Dennis Gupa: from sea rituals to applied theatre and science

Dennis Gupa in February 2021. (Photo: John Threlfall)

The idea of artists working with scientists is nothing new to Dennis Gupa.

A PhD candidate in UVic’s theatre department, Gupa is also the current artist-in-residence with Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a UVic initiative. He sees the artistic residency, launched by the Faculty of Fine Arts and ONC two years ago, as a natural fit with his doctoral focus on Indigenous sea rituals, climate change and sustainable ecology.

While Gupa’s term at ONC will wrap up this spring, he’s also finishing his doctoral work in applied theatre under the supervision of theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yetka, whose experience in community-engaged research includes projects in Indigenous language revitalization through theatre with children in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, young people in Brazilian favelas, young women in rural areas of Cambodia and students with special needs in schools in The Netherlands.

As with any applied theatre practitioner, Gupa also wants to use the tools of theatre and drama to help bring about social change and build a sense of community—and, in his case, to attempt to grapple with the gravity of global warming especially in the island nations of the world.

Applied theatre, traditional knowledge and climate crisis

Having grown up in the Philippines, Gupa has witnessed firsthand the threat of extreme weather events. With his country being a former colony—extending across 7,600 islands and known for its maritime history, marine diversity and Indigenous population—the parallels between the Philippines and Vancouver Island are clear to Gupa. He says this is probably the reason he decided to do his grad studies at UVic.

“By looking at the experience and knowledge of local people—who have been experiencing these climatic events for so many years, but are not really given a lot of opportunities to tell their stories—we can learn from their knowledge and wisdom,” he says. “Our poetries and songs renew our kinship with the ocean.”

Gupa’s research focuses on traditional ways of knowing, as well as storytelling and applied theatre, and how these elements can be drawn into important discussions and dialogue in support of social justice, community participation and climate action.

A youth theatre project in 2015 co-directed by Gupa for a rural high school “glee club” in the Philippines. (Photo: The Perfect Grey | ASEAN Center for Biodiversity)

And he very much believes in bringing people together to share stories. Gupa says, “I create interdisciplinary work with a kinship among knowledge disciplines. One of the fascinating functions of an artist is being an interlocutor, bringing people together to share our stories.”

He conducted field work in the Samar-Leyte region of the Philippines, working closely with local elders on the island community of Guiuan, where the super typhoon Yolanda in 2013—one of the deadliest on record—first made landfall.

Strengthening connections between art and science

Sharing stories is exactly what Gupa has in mind with the ONC initiative: recently repositioned as an opportunity for Fine Arts graduate students, the ONC artist-in-residence program exists to strengthen connections between art and science, and ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges around the major issues facing oceans today.

“This residency program comes at a time of crisis in ocean sustainability,” ONC chief scientist Kim Juniper. “Science-art collaborations such as this one bring together the insight and power of two ways of looking at the world, and will hopefully lead to new understanding and greater benefits for our ocean and our future.”

While the pandemic is complicating Gupa’s original idea to create an immersive, ONC data-fueled performance experience involving the Filipino diaspora community—including playwright Karla Comanda, classical singer Jeremiah Carag, Philippine-based composer Darren Vega and Vietnamese-Canadian actor Thai-Hoa Le—Gupa is still hopeful about uniting these two worlds during his spring 2021 residency.

“How can we share our stories with the scientists, and what does that mean to them to listen to immigrants?” Gupa ponders. “How does our history of exile connect with the history of climate disaster? We’ve never really tapped into that or discussed it in a scientific space.”

For Gupa, the ONC residency is less a challenge and more a cumulative opportunity between his artistic and academic pursuits.

“There’s a lesson in fluidity that this water is teaching me and I’d like to bring that to the fore in my work … it’s not just a fascination, but water is so embodied in my work as an artist. It’s beautiful but it’s also dangerous. We cannot wait any longer for inclusive and deeper collaborations to make things better for all living things in this earth—both seen and unseen.”

Ces Bersez, Dennis Gupa, & Francis Matheu in “Murupuro/Island of Constellations” at Prairie Theatre Exchange in 2018. (Photo: Migrante Manitoba FB web page)

Social justice for the seas

“When we think of the water, I think of social justice,” Gupa adds. “As an archipelagic country surrounded by water, the Philippines have been suffering from ocean disasters due to climate change: resources are depleting, coral are bleaching, fish are dying and the waters are warming so the fish don’t have food. So what do they do? They migrate, just like Filipinos—fish are the first climate refugees.”

Gupa has also been looking at how climate change has impacted Canadian Filipino diaspora communities, with whom he created and then toured a highly collaborative theatrical production in 2018 (Victoria, Vancouver, Winnipeg).

Gupa performing the mask of Imelda Marcos during his production of “Murupuro”. (Photo: Fiona Ngai)

Interdisciplinary conversations on global issues

In addition to collaborating with ONC at UVic, Gupa was a visiting graduate research fellow at UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society in 2019/20 and a recipient of a 2017 student research fellowship from the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives at UVic. He is also a Vanier Scholar.

“Scientists spend hours in their labs thinking about their work, similar to what theatre and performance artists do in their rehearsal spaces,” he says. “We’re all exploring and searching for meaning; this kind of interdisciplinary conversation simply lets us be better adjusted to global issues.”

Gupa also spent a decade at the University of the Philippines Los Baños where, in addition to teaching theatre, he was named the first head of the Office of Arts and Science Fusion Program.

In 2011, Gupa received a grant from the Asian Cultural Council (established by John D. Rockefeller III) for six months in as the director-in-residence with Ma-Yi Theatre Company in New York City.

His collaborative work has also won support from the British Columbia Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, World Bank Manila Office/Australian Agency for International Development, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity and the Dharmasiswa Scholarship through the Indonesian government’s Ministry of Education, among many others.

Gupa has an MFA Directing (Theatre) degree from UBC and an MA (Theatre) from University of the Philippines.

Gupa wearing a traditional Filipino malong at a local beach in Victoria. (Photo: John Threlfall)

Follow the social media feeds of both Fine Arts and ONC for developments on the artistic residency this spring.

Orion Series presents Visiting Artist Curtis Santiago

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:

Curtis Santiago

Multidisciplinary artist, musician

7:30 – 9:00 pm (PST) Wednesday, March 24 2021

 

Free & open to the public via Zoom

Presented by UVic’s Department of Visual Arts
For more information on this lecture please email: visualarts@uvic.ca 

A multidisciplinary approach 

Curtis Talwst Santiago (b. 1979, Edmonton, Alberta) studied as an apprentice of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. Santiago has exhibited internationally at venues such as The Drawing Center, New York, NY; The FLAG Art Foundation, New York, NY; The New Museum, New York, NY; The Eli and Edythe Broad Museum at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; the Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA; the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan, Canada; The Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada; Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, The Rooms, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada and the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA; among others.

Listen to this November 2020 interview on CBC Radio’s Q, or get a taste of his work in this short trailer from the CBC TV series In The Making.  

 

The artist was included in the inaugural 2019 Toronto Biennial of Art in Toronto, Canada, the SITE Santa Fe SITELines.2018 Biennial, Casa Tomada, in Santa Fe, NM, and was featured in the 2018 Biennale de Dakar in Dakar, Senegal. He is currently an active board member on the Board of Directors for the Drawing Center in New York and has been invited to be an artist in residence this September 2021 at Black Rock Senegal.

His work is in the permanent collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY. Santiago considers himself decentralized and is currently living and working in Munich, Germany.

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.

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at www.uvic.ca/events

Orion Series presents Drew Hayden Taylor

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:

Drew Hayden Taylor

Playwright, novelist, filmmaker, journalist

“Canoeing Down the River of Contemporary Storytelling”

12:30 – 1:30 pm (PST) Thursday, April 1, 2021

 

Free & open to the public via Zoom

Presented by UVic’s Department of Theatre
For more information on this lecture please email: theatre@uvic.ca 

The changing face of Indigenous literature 

Drew Hayden Taylor is an award-winning playwright, novelist, filmmaker and journalist. Born on the Curve Lake First Nation, he has done everything from performing stand-up comedy at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. to serving as Artistic Director for Canada’s premiere Indigenous theatre company, Native Earth Performing Arts.

Having written 20 plays with over 100 productions, Drew is currently working on the second season of his APTN documentary series, GOING NATIVE, as well as finishing up two plays, a novel, and a book of essays on Indigenous futurisms.

In his lecture, Drew will talk about the changing face of Indigenous literature, its origins, its trajectory, and his unexpected journey through it.

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.

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at www.uvic.ca/events

Orion Series presents Gary Farmer

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:

Gary Farmer

Actor, filmmaker, musician, publisher, activist

“My Life as a Baby Clown”

12:30 – 1:30 pm (PST) Tuesday, March 23, 2021

 

Free & open to the public via Zoom

Presented by UVic’s Department of Theatre
For more information on this lecture please email: theatre@uvic.ca 

A pioneer in Indigenous media 

Gary Farmer is a filmmaker, musician, publisher, activist, and multi-award-nominated actor, who has worked in film, theatre, radio and television. He is currently performing the role of Dan Twelvetrees in Syfy Network’s TV show Resident Alien.

Farmer has won Best Actor awards at the American Indian Film Festival for his roles in Powwow Highway in 1989 and Dead Man (opposite Johnny Depp) in 1997. He received nominations for the Independent Spirit Award for his roles in Powwow Highway, Dead Man, and Smoke Signals. In 2001, he was honoured with the Taos Mountain Award for lifetime achievements of an outstanding Native film professional, and in 2017, with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Annual Native American Music Awards for his role as the harmonica playing frontman in the band, Gary Farmer & The Troublemakers.

Farmer is also widely recognized as a pioneer in the development of media for Indigenous peoples in Canada, launching the magazine Aboriginal Voices and founding the Aboriginal Voices Radio Network.

In this lecture, Gary will discuss his freedom to explore his cultural identity through the performing arts, working with diverse human storylines for better thinking humans since 1975.  

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.

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at www.uvic.ca/events

Orion Series presents director & writer Soheil Parsa

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:

Soheil Parsa

Artistic director, Modern Times Stage Company

“Transcending Cultural and
Political Borders in Theatre”

12:30 – 1:30 pm (PST) Thursday, March 18 2021

 

Free & open to the public via Zoom

Presented by UVic’s Department of Theatre
For more information on this lecture please email: theatre@uvic.ca 

Theatre for modern times 

Soheil Parsa is an award-winning director, writer, dramaturg and teacher, whose professional theatre career spans 30 years and two continents. In his native Iran, Soheil completed studies in theatre performance at the University of Tehran. Arriving in Canada with his family in 1984, Soheil completed a second Bachelor of Arts in theatre studies at York University, and then went on to establish Modern Times Stage Company, one of the most innovative theatre companies in Canada.

Soheil’s own work at Modern Times has been recognized with six Dora Mavor Moore Awards and a number of international prizes and master-class requests. In 2007 and 2010, he was shortlisted for the Siminovitch Prize in Theatre. In 2013, Soheil was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contribution as a theatre artist to Canadian society. In 2015, he was named as the best director at the Toronto Theatre Critics awards.   

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.

 

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at www.uvic.ca/events

Orion Series presents scholar Heather Igloliorte

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:

Heather Igloliorte

Research Chair, Circumpolar Indigenous Arts

7:30 – 9:00 pm (PST) Wednesday, March 10 2021

 

Free & open to the public via Zoom

Presented by UVic’s Department of Visual Arts
For more information on this lecture please email: visualarts@uvic.ca 

Advancing Indigenous knowledge 

Dr. Heather Igloliorte (Inuk, Nunatsiavut) holds the Tier 1 University Research Chair in Circumpolar Indigenous Arts and is an associate professor in the Department of Art History at Concordia. She also serves as the special advisor to the provost on advancing Indigenous knowledges, and in this role contributes to the efforts of the university’s Indigenous Directions Leadership Group. Her teaching and research interests center on Inuit and other Native North American visual and material culture, circumpolar art studies, performance and media art, the global exhibition of Indigenous arts and culture, and issues of colonization, sovereignty, resistance and resurgence. 

Indigenous futures

Heather is the principal investigator of the $2.5M, seven-year SSHRC Partnership Grant “Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq/ Pijariuqsarniq Project” (2018-2025), ​which aims to empower circumpolar Indigenous peoples to become leaders in the arts through training and mentorship. With Professor Jason Edward Lewis, Heather also Co-Directs the Indigenous Futures Cluster (IIF) in the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology. Through Milieux, Igloliorte works with collaborators and students to explore how Indigenous people are imagining the future of their families and communities. 

Heather has been a curator for 14 years, ​and currently has three exhibitions touring nationally and internationally; she is also the lead guest curator of the inaugural exhibition of INUA, the new Inuit Art Centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Heather publishes frequently: she has co-edited special issues of journals PUBLIC 54: Indigenous Art: New Media and the Digital (2016) and RACAR: Continuities Between Eras: Indigenous Arts (2017), and her essay “Curating Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: Inuit Knowledge in the Qallunaat Art Museum,” ​was awarded the 2017 Distinguished Article of the Year from Art Journal

Igloliorte currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Indigenous Circle for the Winnipeg Art Gallery, working on the development of the new national Inuit Art Centre; is the President of the Board of Directors of the Inuit Art Foundation; and serves on the Board of Directors for North America’s largest Indigenous art historical association, the Native North American Art Studies Association, the Faculty Council of the Otsego Institute for Native American Art History at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and the Nunavut Film Development Corporation, among others. Heather has previsously  served as an executive member of the board of directors for the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective and as the president of Ottawa’s artist-run-centre Gallery 101, in addition to other advisories, juries and councils. 

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.

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at www.uvic.ca/events