After closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Student Gallery in Taché Hall at the University of Manitoba has recently reopened — a step that has restored a sense of normalcy and excitement to school of art students, who are looking forward to exhibiting their work alongside their peers.
The Student Gallery exclusively exhibits student-led shows, including solo shows, group exhibitions and curated group exhibitions.
One of the Student Gallery’s upcoming exhibitions is Persist, Resist, Decolonize, a group show curated by Kitty Kerr, a fourth-year school of art student pursuing a bachelor of fine arts with honours in art history.
The show “is a curation of student works” which revolve around the recently revised calls to action by the School of Fine Art Student Association (SOFASA). The works included in this exhibition address themes that relate back to these calls, including but not limited to “decolonization [or] existing in an institute as a marginalized student.”
The exhibition itself features eight different artists: Joel Nichols, Timothy Brown, Laura Oghenerabome Oos-Iboje, Shanelle St. Hilaire, Carlos Cruz, Chris Neufeld, Gina Zeiss and Ashton Geerligs. The artwork on display includes sculpture, painting, print and mixed media works.
Kerr, who currently holds the role of senator in SOFASA for the 2021-22 academic year, has collaboratively authored the revisions to their calls to action since October 2021.
SOFASA’s calls to action are a living document, which respond to systemic issues within the school of art (SOA) by calling upon the faculty and administration to acknowledge and address them.
“[The calls to action] were originally created in response to repeated instances of racism and discrimination in the classroom not appropriately addressed by the school,” Kerr said.
“They aim to create an anti-racist, decolonized school environment, in order to provide greater opportunities for the creative endeavours of all students.”
Some of the items included in SOFASA’s calls to action revolve around the reviewing and restructuring of art history and theory curriculums, providing sensitivity and anti-racist training to administration, staff and faculty members, to include BIPOC guest speakers in artist talks and school of art courses and to encourage reconciliation by investing in an institutional membership with the Indigenous Curatorial Collective.
After working on and publishing the revised calls to action, Kerr wanted to go one step further to help them reach the student body.
“The process of writing the calls to action revisions in discussion with SOFASA council members and other members of the SOA community was critically challenging,” said Kerr.
“I wanted to extend that experience to the student body and curate articulations of these issues through art, which I feel is the most powerful mode to communicate critical ideas and issues.”
Persist, Resist, Decolonize is Kerr’s curatorial debut, which they approached with enthusiasm.
“[Curating the show] has been both nerve-wracking and exciting,” Kerr said.
“I have had lots of support from my friends and council members and I love all of the dialogue I get to have with the artists I am showing […] Each week we approach the opening, things continue to come together and I get less anxious and more excited to share all of their incredible work.”
Kerr also shared their excitement regarding the artworks that will be part of the show.
“I am delighted and engaged by all of the artists’ work involved with the show,” they said.
“I am particularly intrigued by MFA student Timothy Brown’s sculptural contribution ‘Tumors,’ which depicts patriarchy and colonialism as cancerous masses devouring each other.”
Ultimately, Kerr hopes the upcoming show will raise awareness of SOFASA’s calls to action and the power that students have to enact change within their faculty.
“SOFASA wants to emphasize the calls as a living document, for each subsequent council to make their own and put pressure on the faculty and administration to create an environment that earnestly promotes the success of all students,” said Kerr.
“I hope to provoke further discussions among the student population regarding the calls to action document of this year and what they want to demand from their school in the future.”
Persist, Resist, Decolonize will be open for viewing from April 20 to 27 in the Student Gallery in Taché Hall. For more information on SOFASA’s calls to action, you can head to SOFASA’s official website to access the entire document.