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International residency program promotes creative and cultural exchange

A group of Black students walk away from a large Victorian house.

Image: Students participating in the Decolonizing Art from Turtle Island to the Islands of the Bahamas residency in the gardens at Spadina House, a historical mansion formerly owned by Toronto financier James Austin, a founder and first president of the Dominion Bank.

International residency program promotes creative and cultural exchange

Almost two weeks ago, 12 students from the University of the Bahamas (UB) and community members from Project ICE (Incubator for Collaborative Expression) touched down at Pearson International Airport.  

Since then, they, along with peers from OCAD University as well as faculty from Nassau and Toronto, have traversed the city, visiting museums, galleries and outdoor spaces as part of the unique Decolonizing Art from Turtle Island to the Islands of the Bahamas residency program. The whirlwind trip will end with an exhibition at OCAD U’s Ada Slaight Gallery featuring artwork produced throughout their visit.  

An exciting partnership between OCAD U, UB and Project ICE, the residency has supported participants from both countries in examining how colonialism has shaped how we produce, understand and display art through material explorations, community engagement and creative collaboration.  

This project was co-created by Assistant Professor Ilene Sova, Ada Slaight Chair of Contemporary Drawing and Painting and Nadia McLaren, who works at the Centre for Wise Practices at Women’s College Hospital, specializing in Indigenous Health and Education.  

The international residency program features two components, which have facilitated an interrogation of the hierarchies of art and the colonial systems that oppress racialized artists.   
“When we speak about creativity, many of our experiences of art are filtered through a colonial lens. Meaning that we have been taught through our education systems that the best art is European art — the art of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Van Gogh and Picasso. While these artists were being elevated in our textbooks, Indigenous Art and art of the African diaspora were being erased, destroyed and denigrated,” notes Sova in an article about the residency published by She Does The City
The first component of the program saw OCAD U students and faculty travel to Nassau, the largest city in the Bahamas, in May 2022 for a 14-day visit. While there, they visited galleries and museums, met with artists, experimented with materials in studio and engaged with sites of historical significance to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

Sova and McLaren were joined by Elder and artist Liz Osawamick and Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director of Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design Peter Morin who shared their knowledge.  

“Working alongside OCAD U and Bahamian artists every day created a special web of interrelationships. I was thankful for the presence of the Indigenous Elder Liz Osawamick and Anishinaabe artist Nadia McLaren. Their support and teachings throughout the residency brought me comfort and helped me to feel grounded,” said participant Bert Pringle who is a student in OCAD U’s Indigenous Visual Culture program. 

“I was happy that the Bahamian students were able to share in some of my cultural teachings as well. Learning from one another, exchanging cultural methodologies of existing and coming together in community was inspirational," he continued. 

The second half of the program is currently underway with students, faculty and community members from the Bahamas and Toronto visiting a diverse range of sites, meeting with creative practitioners and gaining experiences distinct to Turtle Island.  

The group has viewed exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario, The Power Plant and 401 Richmond, The Royal Ontario Museum, Spadina House; received a gallery tour with Indigenous Art Curator and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science  Ryan Rice at Onsite Gallery; participated in an historical walk around Kensington Market; visited the Petroglyphs Provincial Park; enjoyed Toronto’s annual Caribbean Festival; learned from Indigenous OCAD U student Emma Martin about using sustainable materials in photography; learned more about the Centre for the Study of Black Canadian Diaspora by founder and Associate Professor Dr. Andrea Fatona; and practiced encaustic painting techniques with Faculty of Art Associate Professor Nicole Collins. 

Participants in the program were selected through an open call, with a focus on supporting participation from Black, Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous identifying students. They received funding from the Government of Canada’s Global Skills Opportunity program for their travel.  

The residency program has been further supported by OCAD U International as part of its focus to build collaborations with institutions and community organizations in the Caribbean. University of the Bahamas’ Dr. Dougals Barkey, Dean, Liberal and Fine Arts and Associate Professor Heino Schmid also played a major role in realizing the project. 

“This program is a great example of how we can expand and re-envision the potential of global collaboration for the OCAD U community. Piloting new approaches like these, along with the support from the Government of Canada’s Global Skills Opportunity program, allows OCAD U to work to remove barriers to participation in international programs for students,” explained Jennie Suddick, Manager, International Programs and Collaboration.  

The residency activities both in Canada and the Bahamas received additional funding from the Faculty Mobility for Partnership Building Program with Edu Can and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Connection Grant. 

“This residency provided a valuable vehicle for faculty and student artists to exchange ideas and develop broader awareness of best practices in art-making within a frame of decolonization,” notes Sova. 

Exhibition launches August 5

The culminating exhibition is titled Social in the Gallery and features painting, drawing, sculpture, video, photography, mixed media and collage works by students from the University of Bahamas, Project ICE and OCAD U. 

The works will be on display at OCAD U’s Ada Slaight Gallery at 100 McCaul St. from August 5 to 10, during the building’s hours of operation (Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.).   

Join residency participants and featured artists Friday, August 5 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the gallery to hear more about their experience in the residency program and their artwork.