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Decolonizing Spaces, Public Art, Curatorial, Museum and Publication Models

June 14 @ 12:00 pm 2:00 pm EDT

Decolonizing Spaces, Curatorial, Museum and Publication Models will focus on curatorial, critical and artistic projects. Curator Haema Sivanesan (Glenbow Museum) will present notes from her essay, “Unsettling” the Forest as a Canadian Nationalist Imaginary: Consent, Consultation, and (Re)conciliation in Leila Sujir’s “forest! documents”; Sunny Kerr (Queen’s) will offer methodologies of decolonial curatorial practices at the Agnes Etherington Art Center; and Barbara Clausen (UQÀM) will suggest how to embody exhibitions and activate archives. Art librarian and artist John Latour (Concordia) will present his recent collaboration in the booklet project with Elder Jones and PI Sujir (a project supported by a SSHRC PEG 2020-2021). Finally, Concordia MFA alumni and Colombia-Canadian duo, Laura Acosta and Santiago Tavera will present their recent media installation projects that explore perspectives of the “other” and spaces of dislocation; Diyar Mayil (MFA Concordia) will present her works on migration and Zahra Jalali (MDes ECUAD) will delve into interaction design with a More-than-Human perspective.


  • Haema Sivanesan (Glenbow)
  • John Latour (Concordia)
  • Sunny Kerr (Queen’s)
  • Barbara Clausen (UQÀM)
  • Diyar Mayil (MFA grad student Concordia)
  • Laura Acosta + Santiago Tavera (MFA Concordia alumni)

Bios and talk description

Haema Sivanesan (Leighton Centre Artist Residency, Banff Centre) focuses on art from South Asia and its diasporas, with an interest in non-western, post-colonial and trans-national histories and practices. 

Haema Sivanesan has held leadership and curatorial positions in public art galleries, artist-run centres and festivals around the world. Her curatorial work focuses on non-western, post-colonial and transnational art histories.   Her essay, “Unsettling the forest as a Canadian nationalist imaginary: consent, consultation and (re)conciliation in Leila Sujir’s Forest!” was published in the Journal of Transcultural Studies, (University of Heidelberg, 2019).  In 2018, she was the recipient of an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York, Curatorial Research Fellowship; and in 2016, the recipient of a Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, Hong Kong, multi-year research and exhibition development grant for the project In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art and Social Practice (Figure 1 and Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2022). Recent book chapters include, “Chrysanne Stathacos and Charwei Tsai: The Mandala” in Religion and Contemporary Art: A Curious Accord, Rachel Hostetter Smith and Ronald Bernier, eds, (Routledge, 2023 in press), and “Charmion von Wiegand’s Vision of Modern Buddhism” in Charmion von Wiegand. Expanding Modernism, Maja Wismer, ed, (Prestel, 2021).  Recent exhibitions include, Charwei Tsai: The Eye is the First Circle (2021-22), Imagining Fusang: Exploring Chinese and Indigenous Encounters(2019), Fiona Tan: Ascent (2019), and Supernatural: Art, Technology and the Forest (2018).

Talk Description

a discussion based on her publication in the Journal of TransculturalStudies (Vol. 11 No. 2, 2020)“Unsettling” the Forest as a Canadian Nationalist Imaginary: consent, Consultation, and (Re)conciliation in Leila Sujir’s “forest! documents”

Leila Sujir’s ongoing stereoscopic 3D and Virtual Reality media art project, forest! documents is situated in the old growth rainforests of the South Walbran Valley of Vancouver Island, on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Pacheedaht First Nation. Taking place more than a century and a half since the settling of Vancouver Island by British colonizers, which was soon followed by successive waves of immigration by Chinese, Japanese, South Asian, and other laborers, Sujir’s project comes up against the effects and consequences of settler colonialism in the forests of Vancouver Island, and reveals the complexities and paradoxes of Canada’s mandate for (re)conciliation with Indigenous peoples. This paper explores Sujir’s process of artistic collaboration, works with a range of Indigenous, community, and artworld stakeholders, and draws on a heuristic methodology to navigate complex community and inter-racial dynamics. Sujir adopts a methodology of person-to-person conciliation as a means to mitigate Indigenous–settler tensions, developing this approach into a methodology of friendship as a means by which to secure a transparent working process that is accountable to the Pacheedaht First Nation. This in turn enables the artist to develop new transcultural understandings and a new picturing of the forest. This paper closely examines Sujir’s process in the development of two works—Forest Breath (2018) and Aerial (2019)—detailing both the difficulty and the importance of artistic collaboration in working towards an ideology of (re)conciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada.

John Latour (Teaching and Research Librarian – Fine Arts at Concordia University) is a visual artist and art librarian whose academic research focuses on the intersections between contemporary Canadian art, research-creation, artists’ books, and open access. He will develop a research tool that addresses the range of visual art methodologies at work in Elastic Spaces, and will coordinate a collaborative art publication with members of the group.

Talk Description

Decentering the Page Publishing personal stories comes with potential benefits and risks, and this is especially true for Indigenous speakers. There is an opportunity to share one’s life experiences with a greater audience than through speech alone, but there is also a real possibility for cultural misunderstanding and the loss of context (Murray and Rice xxi-xiii). This presentation will look at an in-progress publishing project between Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones, Pacheedaht photographer Keisha Jones, and settler art librarian/book artist John Latour. It will explore an unconventional publishing model that fosters a meaningful and context-sensitive dialogue between Bill Jones’s oral histories and Keisha Jones’s images – both of which are supported by a collaborative book design with John Latour.  

Sunny Kerr is a male settler of Scottish and Irish descent living and working in Katarokwi/Kingston, Ontario. As Curator of Contemporary Art at Agnes Etherington Art Centre with adjunct teaching appointments at Queen’s University, Kerr thinks with the experiences, provocations and potentials of art and the uneasy legacies of culture amid the urgencies of racist violence and climate change. He continually tries to contextualize and put his work in reciprocal dialogue with inventive artistic thinking-making. Recent curatorial work includes projects with artists Yam Lau, Tau Lewis, Chris Kline, Ciara Phillips, Judy Radul, Walter Scott and Ibghy and Lemmens. His recent Drift: Art and Dark Matter commission brings four artists of national and international stature to an underground astroparticle physics lab. The artists’ aesthetic approaches to events of being, relational epistemologies and global environmental collapse inform their discussions with specialists around the search for dark matter. In the laboratory context, they developed integrally challenging works of art for exhibition in 2021. Kerr explores curatorial thinking with graduate students in Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies, Department of Film and Media while pursuing a doctorate in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University.

Talk Description

Two Agnes projects demonstrate approaches to decolonial curatorial work. Along the Way: Decolonial Ecologies Playgroup prototypes “playgroup” methods of mentorship and artistic work through social support systems and reciprocal exchange modelled on the flows and ecosystems of interconnected waterways—instead of on the history of museum practice. With a structure provided by paddle routes developed with artist mentor and Indigenous cultural carrier JP Longboat in a reclamation of colonized canoe routes between Ottawa and Kingston, we plan to enliven the action protocol of encounters at key sites along the route. With the partnering Queen’s University Biological Station, and engaging 6 regional artists, 2 mentor artists and complex ecosystems, we undertake research toward new forms for reciprocal work with communities non-human and human, seen and unseen. Homing Agnes invites artist researchers to engage in informal study and imagine new forms that investigate, claim and change space in the historical Etherington House.

Barbara Clausen (Associate Professor in the art history department and Associate Dean for Research and Creation and the Faculty of Arts,UQÀM) is an independent curator, living and working in Tiohtia:ke/Mooniyang/Montreal, Canada. Since 2000 she has lectured and written extensively on the historiography and institutionalization of performance-based art practices and the discourses surrounding the politics of the body and the archive, articulated through the site specificity of the exhibition. She has over the last ten years curated and collaborated on numerous exhibitions and performance series in Europe as well as North America. She is a co-applicant member of Hexagram UQAM Network and member of the Worlding Public Cultures Montreal team (SSHRC and FRQSC). From 2015-2019 she directed the research project An Annotated Bibliography in Realtime: Performance Art in Quebec and Canada (FRQSC) in collaboration with Artexte, as well as Keeping it Live : Performance Art Between Archive and Exhibition (2018 – 2022 (SSHRC). She is the Curatorial Research Director of the Joan Jonas Knowledge Base and is currently co-editing a monograph on Joan Jonas, published by the Dia Art Foundation in New York in 2022.

Talk Description

Embodied Exhibitions and Archives – Some Thoughts on Memory, Agency and Affect


Diyar Mayil (MFA graduate student, Concordia University)  is an interdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, installation and performance. Her work explores the public life of marginalized bodies. Comfort, discomfort, adaptation, and the acceptance of different bodies in both public and private are recurring subjects in her practice. Her work has recently been shown at La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Rad Hourani Foundation, and ON AURA. Upcoming commitments include a residency at the NARS Foundation and her MFA thesis show. She holds a BFA from Concordia University, where she is currently pursuing her MFA. Originally from Istanbul, she now lives and works in Montreal.

Talk Description 

Hosting / Hospitality The uncomfortable feeling of not belonging manifests itself in nuanced ways in people’s lives, but for some this discomfort is constant and inescapable. I have never felt the urgency to think about the discomfort of being a guest more than this moment in which the whole world is witnessing an increase in the number of people forcibly displaced. According to UN statistics, by the end of 2019 close to 80 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide and the numbers are at a record high. 80 million people became guests and consequently a larger number of people became hosts to those who were displaced.  Power, giving, concealment, acceptance: the rich, nuanced and even contradictory dynamics inherent to the relationship between hosts and guests offers a field of exploration within which ambiguity and discomfort reign.

Laura Acosta and Santiago Tavera (MFA alumni, Concordia)  are Colombian-Canadian artists based in Montréal. Since 2015, their collaborative practice forges an intersection between Tavera’s investigation of virtual technologies and interactive environments in relation to the body, with Acosta’s exploration of performance through wearable textiles. Through this, they create site specific immersive experiences and expanded performances in which the audience questions their own position within a space. Their collaborative projects have been supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and Le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and presented in Canada at Optica, Centre d’art contemporain, MAI-Montréal, arts interculturels, Articule, and SUR Gallery, as well as Internationally at the International Images Festival of Manizales and the International Symposium on Electronic Art-ISEA.

Talk Description 

Dislocation and “Other” Spaces The roots of colonialism are deeply ingrained in violent executions of power, exclusion and extraction, and the repercussions of this manifest in how we regard ourselves, others and the environment around us.  Therefore, decolonizing spaces is a question of re-thinking the dynamics between bodies and the spaces they inhabit, moving towards non-hierarchical, intersectional and community based ways of perceiving the world. Through the transdisciplinary installation series The Novels of Elsewhere

Colombian-Canadian artists Santiago Tavera and Laura Acosta use their personal experiences of migration as a catalyst to question how exploring the perspectives of the “other” can be an opening to engage with processes of de-colonization. This work is inspired by how groups that represent “the other” such as the bipoc, queer, migrant or disabled communities, propose a view of the world that is displaced yet multiple, emergent and in a constant state of becoming. Through the combination of non-linear storytelling, site specific video and sound, along with textile sculptures and performance, this collaborative project uses the sense of displacement as the method for creating immersive and interactive experiences. Within this series of installations the artists combine different technologies with corporal interactions to create ecosystems where viewers question their own position within a space. 

-Euroma Awashish?

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