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.

Phoenix season kicks off with shows for the young & the young-at-heart

The cast of The Woman Who Outshone The Sun (photo: Megan Farrell)

Proving that experience matters when it comes to creating impactful productions, Phoenix Theatre is offering an all-alumni directed season—ideally matched to UVic’s upcoming 60th anniversary celebrations.

It all kicks off with two productions that speak to Phoenix’s past and present: Applied Theatre professor Yasmine Kandil directs SETYA, the latest in the continuing Staging Equality series, while sessional instructor Alistair Newton offers The Importance of Being Earnest—Oscar Wilde’s 128-year-old classic comedy that (surprisingly) has never been presented before on campus.

Staging Equality: Theatre for Young Audiences

SETYA offers a double bill of The Woman Who Outshone the Sun and Shi-shi-etko, two children’s stories ideally suited to Staging Equality’s mandate of offering IBPoC-focused performances. “We wanted stories by and about Indigenous and people of color to be accessible to our young audiences and their families, and I think this show will deliver,” says Kandil. “These two stories both talk about important issues facing Indigenous communities in Canada and in Latin America.”

With four productions staged over the past two years (Journey to Mapu, Kamloopa: An Indigenous Matriarch Story, Im:print and It’s Just Black Hair), SETYA sees the return of previous Staging Equality partners as narrators here: Paulina Grainger of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (The Woman who Outshone the Sun) and Kwakwaka’wakw performer and UVic En’owkin School alum Krystal Cook (Shi-shi-etko).

“Krystal has amazing stage presence and an ability to bring tenderness as well as strength to carry the enormity of the story she is telling. And Paulina has a magical way of drawing the audience into the narrative,” says Kandil. “I’ve enjoyed their approach to creating art and engaging with our students. I felt both stories required actors who were strong performers who could also embrace the community awareness element of the work we are carrying out.”

While theatre for young audiences is a style more often presented by alumni in the community, Kandil believes this is yet another way to welcome diverse audiences into the Phoenix. “We know the audiences who have attended our previous Staging Equality programming will return, and we also wanted children and their families to come to our theatre,” she concludes. “Audiences, young and old, will be able to engage with these topics in a manner that allows them to digest the material, and hopefully the stories might last with them a while.”

SETYA director Yasmine Kandil (photo: Megan Farrell)

“Krystal has amazing stage presence and an ability to bring tenderness as well as strength to carry the enormity of the story she is telling. And Paulina has a magical way of drawing the audience into the narrative,” says Kandil. “I’ve enjoyed their approach to creating art and engaging with our students. I felt both stories required actors who were strong performers who could also embrace the community awareness element of the work we are carrying out.”

While theatre for young audiences is a style more often presented by alumni in the community, Kandil believes this is yet another way to welcome diverse audiences into the Phoenix. “We know the audiences who have attended our previous Staging Equality programming will return, and we also wanted children and their families to come to our theatre,” she concludes. “Audiences, young and old, will be able to engage with these topics in a manner that allows them to digest the material, and hopefully the stories might last with them a while.”

Earnest director Alistair Newton (photo: Catherine Lemmon)

Feeling Earnest

While SETYA focuses on young audiences, The Importance of Being Earnest is a perennially popular production that has never gone out of style since its 1895 debut. What’s the appeal for a very contemporary director like Alistair Newton?

“Aside from the obvious answer that it has got to be one of the greatest works of comic writing in the English language, it’s also a work coded with all sorts of transgressive satire—much of which would only have been legible to those members of the audience with the right ear to hear it,” he says. “Populism with a wicked satirical edge has always been irresistible to me.”

Newton, who is also teaching Theatre’s fall elective on drag culture and was just announced as a director for the prestigious Shaw Festival’s 2024 season, says he enjoys “excavating the hidden histories and secret codes” of what’s often described as classical theatre.

Earnest is so constantly revived that it almost feels like a meme at this point, rather than a play,” he explains. “True, the 19th century gave us hysterical sexual repression and the codification of rigid gender roles, but it also gave us radicals who rebelliously pushed back—like the pioneering sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, the Danish artist and trans woman Lili Elbe, and William Dorsey Swann, an enslaved black activist and drag performer who was likely the first person to refer to himself as a ‘queen’.”

Much like SETYA, Newton feels Earnest will also resonate with Phoenix audiences.

“Oscar Wilde loved a paradox, and both his legacy and the history of Earnest has sort of become one: at the time of his arrest for ‘gross indecency’, Wilde had two hit shows running in the West End and had completely conquered mainstream boulevard entertainment in London—but, at the same time, his queerness was considered so scandalous by his society that they had to forcibly remove him from their midst.”

Finally, as a returning alumni, how does it feel for Newton to be back at the Phoenix—both directing and teaching? “A lot of things change in a couple of decades, but some things are exactly how I left them: the graffiti on the scene shop wall and the very particular smell as you first enter the Roger Bishop Theatre,” he quips.

“But I think my favourite change is something I perceive in the students: they seem much more willing to advocate for themselves and to challenge orthodoxies, ideas of canon and the educational status quo. At the risk of sounding like an old queen, the kids definitely seem alright to me.”

SETYA runs October 12-14 + 19-21 while The Importance of Being Earnest runs November 9-25, both at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre

Orange Shirt Day events

Did you know this popular Orange Shirt Day design “Hearts & Hands” was created by multi-disciplinary Kwakwaka’wakw/Coast Salish artist Carey Newman? UVic’s Impact Chair in Indigenous Art Practices and a professor with both our departments of Visual Arts and Art History & Visual Studies, Newman is also the creator of the powerful Witness Blanket sculpture, now permanently housed in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

“This design was made to honour the children who died in residential school,” says Newman, whose traditional name is Hayalthkin’geme. “The hearts express love for all those in unmarked graves and compassion for the families and communities who waited for them to be found. The small and colourful hands remind us of the uniqueness and beauty of every child. Taken together, they represent our commitment to listen to our hearts and use our hands, to do the work that needs to be done.”

“The visceral confirmation of Survivor accounts that has come from locating these graves has affected many of us on an emotional level,” he continues. “It has changed the way that many people think and feel about our histories and current realities in Canada.”

Examining the impacts of colonialism

A master carver, filmmaker, author and popular public speaker, Carey Newman’s artistic practice strives to highlight Indigenous, social and environmental issues as he examines the impacts of colonialism and capitalism, harnessing the power of material truth to unearth memory and trigger the necessary emotion to drive positive change. He is also interested in engaging with community and incorporating innovative methods derived from traditional teachings and Indigenous worldviews into his process.

Support meaningful engagement with Elders

Just in time for Orange Shirt Day, Newman’s design is currently available to order on a t-shirt at UVic’s Bookstore. But be warned: fake designs are unfortunately available online, the proceeds from which are not going to Indigenous groups. It’s best to pick one up from a trusted supplier, like the Bookstore.

If you already have a shirt from a previous year, we encourage you to support Orange Shirt Day initiatives by considering making a $25 donation directly to the Elders Engagement Fund, Witness Blanket Project or Orange Shirt Society.

The university has established the ITOTELNEW̱TEL ȽTE: LEARNING FROM ONE ANOTHER Fund (Elders Engagement Fund). It provides meaningful engagement with Elders and opportunities for learning Indigenous ways of knowing for students, faculty and staff.

Orange Shirt Day events

Events are taking place across campus this week in recognition of National Truth and Reconciliation Week. You can see a full list of campus activities here. Be sure to wear your orange shirt and join in the campus gathering in the Quad from 11:45am-1:30pm Friday, Sept. 29.

There’s also the big South Island Pow-wow starting at 10am Saturday, Sept 30, in downtown’s Royal Athletic Park.

What is Orange Shirt Day?

Orange Shirt Day is a national movement in Canada. In this annual event, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come together in the spirit of hope and reconciliation to honour former residential school students, their families and communities. We consider the impacts of the policies and actions of the Government of Canada and the churches that operated the schools.

Orange Shirt Day began in Williams Lake, BC in 2013 at the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event at which survivor Phyllis Webstad told the story of her shiny new orange shirt taken away from her on her first day of school at the Mission.

Orange Shirt Day occurs in early fall because this is the time of year when children were removed from their families and forced to attend residential schools. The day inspires Canadians to take part in anti-racism and anti-bullying initiatives at school and work.

The residential school era began in the early 1870s, with the last school closing in 1996. More than 150,000 Indigenous, Métis and Inuit children attended these schools. There are an estimated 80,000 survivors living today.

Legacy gift highlights Steinway anniversary

Arthur Rowe performing on one of UVic’s Steinway pianos (photo: Leon Fei)

Fifteen years ago, UVic’s School of Music was named Canada’s first All-Steinway School and, while there are now over 200 All-Steinway schools globally, UVic is still the only one in Canada — a significant designation currently being celebrated with both a new $300,000 estate gift and a signature concert.

“Steinways are recognized worldwide for their excellence and are by far the most preferred concert piano in the world,” says School of Music piano professor Arthur Rowe.

But keeping 63 pianos ready for daily student use also requires constant tuning and repairs, which makes the new $300,000 Martha Cooke Fund so important. Named for the late Public Archives Canada curator, Cooke’s legacy earmarks $200,000 for essential piano maintenance.

 “These pianos are now 15 years old, so this gift comes to us at a critical time,” says Rowe. “Maintaining our excellent instruments is crucial, so these funds will help ensure the longevity and excellence of our Steinways.”

Internationally renowned guest pianist

The Martha Cooke Fund also sets aside a further $100,000 for three years of annual concerts and masterclasses with internationally renowned Korean-American pianist Minsoo Sohn — the first of which debuts October 3 at UVic when he presents an awe-inspiring performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s complete Études-Tableaux.

Sohn will also host a free public masterclass with School of Music piano students at 10:30am Wednesday, Oct 4, which all are welcome to attend.

As the winner of many prestigious competitions and a teacher of renowned pianists himself, Minsoo Sohn’s concerts and masterclasses will demonstrate his own pursuit of musical excellence for the benefit of UVic students. This promises to be an extraordinary experience that will transport audiences to a realm of emotion, virtuosity and musical brilliance.

Masterful virtuosity

Known for his musical intelligence and masterful virtuosity — qualities that have earned him acclaim throughout the United States, Canada and Korea — Sohn’s readings of the works of Bach and Beethoven in particular have placed him among the elect in this repertoire, and the inspired ingenuity of his performances of orchestral repertoire have earned him many accolades.

Sohn owes much of his success to his mentors, Russell Sherman and Wha Kyung Byun, with whom he studied at the New England Conservatory in Boston. After teaching at Michigan State University, Sohn returned to South Korea where he instantly became a much sought after performer and pedagogue, as he joined the faculty at Korean National University of Arts. He has also served on the jury at prominent international piano competitions including Honens, Top of the World and Busoni Competition.