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Bringing Mexico’s art to Montreal

Grad Ellen Belshaw heads south for an international curatorial internship
August 25, 2016
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By Susan Attafuah-Callender

Culture, arts and new ideas are just some of what Ellen Belshaw, BFA 15, is soaking up in addition to the sun in Mexico City this summer.

During an internship at SOMA, a non-profit, artist-run centre, Belshaw will be conducting broad curatorial research to inspire an exhibition for Concordia’s FOFA Gallery.

Ellen Belshaw “There are heated politics here, in terms of the government and ‘Narcos’ wars, and I’m interested in how that’s reflected in the art,” says Ellen Belshaw, who is researching in Mexico’s capital. “There are also things happening here that aren’t getting any media coverage.” | Photo credit: Arthur Rossignol

Every Wednesday for the last five years, SOMA has been the site of performances, lectures and screenings open for anyone to attend in Mexico’s capital city.

Now, the centre is making footage of those events accessible to a greater public online in both Spanish and English.

As part of the three-and-a-half-month internship funded by Young Canada Works, Belshaw is transcribing footage of all SOMA events that took place in English to later be subtitled in Spanish. “It’s a nice platform to see what kinds of artists this space has in its roster,” says Belshaw.

“From my previous experience with Mexican artists, they’re very good at balancing sleek, conceptual-looking contemporary art with potent political backings,” says Belshaw.

Over the summer, SOMA hosts a residency for artists from around the world. Their programming includes many gallery visits and meetings with local artists and curators that Belshaw is tagging along for.

“I’ve been noticing a lot of similarities between Mexico City and Montreal,” says Belshaw. “Both were colonized and are still dealing with the repercussions of that and neither city’s major languages are indigenous.”

All about perspective

While pursuing an undergraduate degree in the Department of Art History and the photography program, Belshaw first encountered the rich culture of Mexico City in a class on contemporary Latin American art.

Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo, curator of Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City, explains a project that overlays one exhibition onto another, at one of many visits with local artists and curators attended by SOMA residents and curatorial intern Ellen Belshaw. | Photo credit: Ellen Belshaw

“Concordia’s art history program is great in the sense that it makes you question everything and it opens your mind to new perspectives,” Belshaw says. “Being in that kind of mental framework is definitely helping me here.”

Before the internship with SOMA, Belshaw gained experience in curation as an exhibitions coordinator for Concordia’s Art Matters Festival.

Belshaw also co-founded Yiara magazine, a student-run, feminist art history publication. The magazine, which allows students to collaborate from across Montreal universities, is now in its fourth year and counting.

“Concordia’s allowed me to get many opportunities — like this one,” Belshaw says.

In life as in art

Once returned to the FOFA Gallery, Belshaw will develop an exhibition from themes and artworks that were most influential throughout the experience. “I’m trying to absorb, encounter and connect with as many artists and artworks as I can,” says Belshaw.

Belshaw’s research often concerns installation, performance and sound art, especially in relation to traditional art spaces that are not designed for those forms. “I’m really interested in how people experience space in general, be it art institutions or in our daily lives.”

“In a gallery everyone’s usually a lot quieter, walking slower, holding themselves a certain way and looking at the art — when there’s sound art, you often don’t know what to look at,” says Belshaw. “It makes you very aware of how you’re trained to be in that space.”

For Belshaw, displaying different forms of art also reflects the diversity of those creating and viewing the work.

“When I get back, I’ll start piecing the exhibition together, seeing what’s feasible to bring to Montreal and doing all the grant writing that goes along with that.” Belshaw may also create a publication to accompany the exhibition, which is planned for 2018.

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