Fanshawe students display their works of art at downtown London gallery

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: JOSCELYN GARDNER
A total of 17 second-year fine art students had their artwork featured at the Un/covering exhibit at the ARTS Project gallery. Chengxin Qian's painting, titled 'Tea Service' (above), won the Best Work award at the opening reception.

From March 20 to 24, Fanshawe second-year fine art students put together an art exhibit at the ARTS Project gallery as part of their visual research class. At the Un/covering exhibit, each painting was designed to create a conversation surrounding settler colonialism and patriarchy from the Victorian Era. The exhibit contributes to the conversation, bringing the voices and stories of individuals who were rarely written or spoken about during that time in history to the forefront through paintings on wood panels.

Joscelyn Gardner, the professor for the visual research class, explained that back in January, students made a visit to the Eldon House, which belonged to members of the Harris family for four generations beginning in the 1800s. At the Eldon House, students were given the opportunity to examine different items that were collected by the Harris family from across the globe. Through these items, the students had to envision who would have originally owned or used them and depict that individual's story through their art.

“We wanted to examine how colonialism has shaped our contemporary society. We were looking at what voices have been omitted, what is missing from the collection, what was happening in the society at the time and who has been overlooked. Also, how have other cultures been appropriated within the space and so forth,” Gardner said. “Students looked for traces of other voices and tried to imagine who would have lived there and who would have not been allowed in that house.” Students also investigated others from the period who might never have encountered a space like that in their lives but yet, lived in Canada or lived in London.

At the exhibit's opening reception, Chengxin Qian won the Best Work award for her painting titled “Tea Service”. The painting focuses on the service class that was present in the home during the 1800s. Items such as silverware and teacups were referenced from the Eldon House's collection. Qian was given a book on contemporary painting and a series of catalogues donated by the Eldon House as prizes for her work. The Best Work award was judged by Tara Wittman, the art historian and curator of the Eldon House.

A total of 17 second-year fine art students had their artworks featured in the art exhibit. In addition to the paintings, the students created paper cut dresses. These dresses mixed the traditional styling of the Victorian Era with modern conceptions of the period. The paper cut dresses were also on display at the exhibit.

Emma Masterson, a second-year fine art student, said that the exhibit is a great learning experience and trial run for when the students will host another exhibit at the end of the their third year of the program.

Masterson's wood panel painting, titled “The Tyrant and her Mistress”, consists of women with horns from the era whose heads are mounted to the wall. According to the painting's description, the piece alludes to the forced submission of women during the colonial timeframe. The horns suggest that these women could have been very outspoken and ostracized for their lifestyles.

Masterson said she was inspired by the red leather wallpaper in the hallways of the Eldon House, which was adorned with blue and gold flowers. “The front and back hallways had this beautiful red leather wallpaper with gold and blue flowers and owls. It was absolutely gorgeous. The walls were littered with trophies [of animals] they collected over the years. The animal horns were so intriguing and there were portraits as well. I found combining the two made this really interesting and odd-looking piece,” Masterson said.

Zoe Courtis, a second year fine art student, said the exhibit was a great experience for the students to show their works in a galley and learn how to set up such a production.

Courtis explained that her painting, tilted “Madam Zo's Travelling Museum and Curiosities”, explored the idea of a museum, creating a conversation pertaining to questions such as: Who decides what history is? Who decides what is an important story? What is an artifact versus what belongs to a culture and what should stay in a museum?

Courtis said her painting was also inspired by Milly Harris, who was the last person to reside in the Eldon House before donating the property to the City of London to be a museum for the public. “Typically, museums and historic sites are curated by men. I thought it was kind of a cool twist that it was a women who had donated [the Eldon House],” Courtis said. She explained that Milly Harris did not conform to the attributes of a typically Victorian woman, and instead, went against the patriarchy at the time. She also travelled the world and educated herself.

Both Masterson and Courtis said their wood panel paintings took over 90 hours to create. “Each person in our class put weeks and weeks of work into [their painting]. As for our cut paper dresses, [] that project [had to be] expanded over two semesters. I actually had a gentleman come to the exhibit and ask me if it was done by a computer. [] There is that much detail in it that he could not believe it was done by hand,” Courtis said.

Gardner explained that the idea behind hosting an annual exhibit showcasing the work of second-year fine art students was started by Tony McAulay, a prior co-ordinator for the fine art program. Each year, the students are given a different theme for the exhibit. In recent years, the students have created works regarding the recent 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge and the theme of missing identity and missing people.

Regarding this year's exhibit, Gardner said that the students handled both projects very well despite the schedule changes that were made to the course due to prior events this academic year. “They did really well, pulled out all the stops and produced really good work and I think it was agood exhibition,” Gardner said.