Four Fine Arts recipients in Distinguished Alumni Awards

The annual Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate the remarkable achievements of UVic graduates in three different categories: the Presidents’ Alumni Awards, the Emerging Alumni Awards and the Indigenous Community Alumni Awards. This year, Fine Arts has four recipients honoured in two of those categories.

Presidents’ Alumni Award: Maureen Gruben

Tuktoyaktuk-born and -based Presidents’ Alumni Award recipient Maureen Gruben (Visual Arts BFA, 2012) is an Inuvialuk artist who’s passionate about bringing awareness to the Arctic environment through her art. A mature student and mother when she came to UVic, her works incorporate an array of materials from polar bear fur, beluga intestines and seal skin to vinyl, Styrofoam, bubble wrap and metallic tape, linking daily life in the western Arctic and global environmental concerns. Gruben’s art has been exhibited across North America and Europe, and in 2021 she was long-listed for the Sobey Award, considered Canada’s most prestigious art award for emerging artists.

When asked how her experiences at UVic contributed to her success, Gruben says “UVic was where I was really introduced to contemporary art and performance art. That introduction alone opened up so many ideas, doors, new ways of thinking and understanding that was not so traditional. It made me work outside a lot in the environment and not so much in the gallery space. It was really huge for me.”

And what’s her advice to a younger person who is possibly uncertain about their future?

“They just need to get out there and try and explore and find out what their passions are because most people don’t know early in life,” she says. “You have to go and try a few different things before you figure out what you like.”

Read more about Maureen Gruben, including the differences between living in Tuktoyaktuk and Victoria

Emerging Alumni Award: Taiwo Afolabi

Taiwo Afolabi (Applied Theatre D Phil, 2020) has dedicated his life to using theatre as a tool for social change. A prolific scholar and an applied theatre practitioner, the Nigerian-born Afolabi researches, teaches and creates participatory theatre as a means of community engagement to explore themes of education, migration, displacement, climate change, inclusion and diversity.

After graduating from UVic, Afolabi began his tenure-track position at the University of Regina’s Theatre Department where he is an assistant professor; he currently holds the Canada Research Chair in Socially Engaged Theatre, and is the founder and director of the Centre for Socially Engaged Theatre (C-SET).

His research interests lie in the areas of applied theatre and policing, social justice, decolonization, art leadership and management, migration and the ethics of conducting arts-based research. Taiwo is a senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg (South Africa) and the founding artistic director of Theatre Emissary International. His academic studies combined with lived experience of issues of race, equity and inclusion have made him a much sought-after speaker, writer, teacher and faculty member.

While his professional accomplishments are many, he’s most proud of the connections he’s be able to make, the relationships he’s built and the opportunities to engage with people. “Whether it’s in devising a play in the community, writing a paper or doing a workshop, it’s ultimately about the people I’ve been able to touch and who have touched my own life,” he says.

Read more about Taiwo Afolabi, including his favourite memory of being a UVic student

Emerging Alumni Award: Sarah Jim

Sarah Jim (Visual Arts BFA, 2019) is a visual artist of mixed ancestry from the small village of Tseycum in W̱SÁNEĆ. She works in the field of environmental restoration. Her creations reflect and advocate for the beautiful territory that the W̱SÁNEĆ have stewarded since time immemorial. Her art has been displayed across southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands and garnered numerous awards.

A common thread throughout Jim’s work—which includes a territorial acknowledgement plaque for a public library, T-shirt designs, street banners, multiple murals around the territory and native plant signs at the Horticulture Center of the Pacific and UVic’s community garden—is her desire to use art to create awareness and celebrate the historic and ongoing relationship between the W̱SÁNEĆ people and the land, sea and sky.

She says she’s most proud of merging the field of environmental restoration with her artistic practice. “At the very end of my UVic time, I started working in the field of environmental restoration and falling in love with the native plants, foods and medicines we have here and Indigenous ways of being,” she explains. “In my very last painting course, I made this piece that was all native plants with Coast Salish elements, and I was really happy with it, and my teacher said that it was the best thing I made all year and I should have been doing this the whole time. That was a really big turning point for me and my career.”

Her advice to younger people uncertain about their futures? “Just take a chance, because you never know where you’re going to end up. That’s essentially what I did. I started doing markets. I had the audacity to try to sell my things, and a lot of my friends and family supported me. And then even strangers were supporting me, too. Put yourself out there and don’t be too shy because people are going to judge you no matter what, so you might as well just do it.”

Read more about Sarah Jim, including the best advice she was ever given

photo: Simon Pauly

Emerging Alumni Award: Josh Lovell

Barely in his 30s, Victora-born Josh Lovell (Performance BMus, 2015) is already a major player in the international classical music scene. Described by the Guardian as “a handsome-sounding tenor with a warm, liquid voice and easy high notes,” he studied at UVic’s School of Music from 2010 to 2014 before attending the University of Michigan on a full scholarship to complete his Masters of Voice Performance.

The winner of numerous awards, Lovell is currently an ensemble member of the renowned Vienna State Opera house Wiener Staatsoper. He has performed all over Europe at prestigious venues such as Teatro alla Scala Milan, the Glyndebourne Festival (UK), Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Bolshoi Theatre, helping raise the profile of Canada on the international stage. He also maintains an important connection to his home, returning to perform with the Vancouver Symphony, Pacific Opera and the Victoria Symphony, where he continues to inspire future generations of performers.

He felt his time at UVic “rounded me as an individual: it wasn’t completely focused on my studies. There was time to make connections with colleagues and friends, and attend the many events that were going on around the campus. UVic really felt like a community while I studied there. Even though I grew up in Victoria, UVic felt like a different city, another country. It was a zone all unto itself where I felt welcome to take part in all that was offered and challenged to learn all that I could.”

But he hesitates to name any one achievement of which he is particularly proud. “As your experience builds with every single performance, so develops your voice and artistry. Because of this, there is no single defining moment of arrival; there is no exact moment of ‘making it.’ All you can hope for is that you develop well enough to be noticed by the most famous companies in order to be hired by them.”

But Lovell does consider himself “very fortunate” to have been able to perform at a very high level since finishing his education. “This entire journey goes back to UVic,” he says. “None of this would have been possible without my teacher, Benjamin Butterfield.”

Read more about Josh Lovell, including the skills he feels are essential to his career

Nominate a remarkable grad!

The UVic Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate the remarkable achievements of UVic graduates. Nominations for the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Awards are open now through Oct. 13, 2023. You can nominate an outstanding alum here.

Explore all 16 of UVic’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients.

Guest artist Hawksley Workman talks songwriting and the music industry

Singer-songwriters and musicians hoping to break into the industry won’t want to miss two unique events with acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter, Hawksley Workman. Set to visit the University of Victoria on March 15-16, these events will highlight Hawksley’s eclectic mix of indie rock, pop, and folk music, his electrifying stage presence, as well as his experience in the music industry as a producer, composer and recording artist.

In a keynote singer-songwriter event on March 15, Hawksley will give a short performance followed by a chat about his song-writing process and techniques. The discussion will delve into Hawksley’s approaches to cultivating melodic surprise, colour and contrast, harmonic contour, and form. Students from the UVic School of Music will then have the opportunity to perform an original song and receive constructive critique from Hawksley.

DIY Musician roundtable

roundtable on March 16 will offer an insightful discussion on what it takes to thrive as a self-produced musician in Canada. Hawksley will be joined by industry leaders from the Victoria community including Merrie Klazek (UVic Associate Professor, trumpeter), Adrian Dolan (composer/producer/arranger, and member of The Bills), and Laura Mina Mitic (vocalist with Carmanah). Topics will include mastering your craft, marketing and promotion, community engagement, and aspects of mental, physical, and financial health.

While visiting UVic, Hawksley will also guide students in a pro-level studio recording session with a focus on how to be efficient and effective in the various studio roles, from producer to session musician. School of Music students Brendan Wong and Olivia Jackson, who perform together as the duo Actual Human People, have been selected to be recorded and will leave with a completed studio recording of one of their tracks. (This event is not open to the public.)

A mainstay of the Canadian music scene for over two decades

Hawksley is a two-time JUNO Award-winning and Gold Record certified singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. A mainstay of the Canadian music and arts scene for over two decades, Hawksley boasts a catalogue of 16 releases, showcasing his signature blend of anthemic folk and show-stopping vocals. Hawksley’s touring career has seen him play over a thousand shows worldwide. He’s headlined prestigious venues like Massey Hall in Toronto and The Olympia in Paris. As a producer, his fingerprints grace releases by JUNO and Polaris Prize nominees and winners like Tegan and Sara, Sarah Slean, Serena Ryder, Hey Rosetta!, and Great Big Sea. He’s also penned melodies with a myriad of artists, from Oscar award-winning Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, Inception) to the late French rock icon Johnny Hallyday.

Oil & water fuels Ocean Networks Canada artistic residency

Composer & percussionist Colin Malloy is the 2022 Ocean Networks Canada artist-in-residence 

Our world is saturated by oil. From fuel and plastic to climate change and the global economy, oil affects every aspect of human existence — right down to the microscopic level. And for 2022 Ocean Networks Canada artist-in-residence Colin Malloy, oil not only provided the inspiration for his residency, it’s also had a direct influence on the instrument he plays.

As well as being an interdisciplinary music technology PhD candidate with UVic’s School of Music & the Department of Computer Science, Malloy is an award-winning percussionist and composer who plays the Caribbean steelpan: also known as a steel drum, it’s an iconic instrument that wouldn’t exist without oil.

“After WWII, there were lots of leftover oil barrels from the US and British navies in Trinidad, so people adapted those into instruments: they cut up the barrels and, with a lot of hammering, made the modern steelpans out of them,” Malloy explains, noting that the majority of today’s steelpans are still made from 55-gallon barrels (“just ones that haven’t had oil in them”).

“Since it’s an oil-producing nation, the steelpan is a huge part of the country — it’s Trinidad’s national instrument, and they have hundreds of steel bands, most of which are sponsored by the oil industry. Because the steelpan has such an intrinsic connection to oil, I thought that was a natural lens through which to analyze how it affects the ocean.”

Working with oil & water

As the third ONC Artist-in-Residence — a continuing partnership with the Faculty of Fine Arts that has seen previous AIRs Dennis Gupa (Theatre) and Colton Hash (Visual Arts) selected for the program — Malloy frequently incorporates nature sounds into his practice as a composer, so it was a natural step for him to focus on data sonification during his residency.

“We’re all familiar with data visualizationwhere you take data and turn it into a visual image that can be interpreted,” he says. “Data sonification is when you take data and turn it into a musical aspect.”

Over the course of his four-month residency, Malloy met with ONC scientists and examined ocean data in order to create a series of new electroacoustic percussion compositions, which he’ll be performing live on January 26 under the title of Oil & Water.

“Given the steelpan’s history, I had a clear idea from the start of my proposal — I’m looking at how the effects of oil are inextricably linked to climate change,” he says.

Fusing his passion for percussion and audio programming, Malloy has composed four pieces inspired by ONC data sets. His piece titled “Oil & Water”, for example, uses software that probabilistically generates tones representing the data set for world oil production over the last 120 years.

“It starts out with a nice, meditative melody coming from the steelpan . . . but the sound gets louder and more aggressive and more intrusive until it eventually overpowers the performer,” he says. A synthesizer cycles the information into sound, with different data sets emerging as different musical timbres.

“It’s more an artistic choice reinforcing the connection between the music and the scientific ideas,” Malloy explains. “By using data to drive the music, it will hopefully lead audiences to reflect on how our own daily use of oil affects the ocean. People’s minds and feelings are changed through stories and emotions, not through data, but I do want everything I do to be informed by actual data — it’s important for my music to reflect truth and accuracy, to have integrity.”

As part of his residency, Malloy was also one of four Fine Arts faculty members who participated in the Creative Futures webinar “Documenting the Climate Crisis” (which you can watch via this YouTube link).

Sounds of science

During his residency, Malloy says ONC researchers exposed him to “a lot of information that was just on the edge of my awareness” — like the problematic Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the swirling plastic trash vortex which scientists estimate covers a staggering 1.6 million square kilometers in the North Pacific (an area twice the size of Texas or three times that of France).

“I learned that it’s basically a collection of all kinds of plastic in the ocean, which is so insidious because it’s effectively forever: plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it just breaks down into smaller pieces until it’s microscopic — so the patch is effectively a thick, giant plastic floating slurry that light can’t penetrate, that traps heat and contributes to ocean warming, that harms the fish and wildlife and the overall ecosystem . . . none of which I envisioned.”

This inspired another composition titled “Trash Vortex”, for which Malloy created his own interactive software.

“Recordings of all my previous rehearsals and performances are being constantly played back by the computer while being broken into smaller and smaller pieces, which I’ll be playing overtop of,” he explains. “It’s like the ‘trash’ of my previous work has become a metaphorical framework for an improvisation . . . the score is essentially the software, which changes every time, so what I play in response will be a different experience each time.”

A third piece is titled “Hot, Sour and Breathless”, which offers a musical interpretation of the projected future of the oceans as a result of climate change: “hot” representing warming temperatures, “sour” being the changing pH levels as the waters become more acidic, and “breathless” standing in for the deoxygenation of the oceans — all concerns Malloy learned about during his residency.

An emotional connection

With plans to record his ONC compositions later this spring, Malloy also hopes to return to some of the ideas he didn’t have time to explore. “The variety of sounds whales make are incredible,” he says by way of example. “I really wanted to find a way to mimic them: percussionists like finding weird, interesting ways of making new sounds!”

Ultimately, he hopes listeners will find a more personal connection between the sounds and the science.

“With music, people come to a concert prepared to have an intellectual or emotional reaction: you’re not necessarily going to understand the data better by hearing these pieces, but it might affect you differently than hearing something on the news,” he says.

“I’ve learned a lot through this process and I’m hoping to share that with the audience. It’s been a real educational experience for me.”

The application period for the fourth Fine Arts / ONC Artist-in-Residence is now closed: watch for the announcement of the selected artist this spring.

The Artist-in-Residence program is a partnership between UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada, with additional financial support provided by the Faculty of Science and the University of VIctoria’s Office of Research Services. This continuing program strengthens connections between art and science that broaden and cross-fertilize perspectives and critical discourse on today’s major issues, such as environment, technology, oceans, cultural and biodiversity, and healthy communities. This program is open to all current University of Victoria graduate students who have completed most of their course requirements in the Faculty of Fine Arts with practice in any visual, written, musical or performance media.

Colin Malloy’s “Reflection in Waves”, written for Radio Amnion, a multi-year sound art project for the waters of Earth, commissioning new compositions by contemporary artists: these are then relayed more than two kilometres deep within the Pacific Ocean during each full moon. 

Dean’s Lecture: Virginia Acuña

Deans’ Lecture Series

Research is continually reshaping the way we live and think. In this continuing series of online talks hosted by UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies, you’ll hear from distinguished faculty members and learn about their research interests.

Virginia Acuña on “Amusing the King”

In her talk “Amusing the King: Gender, Parody and Musical Theatre in Early 18th Century Spain”, School of Music teaching professor Virginia Acuña explores the world of Spanish baroque musical theatre through the lens of Acis y Galatea (Acis and Galatea), an operatic work performed for King Philip V of Spain in 1708.

“What makes this work interesting and worthy of attention is that it reverses gender roles of the era, while also satirizing the archetype of the male lover so commonly found in dramatic works of the period,” she explains. “Also, as we shall see, it mocks operatic conventions of the baroque. Why and how does it do so? Please join me to find out!”

You can watch this video here.

Dr. Acuña’s research interests include early music, opera, and Spanish music and culture of the early modern era, specifically the intersection of gender, politics and race in baroque musical theatre. Her research appears in Eighteenth-Century Music, Early Music, the Bulletin of the Comediantes, and in conference proceedings. She is also co-author of Claudio Monteverdi: A Research and Information Guide (Routledge, 2018).

More in the series

Other recent talks in the ongoing Dean’s Lecture Series include Art History & Visual Studies professor Melia Belli Bose, School of Music professors Merrie Klazek and Joseph Salem, and Visual Arts professor Daniel Laskarin.

Dean’s Lecture: Merrie Klazek

Deans’ Lecture Series

Research is continually reshaping the way we live and think. In this continuing series of online talks hosted by UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies, you’ll hear from distinguished faculty members and learn about their research interests.

Merrie Klazek on “Trumpet Around the Sun”

“Music is at once a personal experience and a universal experience,” notes School of Music trumpet professor Merrie Klazek. “In this talk, I will share the journey of my recent recording project which highlights my experience as a professional trumpet player in settings of music from around the globe, in collaboration with over 24 artists specializing in different styles. I will touch on my roles as performer, presenter, producer and educator throughout my career, to illustrate my belief that music plays an integral role as a true connector in human societies.”

Canadian trumpeter Merrie Klazek is a versatile and respected artist in the world of performance and education. Fluent in orchestral, chamber, solo, traditional, world and popular music, Merrie joined the School of Music faculty full-time in 2016, after two decades as one of two Canadian women to hold a full-time orchestral principal trumpet position.

Her musical travels have taken her around the globe, and her solo recording projects “Songs to the Moon” and “Dance Around the Sun” have gained international recognition with features on television, radio and streaming platforms. Merrie is an endorsing artist for Wedge Mouthpieces and Conn-Selmer Bach trumpets.


More in the series

Other recent talks in the ongoing Dean’s Lecture Series include Art History & Visual Studies professor Melia Belli Bose, School of Music professors Virginia Acuña and Joseph Salem, and Visual Arts professor Daniel Laskarin.

Call for grad student proposals: Ocean Networks Canada Artist-in-Residence Program

2021 ONC Artist in Residence Dennis Gupa

UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) are calling for graduate student applications for the 2023 ONC Artist-in-Residence program.

Note: the application period closes on December 17, 2022.

The Artist-in-Residence program strengthens connections between art and science that broaden and cross-fertilize perspectives and critical discourse on today’s major issues, such as environment, technology, oceans, cultural and biodiversity, and healthy communities. This program is open to all current Fine Arts graduate students who have completed most of their course requirements with practice in any visual, written, musical or performance media. Co-led and sponsored by Fine Arts and ONC, the Artist-in-Residence program receives additional financial support from UVic’s Faculty of Science and Office of Research Services.

About the residency

The Artist-in-Residence will ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges, interacting with Fine Arts faculty members and scientists & staff at ONC, as well as with other individuals using ONC’s world-leading ocean facilities. The Artist will learn from and engage with the current research, connecting it to the Artist’s own practice, and to wider societal and cultural aspects, creating work for public presentation at the end of the residency. The Artist will also be invited to contribute as a lead or co-author in scientific conference proceedings and/or journal articles.

The selected Artist will actively engage with researchers on a variety of ocean science themes that may include:

  1. Deep Sea Ecology
  2. Seabed-Ocean Exchanges
  3. Coastal Ocean Processes
  4. Marine Natural Hazards
  5. The Ocean Soundscape
  6. Arctic Ocean Observing
  7. Ocean Big Data

The ONC Artist-in-Residence program is established to:

  1. explore the potential of the arts or alternative cultural practices in the area of the visions, challenges, philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of the ocean and the impacts humans have on it;
  2. add a complementary artistic and creative perspective to ocean science, the societal ramifications of its exploitation, and its cultural aspects;
  3. create opportunities for potential new research questions, experimental approaches and knowledge synthesis resulting from interaction between the arts and science; and
  4. help envision and communicate the potential long-term impact of ocean changes on humanity.

Learn more about previous Artists in Residence

Previous ONC Artists in Residence include Colton Hash (Visual Arts, 2019), Dennis Gupa (Theatre, 2021) and Colin Malloy (School of Music, 2022). Watch for a special performance event in late January 2023, when Colin will be debuting his project created as part of the residency.

But you can get a sneak peek of Colin’s work by listening to these two compositions which he created during his time with ONC:

2022 ONC Artist-in-Residence Colin Malloy

Financial provision for the Artist

The residency period can start anytime between 1 Feb 2023 and 31 May 2023 and last for up to four months. A cost-of-living stipend of CAD$2000/month will be paid to the selected Artist, with limited additional funds to support production or materials.

At the conclusion of the residency, a public exhibit of the resulting art will be displayed or performed, and will be promoted by ONC and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Proposal Submission

Interested applicants are to email ONC at with the subject line “Ocean Artist-in-Residence Program,” and attach:

  1. the artist’s CV
  2. a concise portfolio of previous relevant artistic work;
  3. a letter of motivation outlining the artist’s project proposal for the residency, and
  4. a 500-word project proposal with a separate project-costs budget.

The application period closes on 17 December 2022. Applications will be reviewed by representatives of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada. Artists may be contacted for an interview or to supply further information before a decision is made.

Public Exhibit or Event

At the conclusion of the residency, the artist will host a public exhibit or event within a specified budget agreed to during the residency and depending on the type of project to be exhibited. Assistance for marketing and/or ticketing could be made available from other UVic departments (Visual Arts, Theatre, etc.).

About Ocean Networks Canada

Established in 2007 as a strategic initiative of the University of Victoria, ONC operates world-leading ocean observatories for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada. The observatories collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible. The observatories provide unique scientific and technical capabilities that permit researchers to operate instruments remotely and receive data at their home laboratories anywhere on the globe, in real time. The facilities extend and complement other research platforms and programs, whether currently operating or planned for future deployment.

About the Faculty of Fine Arts

With experiential learning at its core, the Faculty of Fine Arts provides the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals, and students. Through its departments of Art History and Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and School of Music, the Faculty of Fine Arts aspires to lead in arts-based research and creative activity and education in local, national, and global contexts by integrating and advancing creation and scholarship in the arts in a dynamic learning environment.

As British Columbia’s only Faculty exclusively dedicated to the arts, UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is an extraordinary platform that supports new discoveries, interdisciplinary and diverse contributions to creativity, and the cultural experiences of the students and communities UVic serves. With thanks also to the Vice President Research & Innovation and Faculty of Science for their support.