ONC Artist in Residence debuts “Gossip with Whales”

The ocean has many songs to sing! Join us for this feast of music and celebration as we launch the world premiere performances of four new choral compositions created during Dennis Gupa‘s artistic residency with Ocean Networks Canada.   

Together with a panel of artists, performers and scientists, Gupa will present the unique collaboration “Gossip with Whales: Exploring Ocean Science through Applied Theatre” at 6:30pm PST Wednesday, September 22 via a free online webinar.

Exploring the tanaga and Mangyan poetic forms

Drawing on Tanaga—a Filipino traditional lyrical art form—the four pieces that make up “Gossip With Whales” will offer artistic insights into current challenges for our oceans. One of the poems was translated into an Alangan-Mangyan poetic form of the Mangayan of Mindoro Province, Philippines.

“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,” says Gupa. “Our poetries and songs renew our kinship with the ocean.”

Find out more about Dennis Gupa’s work here.

Gupa, together with participating Filipino artists Karla Comanda, Roijin Suarez, Darren Vega, Thai Hoa Le and Jeremiah Carag, will discuss the creation and intention of these pieces with event moderators ONC scientific data specialist Megan Kot and School of Music composer Taylor Brook

Dennis Gupa

The arts & oceans together

A PhD in UVic’s Theatre department, Gupa is also the most recent 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.

“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.”

This event is presented by UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts & Ocean Networks Canada in celebration of our shared ocean and the launch of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030. 

An example of Ambahan, a Hanuno’o poetic form.
Source: PINAGMULAN: Enumerations from the Philippine Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ed., Dr. Jesus T. Peralta, NCCA & I). ICHCAP, 2013 // Photo by Renato Restrollo, NCCA – ICH (2013) (courtesy of National Commission for Culture and the Arts)

Dean’s Lecture Series focuses on sound studies, gender paradox in art

As part of our commitment to experiential learning and research excellence, our faculty members regularly present as part of UVic’s ongoing Dean’s Lecture Series. This spring, we were fortunate to present talks by the School of Music‘s Joseph Salem and Melia Belli Bose of our Art History & Visual Studies department.

Research is continually reshaping the way we live and think. In this ongoing series of free online lectures, you’ll hear from distinguished faculty members and learn about their areas of research interest.

The series is presented in partnership with UVic’s Faculties of Education, Engineering, Fine Arts, Graduate Studies, Human and Social Development, Humanities, Law, Science and Social Sciences, as well as the Greater Victoria Public Library and the Division of Continuing Studies.

Joseph Salem: Sound Studies

From music to the conversations around us, our lives are shaped by sounds. Yet the field of Sound Studies—the study of the role sound plays in culture (both natural and unnatural)—is relatively new, having emerged from the disciplines of anthropology, history and cultural studies only two decades ago.

School of Music professor Joseph Salem makes his position clear in his talk, Sound Studies: What Is It, Who Does It and Why Do We Care?

“The idea of Sound Studies is not to discriminate between sounds as it is to provide a soundtrack for our study of humanity,” he says. “Scholars can now read between the lines of historical documents to discover the role sound played in cultures of the past.”

While focusing on the unconscious role of sound in society, Salem—an assistant professor who specializes in music history, theory and musicology—says his goal is to make it more explicit.

“Our self-awareness about the role of sound in culture has increased over the past 50 years,” says Salem. “Sound Studies remains a model for other disciplines: in lacking a specific centre and in maintaining flexible boundaries, it provides a space for us to adapt to our changing selves while maintaining a connection to our anthropological past.”

Melia Beli-Bose: The Razor’s Edge

No question, art provides an opportunity to discuss issues often considered taboo by societies. Consider contemporary Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi’s sculpture Love Bed: a life-sized bed fashioned from stainless steel razorblades, it’s held in the Guggenheim Museum’s permanent collection.

“The sculpture exposes paradoxes in rural Bangladeshi women’s lives,” explains Art History & Visual Studies professor Melia Belli Bose in her Dean’s Lecture, The Razor’s Edge: Gender Politics and Structural Violence in the Work of Bangladeshi Artist Tayeba Begum Lipi.

 

 “The bed of razors is seductive and eerily inviting, yet—by virtue of the material’s potential to inflict pain and even death—dangerous,” she says. “Together with tiny golden safety pins, razorblades are synecdoches tethered to key events in the artist’s early childhood and young adult life.”

An associate professor who specializes in visual cultures of early modern and contemporary South Asia, Belli Bose’s research focuses on issues of death, memorialization, gender and public identity in the early modern courtly and contemporary art and architecture of north India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. As such, Lipi’s work makes for an ideal topic.

“She has established herself as one of a handful of brazenly outspoken, politically engaged Bangladeshi women artists whose work holds a mirror to their society and advocates changes such as improved women’s education and healthcare,” says Belli Bose.

Beadwork as resistance

When it comes to beadwork, a design is created bead by bead, row by row: it’s much the same in writing, where poems and stories are created word by word, line by line. But for award-winning poet, memoirist and University of Victoria writing professor Gregory Scofield—also a traditional Cree-Metis beadworker—the two art forms are intimately connected through his creative practice and teaching.

As a child, Scofield recalls how he would sit with his auntie at her kitchen table while she was beading, learning Cree and listening as she shared family and traditional stories. “As I listened and learned, I became interested in beadwork and creating something—so I’ve always linked the act of creativity to storytelling,” he explains. “There’s something quite sacred about listening and working with your hands at the same time.”

Current awareness of beadwork

With archaeological evidence dating back thousands of years before European contact, the practice of Indigenous beadwork has never stopped—yet is flourishing in contemporary media, and the exhibit On Beaded Ground at UVic’s Legacy Gallery until September 18, 2021.

“There’s definitely more awareness and appreciation of beadwork,” he says. “But it’s important to keep in mind that it isn’t just a homogenous Indigenous expression: people work in the mediums of their own nations.”

Cree-Metis floral beadwork

As a Red River Metis of Cree, Scottish and European descent, Scofield practices traditional 19th century Cree-Metis floral beadwork. An example of his own work is seen here on the right: a Cree-Métis panel/fire bag using all traditional materials. 

“Towards the end of the 19th century, there were huge changes for Indigenous and Metis people . . . there were incredible obstacles, and communities ended up completely impoverished. Women were sewing as supplemental income to support their families, and a lot of those pieces ended up in the tourist trade.”

All of this unites in Scofield’s course on Indigenous women’s resistance writing and material art, which combines hands-on learning in traditional Cree-Metis beadwork with readings, films and writing practice centered on resurgence and resistance.

 

“Because everything happened for me at that kitchen table . . . I wanted to be able to bring that mental, emotional and tactile experience to students, who really have very little understanding or knowledge of Indigenous history or the impacts of colonial violence toward Indigenous women,” he explains.

“I teach my students how Indigenous women used beadwork as a way to resist colonial violence, as a way of maintaining and preserving identity—but also as a way of telling stories. It’s beadwork as a form of resistance.”

Repatriating beadwork

Another form of resistance is Scofield’s history of repatriating beadwork pieces—a practice which began years ago when he noticed a beaded pocket-watch holder in a Royal BC Museum display mislabeled as “Victoriana,” when he recognized it as a piece of 19th century Cree-Metis beadwork. He holds many such pieces in his own collection (seen in photo above). 

“I often refer to myself as an ‘unintentional curator’ because a lot of specifically Cree-Metis pieces are folded into other First Nations or Victoriana exhibits, because curators haven’t any idea about us as a people and our unique artforms,” he says. “By misidentifying them, the stories and geography are stripped away, and communities are stripped of their identity too.” 

Ever the poet, Scofield sees this as more than just repatriation. 

“It’s about giving these pieces their stories back.”

Gregory Scofield: fast facts

  • Scofield traces his ancestry back to the fur trade era and the Metis community of Kinosota, Manitoba. In March 2021, he was named a recipient of the Order of Gabriel Dumont, one of the Métis Nation’s highest civilian honours. He has donated many pieces of repatriated beadwork to organizations like the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research.
  • One of Scofield’s poems—“The Sewing Circle”, from his 2011 collection Louis: The Heretic Poems—is permanently installed at the Batoche National Historic Site, where Louis Riel was defeated during the North-West Rebellion of 1885.
  • Scofield’s first memoir, Thunder Through My Veins, was selected for CBC’s 2021 Canada Reads longlist. The author of nine books, he is also the recipient of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the $25,000 Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize, given to an accomplished mid-career poet.
  • Scofield has just released wapihkwanîy: A Beginner’s Guide to Métis Floral Beadwork (with co-author Amy Briley) through the Gabriel Dumont Institute. “I’m so proud of this book, and to be able to share all my aunty taught me,” he says.
  • See beautiful examples of Scofield’s own beadwork via his Instagram page: @metisboi.
  • Earlier this month, Gregory Scofield participated in “Kitchen Table Talk: The Beauty of Beading” as part of Legacy Gallery’s On Beaded Ground exhibit.

This story originally appeared as part of UVic’s monthly KnowlEDGE feature in the Times Colonist newspaper on June 27, 2021. KnowlEDGE is a continuing series highlighting the research and creative practice of UVic professors and graduate students.  

Banting Fellow & Vanier Scholar named in Fine Arts

Fine Arts researchers and creative practitioners Taylor Brook and Troy Sebastian are among UVic’s recipients of the prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholars,

“Congratulations to Taylor and Troy,” says Acting Dean Allana Lindgren. “Having a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow and a Vanier Scholar in the Faculty of Fine Arts is an honour.”

Together with Canada’s federal granting agencies, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada announced the results of the 2020-2021 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships competitions on July 15.

“Both Taylor and Troy are highly talented and accomplished young artists/scholars, so it is very satisfying to see the excellence of their creative work and research recognized at the national level,” says Lindgren. “I am confident that their expertise, creativity, and aspirations will enrich our community.”

Taylor Brook

School of Music composer Taylor Brook is one of four UVic recipients of the Banting fellowships. The federal program is designed to build world-class research capacity by recruiting top-tier postdoctoral researchers at an internationally competitive level of funding.

The two-year Banting fellowships are worth $70,000 per year. They are open to both Canadian and international researchers who have recently completed a PhD, PhD-equivalent or health professional degree and other eligibility criteria. UVic’s other three recipients are Kristina Barclay (Biology and Anthropology), Simon Blouin (Physics and Astronomy), and Gillian Kolla (Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research).

A Canadian composer who writes for the concert stage, video, theatre, dance and robotic instruments, Brook’s compositions have been performed by ensembles and soloists worldwide. A 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, he has won numerous SOCAN Young Composers awards, including the 2016 grand prize, and holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from Columbia University.

 

Brook’s music is often concerned with finely tuned microtonal sonorities, combining his interest in exploring the perceptual qualities of sound with a unique sense of beauty and form. Current projects include a new concerto grosso for the San Francisco-based Del Sol String Quartet with the Partch Ensemble and a concert-length piece for the NYC-based TAK Ensemble.

As part of his SSHRC project, he will be writing a new composition for the Aventa Ensemble, to be performed in 2023.

“I am thrilled to begin my research at the University of Victoria as a Banting Fellow. My research will develop a novel framework for cross-cultural musical analysis that overcomes limitations engendered by Western musical notation. I hope to build a greater understanding of tuning and temperament as an expressive force in music as well as contribute to a broader effort in musicology, composition and music theory to decolonize the curriculum in higher education.​”
—Taylor Brook

SSHRC Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship

Troy Sebastian | nupqu ʔak·ǂam̓

Department of Writing alumnus and instructor Troy Sebastian is one of three UVic researchers named as Vanier Scholars in the annual competition by the Government of Canada.

The scholarships are earmarked for social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and/or engineering and health. Vanier scholars, who receive $50,000 funding each year for three years, demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies. UVic’s other two recipients are Dorothea Harris (Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies) and Lucie Kotesovska (English).

A Ktunaxa writer from ʔaq̓am, Sebastian’s research and creative practice focuses on memoir, Indigenous masculinities, Canadian military history, Ktunaxa nation building and Ktunaxa language revitalization. His proposed PhD program is a special arrangement between the Department of Writing and the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

 

“My Vanier scholarship will focus on celebrating who we and our history in our ancestral homelands by researching the life and service of a Ktunaxa veteran who was killed in action during World War II,” says Sebastian.

A graduate of UVic’s Writing MFA program and an instructor with the department, Sebastian was selected for the 2020 Writer’s Trust Rising Star program, is a recipient Hnatyshyn Foundation’s Reveal – Indigenous Arts Award and is also a graduate of the Banff Centre’s Indigenous Writers program.

His writing has been longlisted for the 2019 Writers’ Trust Journey Prize, both the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize and 2018 CBC Short Story Prize, and he has been published in Best Canadian Stories 2019, The Walrus, Ktuqcqakyam, The New Quarterly, Quill and QuirePrairie Fire and The Malahat Review.

“My research and artistic practice centres on Ktunaxa language, storytelling, morality and ethics, and is dedicated to the empowerment of the Ktunaxa Nation’s vision statement: ‘Strong, healthy citizens and communities, speaking our languages and celebrating who we are and our history in our ancestral homelands, working together, managing our lands and resources, within a self-sufficient, self-governing Nation.’”
—Troy Sebastian | nupqu ʔak·ǂam̓

Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar

Kelly Richardson working with UN Biodiversity

If you could imagine a future for our planet’s biodiversity, what would it be? Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson has been invited by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to do just that as part of a global collaborative artwork to celebrate the world’s biodiversity and urge for its protection.

Imagine compassion for nature

“The opportunity to imagine our potential futures on this platform is substantial in terms of audience reach,” says Richardson. “The idea is to awaken compassion for nature and imagine our different potential futures using images of my work—from the unthinkable to a radically different future should priorities take a dramatic turn.”

Richardson is one of six international artists and scientists invited to participate in the global Instagram movement @withnature2020 on June 25.

Fusing art and science

Her dramatic images will be paired with messages intended to encourage reflection on our relationship with biodiversity: “Imagine if we valued the species which went extinct on Earth today, as though it was found on Mars. Imagine the radically different futures that will bring.”

“We have a limited window of time to act to change our collective futures,” says Richardson. “If people can visualise potential outcomes from insufficient address of our planet’s significant issues around biodiversity loss and climate change, it may result in an appreciation for what remains and a dramatic shift in priorities to protect it.”

A plausible future

An internationally acclaimed artist, Richardson creates video installations of rich and complex landscapes that have been manipulated using CGI, animation and sound. Her practice offers imaginative views and constructions of the future plausible enough to prompt careful consideration of the present.

Underpinning her research is a critical and often collaborative engagement with scientists, philosophers and writers whose work engages with issues related to climate change.

Follow the UN Biodiversity feed on Instagram

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.

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)

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.

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.