ENCOUNTERS WITH PUBLIC ART

Decolonizing Literacies of Self, Place, and Education


“What is your connection to this place and its history?”

“How does who you are affect how you experience the world around you?”

These questions were considered by students from Capilano University in the fall of 2020 as they embarked on a critical place-based inquiry assignment to engage with the present and absent stories of the places we live.

The project embraced a decolonial framework in the context of self, culture, history, materials, and contemporary issues. Students placed themselves in relation to an art piece and its surroundings, attending to the intermingling of human and more than human presences.

The various visits and responses to the piece’s evocations through narrative writing, performance and the visual arts nurtured a conversation about our entanglement with the legacies of colonization. The students professed to have passed by the public art pieces, prior to doing this work, and barely noticing them. Over the course of the project, students’ relationships with the art, the places the pieces were located, and Coast Salish lands grew and deepened.

Inherently public art is placed in relation with the place it stands; often on the unceded lands of Indigenous peoples. This project invites us all to consider our own connections to the places we inhabit and seek their suppressed histories and stories. And for those who are teachers, it calls us to engage in critical and transformative pedagogies of place.

This exhibit came to fruition in partnership with the City Studio Project, a joint initiative between Capilano University and the City of North Vancouver to co-create projects that benefit the community. The instructors of the School of Childhood Studies partnered with the Museum and Archives of North Vancouver to design an assignment proposing conversations about decolonization through/with the arts.

The literature of decolonization critically analyses the systems of knowledge and power entrenched in colonial structures and institutions such as schools, museums, and the academy; acknowledging how these forces facilitate the subjugation, exploitation, and dehumanization of Indigenous peoples.

– Gray Smith

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