconciliation through the transformative power of art and innovative exhibition practices, and support a new generation of students, researchers, educators, curators and artists to drive change through artistic practice.

“I am really excited about the eight years to come,” says Igloliorte. “I feel really humbled by the trust that has been put in me to take this funding and to do good with it.”

Part of that good will include creating more capacity for diverse arts opportunities and leadership.

“A big part of what I want to do with this position is to bring more Indigenous Peoples into spaces that weren’t designed for them — but that they absolutely deserve to be in. How do we change the structures to make the institutions better and more welcoming and more inclusive? This new role is going to amplify things that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”

More than just decolonizing physical spaces, however, Igloliorte is equally passionate about extending the artistic reach of technology.

“Another pillar of this project is digital literacy and media arts skill sets,” she says. “Just like the lack of access to museums and galleries in the North, Indigenous people don’t necessarily have access to the same cutting-edge technologies that others do.”

On a practical level, Igloliorte says that means removing barriers and putting innovative media arts tools — like augmented reality and extended reality — into the hands of people through the creation of an Indigenous research-creation focused media arts lab. “They can experiment and see if they’re interested in bringing their current practices into a media art space . . .. The potential is there for people to grow in really exciting directions.”

Heather Igloliorte, center, with students and faculty during the 2022 Inuit Futures curatorial institute, visiting the
Inuit and Sami-led exhibition 
ᐊᖏᕐᕋᒧᑦ / Ruovttu Guvlui / Towards Home, Dec. 3, 2022 (Photo: Julien Cadena)

A perfect home at UVic

For Igloliorte, there’s no better place to be based than UVic and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Already home to notable Indigenous artists like Kwagiulth/Salish/Settler Witness Blanket creator and UVic Impact Chair Carey Newman, Métis poet Gregory Scofield and Navajo futurist Danielle Geller, the Faculty of Fine Arts also hosts the Audain Professorship in Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest. This long-running, donor-funded, limited-term position has been held by such internationally acclaimed Indigenous artists as Rebecca Belmore, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas and Rande Cook (among others), and is currently held by Kanienke’haka performance artist Lindsay Katsitsakatste Delaronde.

“What an amazing environment!” exclaims Igloliorte enthusiastically. “I can’t believe there are over 70 Indigenous faculty members here at UVic. I don’t know that there’s anywhere else in the country like it.”

Igloliorte is excited to join UVic’s Department of Visual Arts alongside the likes of Newman and globally recognized digital artists Kelly Richardson and Paul Walde.

“It seems like a great fit,” she says, noting current faculty work around technology, climate change, the environment, media arts and decolonization. “There is so much work that overlaps with — and will help to expand — the potential of what this research chair should be. I think we’re going to do a lot of good work together.”

The CERC program, jointly administered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), supports world-renowned researchers and their teams to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities.