‘I am going to ground zero of colonial power’
Darlene St. Georges holds up a document listing events that occurred after first contact between British sovereigns and the Indigenous nations within Canada.
It’s one of many documents the doctoral student has woven into her research and her art, both of which will be shown at the Tate Exchange Liverpool in the United Kingdom, March 12 - 18.
“I am going to ground zero of colonial power and I think it will be kind of provoking,” says St. Georges, a doctoral student in the Department of Art Education at Concordia.
St. Georges is Métis, part of the Quebec Métis Nation, with a heritage that includes Mi'kmaq and Huron roots. She describes the historical documents and genealogical charts she works with as part of her creation-research exploration of her Indigenous identity through art education.
Who can and who cannot claim Métis identity is a contentious political issue in Canada, she says, and that question sits at the heart of her creation-research dissertation.
“There’s this debate over who can claim Métis identity, which divides and excludes who can be Métis and who cannot,” she says. “It’s shredding the individual apart once again.”
In her work, she aims to address, “the problems associated with many people, political stakeholders, claiming authority over my identity.
“I want to assert my own conversation around subjectivity and personal identity and challenge institutional claims of identity.”
‘A non-fixed, evolving, inclusive space’
St. Georges recently joined the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge.
She sees her artistic practice as a pedagogical tool that will add another dimension to how art can be for young people, and how critical artistic practice can inform curriculum design for pre-service teachers.
“My main goal is to create space and open up dialogue,” says St. Georges.
“I am looking at the pedagogical implications of understanding creation-research as a non-fixed, evolving, inclusive space.”
Her artistic research and her scholarly work will be shown alongside a group of art education PhD candidates from the UK, Spain, Finland and Canada at the Tate in an exhibition called From Mittens to Barbies: International Arts-Based Education Research.
The Tate Exchange is an experimental space dedicated to initiating collaborations between artists, educators and visitors to the gallery. During the course of the exhibition, St. Georges will give a public scholarly presentation, lead found poetry and sound workshops, and display her interactive art installation featuring large photo-digital collage prints and recorded sound and storytelling.
The initiative with the Tate is part of a three-year Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The grant is led by Anita Sinner, an associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Art Education. Co-investigators include Jeff Adams (University of Chester, UK), Timo Jokela (University of Lapland, Finland), Ricardo Marin Viadel and Joaquin Roland (University of Granada, Spain), and Rita Irwin (University of British Columbia).
The team is investigating the pedagogic turn to art as research and the changing form of the dissertation internationally.
“Darlene is an exceptional artist and arts-based researcher with an established exhibition record and many years as a teacher in northern Ontario and Quebec,” says Sinner.
“Her doctoral research is an embodiment of arts-based and artistic practice in ways I have seldom seen. When she presents in England, I anticipate it will be a provocation to conversations about colonization, internationalization, and the arts as social activism.”
The next-generation of arts-based research
Sinner will be in Liverpool with her team as co-organizer of a two-day symposium, the 5th Conference on Arts Based Research and Artistic Research, to be held alongside the student exhibition and public events at the Tate Liverpool.
The symposium, related to one Sinner held last year at Concordia, is also a product of her SSHRC grant, now in its third year. But the grant’s research topic, arts-based dissertations, began much earlier, when Sinner was a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia working on Rita Irwin’s research team.
“Each partner on the grant has been actively engaged in arts research over the last decade, and their home universities have become ‘hotspots’ of leading-edge research around the pedagogic turn to art,” says Sinner.
Events like these are important to bring together this growing international network of scholars, to envision the next generation of arts-based research.
“Darlene St. Georges’s artistic provocations demonstrate how art as research changes the ways we create, communicate, disseminate and generate knowledge in education,” says Sinner.
“Within the institution we must broaden practices to be inclusive of different ways of knowing, particularly through the dissertation experience,” she adds.
“It is from our doctoral students and from ongoing exchanges, such as this exhibition and symposium, that we can seek direction on how to find ways to develop broader and more socially aware research practices.”
Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Art Education.