Comics as a path to resistance

Kwakwaka’wakw author, artist & activist Gord Hill is the 2024 Lehan Lecturer with UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts. His free public talk runs from 5-6:30pm Thursday, March 7 in room A110 of UVic’s Turpin building (now rescheduled from the original Feb 27 date). 

An artist, author, political activist & member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation, Hill is the author of The 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book, The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book and The Antifa Comic Book and has been involved in Indigenous peoples’ and anti-globalization movements since 1990.

The annual Lehan Family Activism & the Arts Lecture Series features a distinguished guest presenting ideas on how the arts are a catalyst for change in advancing the understanding and goals of various social justice topics.

And that’s certainly how it worked for Gord Hill, who combined a passion for social justice with his artistic interests to create an accessible learning tool rooted in his own cultural traditions.

“The arts have always been a highly respected craft on the West Coast,” he explains. “Artists were tasked with recreating ancestors in a graphic form — like carvings and paintings in the big houses — so in our culture, there’s a lot of visual reaffirmation of our ancestors in everyday life. For me as an artist, graphic novels are a way of maintaining our history and making it accessible to people.”

From comics to ’zines

Like many of us, Hill says he read comics as a kid — mostly Marvel, but also surprisingly Conan (“I actually thought he was like a native, because he was a nomadic Sumerian warrior with long black hair who was always engaging with different people”) — but it was his teenage involvement in political social movements and the ‘zine culture of the ’90s that really sparked his interest in becoming a comic artist and author himself.

“As an artist, I always wanted to draw comics . . . but I’m not really into making up fictional characters and developing their background and all that,” he explains. “So when I was working with the native youth movement in the late ’90s, I decided I was going to try doing some historical comics — because the story is already kind of written, right? I just had to reinterpret it for a graphic format.”

Given his own activity, some of Hill’s early work focused on crises of the day. “I found that even with our most recent acts of resistance — like the 1990 Oka crisis — there wasn’t really that much information out there, as this was before the Internet was really widespread. So one of the first comics I did was an eight-page comic about Oka, and then I did one about the 1995 Ts’Peten [Gustafsen Lake] standoff in the interior of BC.”

Learning from history

Before long he had created a number of these short educational comics, and a friend suggested doing a larger work looking at 500 years of Indigenous resistance — which, an assist from friend and Art History & Visual Studies professor Alan Antliff, was then published by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press.

Three books later, Hill’s work is just as relevant today as when he started. “Graphic novels are really accessible, especially today in our era of memes and videos on Facebook and TikTok,” he says.

He also feels historically-based comic books can be a great teaching tool.

“History can help you understand your present situation: you can learn from what resistance movements have done in the past and apply that to today,” he says.

“Historically, we’re taught that Indigenous peoples were just helpless victims while European colonizers conquered the land and committed genocide. But if you actually look into it, there’s a really strong history of resistance — there are areas where it took Europeans centuries to conquer Indigenous peoples — and I think that’s really inspiring.”

“Resistance movements can inspire and empower us, show us that we’re not helpless victims,” he continues. “It can contribute to a fighting spirit to know the oppressor isn’t omnipotent, that they have actually suffered defeat. I hope my work contributes to resistance movements today, so they’re able to learn from the history of resistance, which is an important part of maintaining a culture of resistance.”

NEW DATE & TIME: Due to a weather-related incident, we have now rescheduled this talk. All are welcome to hear Gord Hill’s free public talk as the 2024 Lehan Family Activism & the Arts guest lecturer, from 5-6:30pm Thursday, March 7, in room A110 of UVic’s Turpin building

Fine Arts in the news: media roundup

When it comes to announcements, publications and media appearances, there’s never really a slow time for Fine Arts faculty, alumni and students — and the past couple of months have been no exception. Here’s a quick roundup of who’s been speaking with the media lately.

 

Art History & Visual Studies

In this December article for Forbes magazine, professor Catherine Harding comments on the use of AI in identifying another artist involved in a 16th century painting by Raphael. “It is wonderful if we can use AI in this way,” Harding said. “It won’t be irrefutable. It will depend entirely on the expertise of the people doing the programming, but if they can write the right kind of algorithm, it will be very useful.”

As part of the new Jeffrey Rubinoff Nexus for Art as a Source of Knowledge, professor Allan Antliff has been selected as the inaugural Rubinoff Legacy Professor. This named professorship is just one facet of $230,000 in new funding from the Rubinoff Foundation, which also includes 15 annual graduate student scholarships and the expansion of experiential learning initiatives at Hornby Island’s Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park. Read more in this announcement.

Professor Carolyn Butler Palmer and Visual Arts professor emeritus Lynda Gammon were interviewed on this Jan 6 segment of CBC Radio’s North By Northwest in support of Gammon’s Latent exhibit at Legacy downtown, which is curated by Butler Palmer. There is also an accompanying short visual story with pictures in this issue of the NXNW newsletter.

Adjunct professor Martin Segger recently wrote this fantastic Times Colonist piece about the history of not only Centennial Square but the overall planned design of Victoria’s downtown district.

Adjunct professor Grace Wong Sneddon co-curated the recent exhibit The Magic of Tony Eng (with local historian John Adams) for the Chinese Canadian Museum in Fan Tan Alley. A goal for this museum is to recognize Victoria’s Chinese Canadians and, as such, Eng is an ideal subject: a vibrant and active member of the city, many remember him as a charismatic stage magician, teacher and mentor to generations of local magicians. In other news, Wong Sneddon recently co-authored two chapters in a new book, Diversity Leadership in Education: Embedding Practices of Social Justice (2024, edited by UVic’s Catherine McGregor & Shailoo Bedi): “Unpacking the Equity Myth: Diversity & Leadership Deficit” (with Reeta Chowdhari Tremblay) and “Race and Gender: Chinese Canadian Women and Leadership” (with Lokpriy Shrma & Tremblay).

Alum India Young is cited in this Vancouver Sun article about a career retrospective exhibit by Nuu-chah-nulth artist George Clutes at Vancouver’s Bill Reid Gallery; the exhibit was created by Young plus UVic’s Andrea Walsh and Jennifer Robinson.

School of Music

Marking their official retirement from performing, the “trailblazing” Lafayette String Quartet were recently profiled in this feature article from Strings Magazine. “I hope we’ve instilled a deep love of chamber music in our audiences and students,” said Ann Elliott-Goldschmid. Our students benefited enormously from observing four musicians who respect each other and worked together, unified, in overseeing their studies and musical growth.”

Ahead of his final concert featuring live piano accompaniment to a silent film, professor Bruce Vogt was interviewed by CBC Radio’s All Points West (not archived) and in this Times Colonist story. “I’m certainly not retiring from playing,” said Vogt. “I just won’t be teaching any more. I’ll still be around, until I hear the chimes at midnight.”

January’s masterclass with guest mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy got a shout-out in this Times Colonist roundup.

Professor Benjamin Butterfield plus alumni Isaiah Bell and Timothy Carter all appeared on this segment of CBC Radio’s On The Island talking about their recent concert, Banned from the Concert Hall. Butterfield was also interviewed for this Times Colonist story about the same event. “I’m not sure everyone goes around talking about their arse all day in Baroque circles,” Butterfield said with a laugh. “But this type of thing has been around a long time.”

As the new leader of the annual TubaChristmas fundraiser, instructor Scott MacInnes was featured in this December Times Colonist article. “It’s awesome that such a lowly instrument can provide so much happiness,” said MacInnes, who will be conducting the festive ensemble for the first time.

Arbutus Middle School’s music program was recently announced as the winners—again—of CBC’s annual national Music Class Challenge. While not named in the article, Arbutus’s music program is led by alumni Jennifer Hill & sessional Michael Mazza.

Theatre

As co-author, professor Yasmine Kandil was recently announced as one of the winners of 2023’s Wayman Mullins Award for Best Journal Article, as awarded by the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology Board of Directors. This award is given for the best scientific article as published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology. Kandil, along with co-authors Jennifer A. A. Lavoie & Natalie Alvarez, picked up the award for their article “Developing Community Co-designed Scenario-Based Training for Police Mental Health Crisis Response: A Relational Policing Approach to De-escalation”.

Alum Jena Mailloux (MA Interdisciplinary Studies: Applied Theatre/Curriculum & Instruction) recently published the article “Elevating Critical Pedagogy Through Dramatic Principles: A Comparative Framework Analysis of Anti-Bullying Drama Education and Theatre Research Initiatives” in the Drama Australia Journal.

Alum Alynne Sinnema (MA Applied Theatre) was recently awarded the Canadian Association for Theatre Research Robert G. Lawrence Scholarship for her for the project “Coming to her Senses: Women’s Sexual Empowerment Through Applied Theatre”, which the adjudicating committee found “inventive and insightful in the ways it aims to combine applied theatre, specifically physical theatre, and feminist theory as a way to support women’s voices, embodied and scholarly considerations of women’s pleasure and sexual agency, and mental health.”

Alum Narges Montakhabi was awarded the Canadian Association for Theatre Research (CATR) Heather McCallum Scholarship for her project “Politics and Poethics of Precarity in Contemporary Middle Eastern Canadian Theatre.” Describing her project as “ambitious”, the committee found her work “amplified the voices of less-heard and younger generations of underrepresented Middle Eastern Canadian playwrights, focusing on contemporary (mostly 21st century) plays and playwrights from Iran, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.”

Visual Arts

Recent MFA alum Maryam (whose last name is not being used in the media due to safety concerns) was quoted in this Times Colonist story about her work in the latest Victoria Arts Council exhibit, You Are Welcome. “I’m still very impressed,” she said of the protests in Iran, where most of her friends and family reside. “The metal [in my piece] represents the strength and power of the women in my country when they were killed and shot in the streets.”

While the late-’90s children’s TV show Nanalan is currently going viral on TikTok, none of the coverage mentions the fact that professor Kelly Richardson worked on the show in between her BFA and MFA degrees. She worked on 71 episodes, making the set & greenery but also puppeteering; this allowed her to buy her first computer which entirely changed her art practice. “I’ve never really stopped making plants and animating bugs in my work,” she says. You can see some behind-the-scene photos Kelly has posted on her Instagram feed.

UVic Impact Chair Carey Newman was involved in the first fully bilingual colloquium of the New Uses of Collections in Art Museums Partnership  at the National Gallery of Canada in December. The conference outlined some of the innovative practices changing the standards and practices of art acquisition. This colloquium was jointly produced by the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) and the Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) as part of the CIÉCO Research and Inquiry Group’s Partnership New Uses of Collections in Art Museums.

In other news Carey Newman news, this Vancouver Sun article notes that the traveling exhibition of his Witness Blanket will be on display in the West Vancouver public library from Jan 26-March 8. This touring version is a detailed photographic replica of the original 13-panel sculptural installation, which is now permanently housed in Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Following this stop, the current 17-city tour next comes to the Saanich School Division (March 25–May 10) before moving on to Nelson and Nova Scotia, with more dates booking into 2025.  

Work by current MFA candidate Eeman Masood was featured in Frozen Forest, the recent curated exhibition at Abu Dhabi Art, and will also be displayed at the India Art Fair exhibition in New Dehli via her gallery representative Galerie ISA, from Feb 1- 4. 

 

Writing

Recent Writing grad and Climate Disaster Project managing editor Aldyn Chwelos was recently featured on this story for CBC Radio’s All Points West, speaking about their work documenting testimonials from survivors of severe wildfires and floods—some of which are getting a reprint in the December/January issue of Readers Digest. Chwelos was also featured in a separate interview with CBC Kelowna’s Radio West (not archived).

Teaching professor Marita Dachsel’s new essay collection Sharp Notions: Essays from the Stitching Life was mentioned in the Globe and Mail’s book gift guide for “The Mindful Maven” this year. “As the editors [Marita Dachsel and Nancy Lee] point out, in the 21st century we don’t need to knit, embroider, weave, bead, make lace or spin yarn. But what these essays by crafters get at, instead, is the nourishment found in the meditative (rather than productive) solace of fibre-arts handiwork.” Dachsel was also interviewed for this Vancouver Sun article exploring two new books with Vancouver Island fibre connections. Sharp Notions was also recently positively reviewed for The British Columbia Review, and it was included inAll Lit Up’s “Refresh Your Shelf: New Non-Fiction” list, which included five notable nonfiction reads for 2024.

Professor David Leach spoke with residents at two Isralei kibbutzim for this story for Jewish Renaissance Magazine. “In 2010, I completed a circuit around Israel to research a book about the founding ideals, hundred-year history and slow decline of the kibbutz movement,” writes Leach. “These 270 or so rural communes, dreamed into reality by young Jewish pioneers as a fusion of socialism and Zionism, had marked the borders of the future state and shaped many of its leaders and artists.”

Crookes Professor Sean Holman announced in December that Rappler — the Philippines’ leading digital media company — has published five students stories as part of the Climate Disaster Project Philippines, appearing just in time for COP28. As part of the CDP’s international outreach, UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies provides certificates to the Philippines students for their work in trauma-informed environmental journalism. All five harrowing stories can be read here, here, here, here and here.

MFA Sam Shelstad’s novel The Cobra and The Key was recently included on CBC Book’s list of “30 books to read this winter”. Things are getting meta with this new satirical novel, which is centred on the life of a writer (also named Sam Shelstad) who is busy working on a book about his failed relationship, while he awaits word from a publisher about the manuscript he’s sure will make him a star—a how-to book for aspiring fiction writers detailing the finer points of the craft.

MFA alum Kyeren Regehr has been named the new director of Victoria’s venerable Planet Earth Poetry Reading Series—which, at 28 years, is surely the city’s longest-running continuous literary series. PEP runs weekly, 7-9pm Fridays at Russell Books on Fort Street.

Fine Arts

UVic’s Fine Arts + Grants & Awards Librarian Christine Walde recently presented her book-themed art exhibit Salvage at the Bruce Hutchinson public library branch, in conjunction withthe Victoria Arts Council. Salvage is a collection of driftwood books salvaged from the beaches of Vancouver Island and the Cascadia bioregion of the Pacific Northwest over a ten-year period.

Did you know Fine Arts Dean Allana Lindgren hosts the pre-show talks for the DanceVictoria series? A dance historian herself, Lindgren speaks ahead of each show in the performance series.

Finally, the winners of our 2023 Student Community Impact Awards were mentioned in Monday Magazine’s coverage of the Greater Victoria Regional Arts Awards.

Giving Tuesday in Fine Arts: Climate Disaster Project

November 28 is Giving Tuesday, a day when the entire UVic community will unite around a common cause — supporting the students and programs that make this university the very special place it is.

This year, UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is raising funds to help create the world’s largest living library of climate disaster experiences, which will help connect climate disaster survivors around the word, and spark urgent action on climate change.

We hope you’ll join together with our entire Fine Arts community and make a donation to the Climate Disaster Project. Your gift will support UVic journalism students in their field work and interviews as they collect these climate disaster stories for an anthology that will be published in Fall 2025 by Purich Books (UBC Press). 

Climate disaster survivors Patsy Gessey & Owen Collins look towards Lytton, where they lost their home
during the 2021 Lytton Creek Fire. The next year, they faced fires again. (CDP/Jen Osborne)

 

Hope through community

Climate disasters — like forest fires, floods and extreme drought — are becoming more and more common. In the coming decades, these disasters could divide us, as walls are built around the world to protect those with the most and keep out those with the least.

But these disasters could also unite us if we see the commonalities in one another’s experiences.

With your support, the Climate Disaster Project, which is based in UVic’s Department of Writing, is creating a massive archive of eyewitness climate disaster accounts. The Climate Disaster Project trains students to work on the frontlines of climate change — a skill that will only become more necessary as time goes on.

To date, 194 students have been trained in trauma-informed interviewing skills, and students have interviewed 128 survivors of climate disasters about their experience. The Climate Disaster Project has already published 44 testimonies in The Tyee, the Fraser Valley Current, Asparagus and Megaphone magazines, partnered with APTN Investigates and the Royal BC Museum’s Community Gallery, had two students interviewed on CBC Radio’s national climate-change show What On Earth, and is about to be featured in the December/January issue of Reader’s Digest — Canada’s most-read magazine.

Donor created, donor supported

The Climate Disaster Project’s work covering the humanitarian crisis of climate change was founded in 2021 thanks to a generous donation from philanthropist and businessman Wayne Crookes. Our work is inspired by his deep concern for preserving our planet.

Your gift today will help create the world’s largest living library of climate disaster experiences, and will support UVic journalism students in their field work and interviews.

We hope you’ll consider joining the Giving Tuesday movement with a gift to the Climate Disaster Project.

International exchange info fair

Did you know UVic offers academic exchanges with over 70 other universities worldwide? That means you can study and travel and not feel like you’re falling behind in your degree work!

Learn more at our free international exchange information session specifically for Fine Arts students, running 12:30-2pm Wednesday, Nov 29, in Fine Arts room 108. Come for the info, stay for the snacks! Register in advance here (just for the snacks.)

An incredible experience

“Solo travelling and moving abroad was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” says Writing student Sophie Thomas, who spent a semester at the University of Manchester in 2022. “I’m excited to be back on the island but I’ll miss all the amazing people I met, and the places that I got to know. “

Thomas combined some solo European travel ahead of her semester with weekend trips to places like Germany, Scotland and Ireland while she was studying in Manchester. 

Why choose international?

“Doing an international exchange was something I had wanted to do my entire degree,” says Thomas. “I wanted to a chance to learn in a new environment and be immersed in different cultures. Studying abroad offers a knowledge and perspective different from what you learn at UVic. This experience comes back home with you and I found it helped me think from different angles when I returned.”

The November 29 info session will feature returning exchange students from a variety of Fine Arts departments, plus a representative from UVic’s international office who can speak to issues around travel visas, academic equivalencies, housing, financing and more.

“Doing an international exchange is such an incredibly rewarding experience,” says Thomas.

“Interacting with other people and cultures is an experience that pushes you to grow, learn new skills and make new connections . . . it can feel like a scary step to make, but the experience you get is worth it. And honestly, the exchange was so much fun and the memories you make you will cherish forever!”

A climate of change marks Writing grad Aldyn Chwelos’ academic journey

Writing grad Aldyn Chwelos finds hope with UVic’s Climate Disaster Project (photo: Sean Holman)

Given the deluge of headlines about fires, floods, droughts and heat domes, it’s easy to feel a sense of despair around our continuing climate crises. The challenge, therefore, is to find hope amidst the chaos. Yet that’s exactly what graduating Department of Writing student Aldyn Chwelos has done while working with UVic’s Climate Disaster Project.

“I’ve heard from people who have lost their home, their community and their entire town, and they’re still somewhat hopeful,” says Chwelos. “Sometimes it’s a skeptical or a heartbroken hope, but it’s still there. As someone who hasn’t experienced that much personal damage from climate change, how could I possibly not be hopeful and ready to fight when they still are?”

Sharing survivor stories

Using the model of an international teaching newsroom to train students in trauma-informed journalism techniques, the Climate Disaster Project (CDP) has already made a significant impact in the past two years by sharing eyewitness accounts of climate survivors and building an international community based on hope, trust and empowerment.

Funded by an initial $1.875 million donor investment and led by veteran journalist Sean Holman—now Writing’s Wayne Crookes Professor of Environmental and Climate Journalism—the CDP works with partner institutions across Canada and around the world to collect, compile and share survivor stories with local and national media outlets like The Tyee, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), CBC Radio’s What On Earth, The Fraser Valley Current and the International Network of Street Papers.

Most recently, Chwelos spoke about their work in this interview with both CBC Radio’s All Points West (Victoria) and Radio West (Kelowna), and has one of their survivor stories published in the Dec/Jan 2024 issue of Reader’s Digest.  

“We listen to everyone’s story, without question of who they are or where they come from or what they’re going to say,” says Chwelos. “When a flood or a fire comes through your town, it arbitrarily destroys everything. By focusing on these disasters and highlighting the different ways people are affected, you can show that universality, which is key to seeing ourselves reflected in their experience and wanting to help.”

 

Aldyn Chwelos and Sean Holman in Lytton BC, 2022 (photo: Philip McLachlan)

A journey of discovery

It’s no exaggeration to say that Chwelos’ work with the CDP has changed the way they see the world — especially since writing and journalism isn’t where they started their UVic journey.

Originally enrolled in computer science and then “dabbling” with courses in environmental and gender studies, Chwelos switched to working in the local tech industry but soon realized they wanted to be doing something of more closely aligned with their values. “I’m an incredibly pragmatic human and felt like computer science made more economic sense, but I soon became disillusioned and knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” they say. “But I’d always wanted to be a writer, so I came back and enrolled in Writing.”

After discovering creative nonfiction as a genre and profile writing as a passion during their introductory Writing 100 course, Chwelos was ideally positioned to enroll in Holman’s class when the Climate Disaster Project launched in September 2021.

“From day one, it was all about realizing that climate change has a huge stamp on everything,” they recall. “The whole point of the project and Sean’s class was to not minimize those experiences — we students may not have lost our homes to wildfires or flooding, but we’re all part of the situation that caused those disasters and so we can see ourselves in the project.”

Media that really matters

Currently the CDP’s managing editor, Chwelos is planning on doing their graduate degree in creative nonfiction at UVic in 2024, and very much sees their time with the CDP as the culmination of their time here—including a harrowing journey to Lytton a year after the small BC town was destroyed by fire. (“It was like driving through the belly of the beast,” they recall. “You really felt for the community and what they’d lost, to see the entire town basically reduced to rubble.”)

While Chwelos has published non-climate disaster articles with the likes of Canadian Geographic and Hakai, they feel their work with the CDP gives them the opportunity to use everything they’ve learned. “It combines my interests in social justice and environmentalism and also aligns with my background in software development,” they say. “As far as the sheer amount of experience and personal challenge it represented, work with the CDP has definitely been the highlight of my degree.”

Aldyn Chwelos participating in the Royal BC Museum’s Climate Hope exhibit (photo: Philip McLachlan)

The power of positive change

Ultimately, Chwelos has discovered the power of positive change through their work collecting survivor stories, sharing them with the media and engaging with new students in the Climate Disaster Project.

“There’s a lot of criticism around media coverage of the climate crisis, but our work has been held up as an example of how disaster survivors want to see these disasters covered. That’s where this work has power: it’s not just in the stories we’re sharing with the world, but in the experience we’re creating for the people who go through it,” says Chwelos.

“It’s been a powerful experience for the storytellers…the communities we write about feel seen and their stories are being shared as they want them to be told. If more people in different communities do this and share their experiences, if they start talking about climate change and solutions and potentially taking political action and making policy changes, then there is hope.”