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OCAD U Celebrates 2021 Medal Winners

A painting with a blue background and images of flowers

OCAD U is recognizing 22 top students and their projects for their innovative, imaginative, and inspiring approaches to addressing the world’s most pressing issues through art, design, and digital media.

One graduating student from each of the University’s undergraduate and graduate programs has been chosen as a recipient of the OCAD University Medal in recognition of their creativity, innovation, mastery of technique and high academic achievement.

All recipients, whose works are being showcased at GradEx 106, are exceptional students who have gone above and beyond expectations to complete their degrees and have demonstrated significant academic achievements.

From performance and public policy to wearable technology to innovation in environmental design and much more, these 22 graduating students demonstrate the variety of applications for their OCAD U education, and how they are contributing to a prosperous economy for our city, province and around the world.

These graduating students are featured in GradEx 106, OCAD U’s annual graduate exhibition. Visit the events web page as part of GradEx 106 to learn about more events associated with this exhibition.

MEET THE 2021 OCAD U MEDAL WINNERS

UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS

Ada Bierlingis graduating from the Criticism and Curatorial Practice program and is an artist-curator whose thesis Handle with Care: Disorienting Kin is a research-creation project exploring practices of embodied kin making during a time of isolation. Inspired by the fungal body of mycelium which grows underneath a forest floor and connects tree roots to each other, Bierling’s curatorial work created a lively network of interconnectivity as the people involved engaged in a collaborative mailed collage. Bierling's community-based curation and research is grounded in feminist sciences, critical race theory, interspecies relations, and queer theories. 

Work by Sculpture/Installation graduating student Kristi Chen hypothesizes where the past coincides with the present through surreal environments, animals and imaginative creatures. Her project, To Retrieve A Possible Heirloom, started with making a basket, a skill dwindling in her father’s home village, and continued in creating other carrying objects, and a deer to support her great-grandfather’s resilience and style in painting. Chen explores how personal histories and skills can very easily disappear through migration, industrialization and globalization, and has created an installation that uses sculptural forms to communicate complex identity politics and forgotten familial narratives. This dialogue between the past and the future can create more potential to continue sharing the knowledge of her ancestors

Kinzi Dempsey, who is graduating from the Photography program, brings many forms and collaborators together with Belraha - بالراحة, an amalgamation of moving image-work, voice, original music composition and object portraiture. Dempsey’s dual-national identity, upbringing in international contexts, as well as a family background in experiential education led her to explore cultural narratives, liminal spaces, and hybrid identities in social contexts. This work features her school-mates reading her transliterated poem on a television salvaged from her Egyptian grandmother’s apartment. She also created Belraha Poem and Transliterated Book, combining satellite images, desert photographs, and transliterated poetry to allow future readings and recitations as non-Arabic speakers engage with the work.

Sydney Gittens, a graduating student in the Advertising program, explores diversity and inclusivity in the advertising industry that aims to amplify Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) voices. She believes the advertising industry faces a problem with organizational silence – it is an environment that makes it difficult for people to speak up and voice an opinion, especially for those from BIPOC communities. Her project VOICE is a digital tool that looks to shake up how ideas are generated and how feedback is given in an agency. VOICE addresses this problem by creating a tool that makes feedback anonymous, safe, comfortable, democratized, and critical.

Drawing and Painting graduating student Kathryn Greenwood, is a multi-media artist whose paintings reflect her connection to land and living things. Greenwood’s work simulates our visual experience of nature with photographic imagery, distorted through digital processes and translated into paint. The result is a fragmented, ephemeral suggestion of a scene within nature, with some forms more recognizable, others obscured. This effect mimics the visual experience we generally encounter when we consume nature, questioning where we direct our attention, what we see, and what we may or may not recognize. Her studies in neuroscience, sustainable farming, and plant medicine are all foundations for her creative work.

Environmental Design graduating student Hala Al Hadeethi wants to bring the spaces she sees and the experiences she has in her dreams to life. With her thesis project called Tawaf, Al Hadeethi reimagines Sudbury’s abandoned frood mine as a site of pilgrimage, using architecture, botany and human movement to create a journey of healing for the pilgrim and the land itself. With a labyrinth as its centrepiece, allowing people to descend into the void left by a century of extraction, Tawaf shows that a journey through a notorious geological scar can re-establish reverence and sacredness to the land, and faith in tomorrow.

Melody Juthamongkol, who is graduating from the Material Art & Design program, creates one-of-a-kind narrative art jewellery pieces; working mainly in depletion gilded sterling silver. These playful, kinetic works are inspired from the natural world of flora, fauna and foliage, which are depicted in miniature. Juthamongkol’s Sino-Narrative Toywellery is a series of three hybrid toy-jewellery projects, each inspired by a Chinese folktale. These unique jewellery pieces can be assembled to create, or function as, a traditional Chinese toy.

Kyle Miron, who is graduating from the Graphic Design program, reflects on the nature of doing nothing with Finding Place and Building Place. In the height of pandemic lockdowns and a boom in sourdough baking, Miron dedicated time to learn to do the same, and through many failures in getting it to work, realized that to expect it to do something—to not “do nothing”—was to devalue it. Miron’s work, a 120-page hand-sewn book and a package design for communal sourdough starter, ruminates on communities and place, and how design can be used for more ecological ways of being.

Brian Nguyen is graduating from the Digital Futures program and is a creative developer who is passionate about combining art and technology to enrich people’s lives. He is the co-creator, with Denzel Arthur, Roshan Leynes, and Isaak Shingray of Prometheus, a real-time digital performance where two actions of digital agents struggle to redefine their environment and thrive. Looking at the nuances of machines in our society today, Prometheus mirrors the patterns of conflict and cooperation in the natural world. This living, breathing world tells a story created by algorithms, and, like in our own world, allows long-term iterative changes to occur in the environment.

Integrated Media graduating student Jeremy Saya has developed a practice with interactive installations, sound sculptures, performance pieces and wearables culminating in Sound Blanket, an interactive wearable sound sculpture consisting of a blanket embedded with 20 small speakers. Functioning as a sculpture, a sound installation, and an interactive work, Sound Blanket features a soundscape composed of breathing sounds that are mapped around the body of the wearer. Saya is interested how a surround sound experience is transformed by the ability to physically interact with the sounds, and his exploration leads to a truly immersive experience.

Sid Sharp is an artist and illustrator from Toronto who is graduating from the Illustration program. They are mostly interested in folklore, horror stories, and finding good sticks for their stick collection. Their multi-piece illustration project, The Occupant, interprets the body through folk tales of magic and transformation to create an uncanny other world. Sharp just finished developing their first graphic novel for kids with Annick Press.

Industrial Design graduating student Shabad Singh is passionate about using design to help solve social issues while bring ideas to life that empower users or give them joy. Singh’s Aether SmartTiles is a project on the leading edge of this moment, bringing digital NFT art to life as modular frames that can be displayed in your home. They can be purchased as a single tile to be used as a painting, a set to create a larger mural, or a bigger set to create a feature wall. Each tile is in collaboration with an artist, engaged through augmented reality, authenticated on the blockchain, and made sustainably.

Liankun Sun is graduating from the Cross-Disciplinary Art: Publications program and as a designer creates a visual brigade between the work and the audience, while also creating a space for all kinds of communication among different audiences. His work includes PL Y/彳亍, a project that seeks to find Chinese words that don’t have an English equivalent. This ambitious publication takes the form of a zine package, a website, and a set of fonts. It is a collaborative process that encourages the participation of viewers and aims to fill the missing space between the words,. This space represents the overlap of the two cultures.

Helen Tran is graduating from the Printmaking and Publications program and is a multidisciplinary artist whose work draws upon traditional family ceremonies around the concept of mourning. Tran’s project If Not Here, Then Where? utilizes both print media and photography to express the idea of mourning and healing. She is interested in how memories are constructed, preserved, and restored within her Vietnamese culture, and her current work is presented in a stunning collective series of woodcut prints and cyanotypes, combining the materiality of print, photography, and painting into a unified encaustic narrative.

Visual and Critical Studies graduating student Kathy Wang is an emerging writer and researcher now based in Vancouver. Interested in Asian-Canadian feminist studies and queer theory, Wang works on critical essays and projects that foster the idea of the C.B.C (Canadian-Born Chinese) in the context of identity and culture. Her essay The Fantasy within the Spectacle: through the films of Valerie Soe and Patty Chang, explores the representation of Asian women set within the visual narratives of Western film and media, using two film works to examine how race-positive sexuality can reclaim the agency lost through the colonial obsession with the fantasy of Asian women.

GRADUATE PROGRAMS

Marilyn Adlington’s work looks at the role of collage in the production of narratives. She studied in the Criticism & Curatorial Practice graduate program. Her thesis project, Shifting Spaces Outside of Time: Constructing Counter-Narratives through Collage, is an interdisciplinary analysis of collage practices and methodologies in Canadian contemporary art, looking particularly at the role of collage in the production of counter-narratives in the process of de-centring Westernized knowledge production to extend and possibilities of representation through the work of Jasmine Cardenas, Aaron Jones and Anna Binta Diallo. 

Christina Dery is passionate about reframing complex challenges to make meaningful change for a better tomorrow so it’s no surprise Dery’s Design for Health graduate project My Marathon,” is attracting attention. An integrated transition program, My Marathon focuses on how to help youth transition from pediatric to adult healthcare services. It is proposed for preparation, planning, tracking, and training through team-based educational activities, goal setting and competency building. The program highlights the human and quality of care impacts and needs for caregivers and youth in transition.

Josie Gray, who studied in the Inclusive Design graduate program, produced the Open Knowledge Spectrums, a series of podcasts focusing on knowledge equity in open education. In this exploratory work, Gray interviews a series of guests over seven episodes, interrogating issues like: Whose knowledge do we centre in open education? What does epistemic justice look like in curriculum? How does open education reproduce existing inequities found in academia? How can open practices disrupt publishing to create more equitable educational experiences? Rooted in feminism and community-engaged work, this podcast recognizes that knowledge is cultural, and there is power how we treat and share it.

With a Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, Ireena Haque approaches public policy problems with a compassionate lens, always dedicated to understanding all of the stakeholders involved. Haque believes that empathy is imperative, and her Dismantling Weight Bias Towards Overweight Patients in Ontario Healthcare project aims to understand and solve weight based bias in health care. Finding that the sources of the issue of weight bias with medical practitioners root back to a societal fear of fatness, Haque uses design-thinking, foresight and systems thinking methods to offer an innovative strategic solution, and a transition roadmap to implementation.

Victoria Milne studied in the Contemporary Art, Design & New Media Art Histories graduate program with a focus on new media. Her research focuses on virtual representations of objecthood and the spaces addressing and situating them. She is particularly interested in parsing affective similarities and performative continuities between actual and virtual user-object interactions. While arts and cultural institutions are a common subject thread her investigations, other areas of interest include game and transmedia environments.

Sara Mozafari-Lorestani is graduating with an Interdisciplinary Master of Art, Media and Design. She was born in Iran, immigrated to Canada, and her installation and performance work, Thirding with Nine Thousand Memories, uses the lenses of immigration, art, and architecture to situate herself, and to correlate space, memory, displacement, and identity. Seeing herself as grounded neither in Canada nor in Iran, she uses this evocative geometric piece to find her more authentic self through selection and rejection, revision and reconstruction.

Arshia Sobhan Sarbandi, who studied in the Digital Futures graduate program, has worked in a range of fields including digital creative direction, brand identity design, commercial photography, and UI/UX design. His research explores the potentials of using machine learning systems in Islamic calligraphy for artistic and practical purposes, and his interactive installation and video project bridges the gap between today’s digital tools, and the ancient fundamentals of Islamic calligraphy.

IMAGE CREDIT: The image for this story is by artist Kathryn Greenwood, entitled Bounty.