The Newcomer Artist Project: Immigration, Art, Identity
Anecdotal reports suggest that immigrant artists to Atlantic Canada, especially those who have not enrolled in University or College Art Programs for further study, often encounter difficulty in obtaining acceptance and legitimation for their creative endeavours. The Newcomer Artist Project is a cultural research project with a practical component designed to test this assumption through providing a professional group exhibition opportunity at Anna Leonowens Gallery, NSCAD University for recent immigrant artists who are settling into Atlantic Canada. The rationale for the call to participate was twofold: a) to ascertain whether immigrant artists were confronting difficulties in acceptance for their work in conventional venues - galleries, parallel artist run centres, and through provincial and federal grant agencies, and b) if an exhibition of newcomer artists would provide opportunities for networking, social integration and cultural legitimation. A parallel relational exhibition, the "Nomadic Dresses Project" produced by Brazilian artist Mariana Frochtengarten complemented the Newcomer Exhibit and provide a contrasting situation; an artist newcomer and potential immigrant to Canada who arrived through acceptance into a two year University Graduate program. The Nomadic Dresses project has its origin in the Ms. Frochtengarten’s studio practice as a textiles artist and the exhibition is the result of the collaborative efforts of twenty-one international artists working collaboratively on the decoration of five plain white dresses that have been circulated via mail. Each contributor was invited to work freely on the garment he/she had chosen and thus far sixteen artists representing eleven countries: Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, China, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, Spain, India, Pakistan, United States and Canada, have participated. The project structures Ms. Frochtengarten’s research on the material culture of clothing with contemporary issues in craft and visual arts, emphasizing collective aesthetic experiences as fundamental contributors to the construction of identities and social interaction. The artist writes that “In the social life of collective art works, The Nomadic Dresses Project sustains and exemplifies inter-connectivity through ritualized daily experiences and establishes the materiality of relationships as constituted by fibre and cloth.”
Both exhibitions provided opportunities for discussion of relevant Metropolis topics such as inclusiveness and social cohesion. The discussion and workshop sessions attending both exhibits also provided spaces for participants to discuss graduate education in visual art, public gallery mandates and granting agency policies with respect to artist newcomers to Canada. And more generally the sessions offered some insights into how newly arrived immigrant and minority artists are participating in the cultural life of the Atlantic region and in Canada as a whole.
Keywords: Immigrant Artists, Globalisation and Canada, Relational and Littoral Art Practice, Newcomer advocacy
Prof. Bruce A. Barber
Professor, Director MFA Programme, School of Graduate Studies, NSCAD University (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design)