Major British art figures to be part of new summer institute

York University’s Department of Visual Arts is launching its new Joan & Martin Goldfarb Summer Institute in Contemporary Visual Arts, May 18 to 29. It features two-week residencies by three leading figures in British arts practice and scholarship: art historian, curator and theorist Sarat Maharaj, and painting duo the Singh Twins.

This inaugural Summer Institute is dedicated to the theme of cultural translation, with seminars and critiques exploring the ways in which contemporary cultural expressions are transformed through migration and immigration in our globalized world.

Right: Sarat Maharaj

Maharaj and the Singh Twins will participate in a public panel discussion on the topic of cultural translation, moderated by Trinidad-born, Toronto-based video artist, cultural critic and activist Richard Fung, at York on May 21.

"Culture has never been pure," says Yvonne Singer, coordinator of the Summer Institute and director of York’s graduate programs in visual arts. "People have always travelled and shared their culture. But it’s fascinating to witness the artistic evolution born out of the speed and distance that information travels in our time."

An internationally renowned academic and curator and a gifted public speaker, Maharaj was born in South Africa and educated in one of the country’s segregated universities during the apartheid era. He was the first Rudolf Arnheim Guest Professor for Art History at Berlin’s Humboldt University (2001-2002) and has been a research fellow at Jan van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht, the Netherlands (1999-2001), and a research professor at Goldsmith’s University of London (1980-2005). He is currently a professor of visual art and knowledge systems at Sweden’s Lund University. His research interests include cultural translation and difference, textiles, sonics and visual art as knowledge production. His art history work centres on Richard Hamilton, Marcel Duchamp and James Joyce. Curatorial credits include Documenta X1 (Kassel, Germany, 2002) and the Third Guangzhou Triennial (Guangzhou, China, 2008).

Born in London and now based in Liverpool, the Singh Twins are artists of international standing. Described as past-modern (as opposed to post-modern), their award-winning paintings constitute a unique genre in British art, initiating a new movement in the revival of the Indian miniature tradition within modern art practice. Combining elements from western and eastern esthetics, the Singh Twins explore cultural, social and political issues of global significance within a highly decorative, often witty and symbolic style which transcends cultural barriers. Challenging stereotypes and redefining generally accepted, narrow perceptions of heritage and identity in art and society, their work asserts the value of traditional and non-European art forms to the continuing development of contemporary art practice.

Left: The Singh Twins

"The Summer Institute is honoured to welcome such high-profile guests in our inaugural year," Singer says. "They personify the concept of cultural translation through their international work and the global influences incorporated in their practice and research."

The two-week intensive institute is a key element of York’s innovative, practice-based PhD program in visual arts. Launched last fall, the program is the first of its kind in Canada outside Quebec. Guests of the Summer Institute work closely with graduate students at York over a sustained period and also offer talks open to students at other universities as well as the general public.

"By bringing prominent international artists, curators, critics and cultural theorists for residencies at the university, the PhD program is an incubator for original thought and a catalyst for the interplay between professional scholars and artists," says Singer. "We hope it will expand the network of relationships among Canadian and international researchers operating within and beyond the fine arts communities."

The Summer Institute public panel on cultural translation will take place Thursday, May 21 at 2:30pm in 312 Joan & Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts at York University’s Keele campus.

The event is presented by the Department of Contemporary Visual Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts, with the support of York International. The Summer Institute in Visual Arts is named in recognition of Joan and Martin Goldfarb, long-standing supporters of the Faculty of Fine Arts, whose generous gift has made this annual residency program possible.