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OCAD University awards five new honorary doctorates

Five photos of people who have are receiving honorary doctorate degrees

Featured in the above photo are the 2021 honorary doctorate recipients. Top row (left to right): Nalo Hopkinson, Ruth Cuthand, Shary Boyle. Bottom row (left to right): Ellis Jacob, Zainub Verjee.

Next month, OCAD University will present honorary doctorates to five exceptional individuals who have made significant contributions to Indigenous and contemporary art in Canada, and to the fields of literature, entertainment, and arts administration and advocacy.

“The accomplishments of these amazing individuals reflect the breadth of OCAD University’s academic mission and our values of equity, diversity and decolonization,” says Ana Serrano, President and Vice-Chancellor. “These honorands all share an extraordinary passion and dedication to advancing arts and culture in this country and beyond¾whether it is through advocacy, administration, or their own works of art and expression. They are truly an inspiration for this year’s graduands and for all Canadians.”

On June 11, Cuthand and Verjee will receive their honorary doctorates at the Faculty of Design ceremony while Boyle, Hopkinson and Jacob will receive their doctorates at the combined ceremony of the Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Arts and Science and the School of Graduate Studies.

The 2021 honorary degree recipients are:

  • Shary Boyle is an acclaimed multidisciplinary artist who works across diverse media, including sculpture, drawing, installation and performance, is being recognized for her significant contributions to contemporary Canadian art.

  • Ruth Cuthand, a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, Cuthand is a mixed media artist of Plains Cree and Scottish ancestry who is being recognized for her significant contributions to contemporary Indigenous art that has examined the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous People in Canada.

  • Nalo Hopkinson is an award-winning and distinguished science fiction author and Professor of Creative Writing, University of California, Riverside who is being recognized for her significant contributions to literature and her cultural work in support of the arts.

  • Ellis Jacob is President and CEO of Cineplex who is being recognized for his outstanding contributions in the entertainment and movie exhibition industries and for his philanthropic endeavours.

  • Zainub Verjee is Executive Director of Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries who is being recognized for her outstanding contributions as a cultural administrator and arts and inclusion advocate. She is the laureate of 2020 Governor Generals Visual and Media Arts Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts.

More than 1,000 graduands are expected to attend OCAD U’s virtual 2021 Convocation, which will include the presentation of the Governor General’s Academic Silver and Gold Medals.


Shary Boyle
Doctor of Fine Arts, Honoris Causa
Toronto-born Shary Boyle is an acclaimed multidisciplinary artist who works across diverse media, including sculpture, drawing, installation and performance. She is known for her bold, fantastical explorations of the figure. Highly crafted and deeply imaginative, her practice is activated through collaboration, volunteerism and apprenticeship.

Her work considers the social history of ceramic figurines, animist mythologies, antiquated technologies and folk art forms to create a symbolic, feminist and politically charged language uniquely her own. 
She graduated from the Ontario College of Art (now known as OCAD University) in 1994, and her work has since been exhibited and collected internationally. She has performed at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. 
In 2017, Boyle co-curated and participated in the Esker Foundation-produced touring exhibition Earthlings, her sculptures were featured in South Korea’s Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, and the Phaidon, UK publication Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art. In 2016 her ceramics were included in Ceramix, Ceramics and art from Rodin to Schütte, co-produced by Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, Netherlands, Cité de la céramique Sevres in France and La Maison Rouge in Paris, France.
She represented Canada with her project Music for Silence at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. She is a commissioned artist for the 2021 Kaunas Biennial in Lithuania. Boyle is the recipient of Canada’s Hnatyshyn Foundation Award and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
Outside the Palace of Me, a solo touring exhibition of Boyle’s work, will be presented at The Gardiner Museum in Toronto and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2022, and the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2023. An accompanying monograph will be published in the fall of 2021 by Art Canada Institute. 

Ruth Cuthand
Doctor of Fine Arts, Honoris Causa
Ruth Cuthand is a Canadian mixed media artist of Plains Cree and Scottish ancestry whose practice includes painting, drawing, photography and beadwork. Born in Saskatchewan, she grew up in Alberta where as a child she met artist Gerald Tailfeathers, who inspired her to become an artist herself.

Cuthand is a well-known and leading figure in contemporary Indigenous art as well as a powerful voice in the Canadian art scene’s ongoing discussions of colonialism, racism and reconciliation. Through her anti-aesthetic stance, her work challenges mainstream perspectives of colonialism and the relationships between settlers and Indigenous people in a practice marked by a delicate balance of political invective and humour.

She is widely considered an influential feminist artist of the Canadian prairies and is lauded for her unflinching interpretation of racism and colonialism. In her work, she challenges the status quo by exposing the inequities that have plagued for centuries Canada’s relationship with its First Peoples, while proudly claiming a complex and self-determined Aboriginal identity.

Her work is featured in many collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the MacKenzie Art Gallery. In 2020, she was a recipient of the Governor General Award in Visual and Media Arts. In 2013, she was recognized with a Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award. She lives and works in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 

Nalo Hopkinson
Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Nalo Hopkinson is an internationally acclaimed science fiction author whose writing highlights themes of Afro-Caribbean culture and Caribbean folklore and addresses issues of race, class, feminism and sexuality. She is currently a full professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. in 2021, she will join the faculty at the School of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

In June 2021, Hopkinson will receive the prestigious 37th Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, a lifetime achievement award given annually by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She is the award's youngest recipient, as well as the first woman of African descent and first Caribbean author to receive this award.

Hopkinson lived in Toronto from 1977 to 2011, spending several years as a grants officer with the Toronto Arts Council. Her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) is set in a near-future Toronto threatened by economic collapse and social upheaval. The work received the Locus Award for Best First Novel. In the same year, Hopkinson received the Astounding Award for Best New Writer (previously known as the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer) in 1999. She has since garnered numerous awards and accolades for five additional novels, short stories, and edited collections and anthologies.

Ellis Jacob
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa
Visionary, business maven, philanthropist. No words better describe Ellis Jacob who is currently President and CEO of Cineplex, Canada’s largest motion picture exhibition company. He is an award-winning and innovative leader whohas transformed the movie-going experience for Canadians during his more than 33-year legacy in the entertainment industry

Jacob is a director and member of the Audit and Risk Committee of Rogers Communication Inc. and a member of the board of directors of ASM Global, Toronto’s Baycrest Centre for Geriatrics, Cineplex Inc., the Movie Theatre Association of Canada and the Toronto International Film Festival. In addition, he is a member of the executive committees of the National Association of Theatre Owners and Global Cinema Federation and is a founding director of the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation.  

Among his many accomplishments, Jacob received the ICTA Global Cinema Innovation Award in 2019, and was recognized as Waterstone Capital’s Most Admired CEO in the Enterprise Category in 2014. He also received Most Innovative CEO award from Canadian Business Magazine in 2013.

In 2010, he was appointed to the Order of Canada for his contributions to the entertainment and movie exhibition industry and for his voluntary and philanthropic endeavours, and in January 2021, he was appointed to the Order of Ontario.

Zainub Verjee
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa
A prescient provocateur, persuasive champion of arts and advocate for artists rights, Verjee is currently Executive Director of the Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries. Her work across sectors and disciplines as an artist, curator, critic, policy maker and cultural administrator has led to institution-building, cultural planning and addressing racial equity across Canada.

A leading spokesperson and advocate for the visual arts, she worked on arts policy, intellectual property rights and art in a digital ecosystem at the Department of Canadian Heritage. She strengthened the Media Arts program at the Canada Council for the Arts, and developed artist-scientist research partnerships. She also expanded awareness around issues of race and gender to ensure equitable funding for artists and art organizations.

Through her work at the Vancouver Arts Initiative and as the inaugural Director of the Cultural Division at the City of Mississauga, she contributed to the pioneering cultural planning in these cities. She has also contributed to international instruments of culture such as Status of the Artist and Cultural Diversity.

In 2020, she received the Governor Generals Award in Media and Visual Arts for her outstanding contributions to the sector. Her work has been shown internationally, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and Venice Biennale. She was appointed as the Director of the International Art Gallery at the National Pavilion in Lisbon for the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee festival in 2018.

Her leadership has been critical to the success of many artists and organizations. She led In Visible Colours, a critically acclaimed international film and video festival and symposium in Vancouver that foregrounded the practice of Third World women and women of colour (1988-1990). Her work on the British Columbia Arts Board led to the British Columbia Arts Act and the formation of the British Columbia Arts Council. Following the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, she was appointed as official moderator for the Citizens Forum for Canadas Future, also known as the Spicer Commission.

Working in Canada, and internationally, she has advocated for issues of artist rights, ‘art in digital culture,’ racial and gender equity.

With the global pandemic, Verjee has continued her four decades of arts leadership by lobbying for federal and provincial benefit programs to extend to the visual arts. Before COVID-19, she recognized the changes that digitization is bringing to the arts world, and began a three-year initiative to support public art gallery sector in developing data literacy.