The Art Gallery of York University wins major awards and accolades from OAAG

Emelie Chhanghur

The Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) has swept the 2019 Ontario Association of Art Galleries (OAAG) Awards of Excellence. The awards were announced Nov. 25 during an evening gala held at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. The AGYU took home seven awards out of the 25 awards presented, including a special accolade for Interim Director/Curator of the AGYU, Emelie Chhangur, who received the OAAG’s inaugural Changemaker Award.

Each year, the OAAG honours the hard work and dedication of Ontario’s public gallery sector at the annual awards ceremony. The event is akin to the Oscars, but for the art gallery world and both the awards and gala offer a one-of-a-kind celebration for nominees, colleagues, and the award recipients.

Here’s a rundown of the accolades and the jury comments:

The Inaugural BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) Changemaker Award: Emelie Chhangur

Emelie Chhangur on location at the Finch West Station on the Line One subway in Toronto during the filming of RISE/Truth Be Told. Photo: Benjamin de Burca

In making their decision, the jury released the following comment: “Emelie Chhangur pioneered a practice she calls ‘in-reach:’ a process of rethinking institutional protocols, modes of production, and methods of engagement, designed to encourage creative innovation in every aspect of cultural work. Building on her artistic background in theatre, performance, and studio art, Chhangur has used her process-based approach over the past 16 years to mitigate historic erasure of BIPOC peoples in public galleries, develop reciprocal relationships with the First Peoples of the land on which she works, and nurture BIPOC cultural ecologies.”

A delighted Chhangur commented on the honour. “This award recognizes that the work I have committed to is significant in its temporality. It means that a commitment of 16 years to a single institution, a practice situated in relation to specific communities, and an ongoing dialogue with the traditional stewards of this land is worthwhile as an institutional practice because it can, eventually, change institutional ethics. By instituting this award, the OAAG celebrates practices that are built on trust, collaboration, and reciprocity. Moving forward, it sets a precedence of institutional practice in this province, if not the country.

“Receiving the inaugural BIPOC Changemaker Award recognizes that these values (trust, collaboration, and reciprocity) are core curatorial and institutional practices and I am so proud to be considered a leader in this transformational kind of practice,” said Chhangur. “It feels very good to know that what I have been working on for so long is now setting the standard for curatorial engagement, that these standards are based on practices not traditionally celebrated in the contemporary art world, and that perspectives (BIPOC), which have often been erased from the institutions of art, are now recognized as ‘changemaking,’” added Chhangur.

Curatorial writing award: under 2000 words awarded to Emelie Chhangur for Communities of Love: Anthony Gebrehiwot (2018) Art Gallery of York University with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival Gallery

Emelie Chhanghur. Photo by Caitlynn Fairbarns for OAAG

In their remarks, the jury said: “The rhythm of this essay is seductive and relentless, matching the tempo of the work and the poetry. For a short text, it is quite robust, giving context about RISE and the communities they are trying to reach, as well as references to theory. This text demonstrates that less can be more in many ways.”

Curatorial writing award, major essay: over 5000 words awarded to Emelie Chhangur and Philip Monk (curator emeritus of the AGYU) for Migrating the Margins: Circumlocating the Future of Toronto Art (2019)

High praise for Chhangur and Monk came from the jury. In its remarks, the jury said: “Inventive, interesting and topical, the essay provides a different framing of Toronto’s art history which shies away from identity politics and a politics of representation to offer a much-needed counter narrative. It interweaves institutional identity, local community, state policy and a concern for the real work that visual art can do in the wider world.”

Philip Monk, curator emeritus of the AGYU speaks to guests at the OAAG gala. Interim AGYU Curator/Director Emelie Chhangur looks on. Photo by Caitlynn Fairbarns for OAAG

Public Program Award: Emelie Chhangur and Allyson Adley, AGYU collections and education assistant, for the project RISE/Truth Be Told (Art Gallery of York University, 2017-2018)

Chhangur and Adley, served as public programmers for RISE/Truth Be Told. In their comments, the jury said: “Regular program that reached many individuals and involved them within the programming. So much outreach to spoken word poets.”

It is important to note that by “regular programming” the jury is referring to the ongoing spoken word mentorship program AGYU has produced for the past decade (Truth Be Told), explained Chhangur.  This project was remarkable, she said, because it brought together this mentorship program and a major, international film commission (RISE). Innovating in what constitutes a “public program” RISE/Truth Be Told was simultaneously a research-residency, an international art commission, a student experiential learning/professional development opportunity and a civically engaged action. “RISE demonstrates how the intersection of exhibition-making and education can be a mutually enriching source of cutting-edge artistic production and pedagogical innovation,” noted Chhangur.

Emelie Chhangur and Allyson Adley. Photo by Caitlynn Fairbarns for OAAG

RISE/Truth Be Told took place simultaneously to Brazil-based artists Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s first-ever solo exhibition at AGYU (also nominated for Exhibition of the Year: Monographic at this year’s OAAG awards).

Shot on the new Line One subway extension, the resulting film RISE has since been shown all over the world: from the USA to Mexico to Brazil to Germany, where it won the prestigious AUDI Award at the Berlinale. RISE was shown at Toronto’s inaugural Biennial of Art and will screen at TIFF beginning in February of this year.

Also noted in the accolade were program artists: Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, Duke Redbird, Linell “ES-EF” Roy, Jameel3DN, NamedTobias., Kevin Brathwaite, Shahaddah Jack, Laurette Jack-Ogbonna, David Delisca, Terence Penny, Abdulkadir “Moose” Nur, Borelson, Thunderclaw Robinson, Bidhan Berma, Akeem Raphael, Kareem Bennett, Trevlyn Kennedy, Chantal Rose, Nathan Baya, Gee Soropia, Kwazzi D. Brown, Randell Adjei, Anthony Gebrehiwot, Paul “Ohm” Ohonsi, Nasim Asgari, Timaaj Hassen, Zenab Hassan, Michie Mee, Dynesti Williams, Daniel Burton, Aliyah Suvannah Suviana, Quincy Morales, Joshua “Scribe” Watkis, Nasim Asgari, Timaaj Hassen, and Nathan Baya.

Cover of Migrating the Margins

Art Publication of the Year: Migrating the Margins to Emelie Chhangur and Philip Monk, writers, and Michael Maranda, publication coordinator

“The publication offers rich reproductions of the artworks on view, as well as documentation of public programs (no small feat),” said the OAAG jury. The book is well designed and easy to navigate in a way that allows for a fulsome encounter with the exhibition and its multifarious educational and textual components.”

Partner Award: R.I.S.E. Edutainment, Scarborough for the AGYU project RISE/Truth Be Told
(experimental film by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca)

“RISE’s support of critical youth outreach and engagement initiatives allowed AGYU to really blur the boundaries between arts education and contemporary art, one of their core institutional commitments. RISE gets it. Arts organizations are eager to expand their audience and need partners who can see beyond convention,” said the OAAG jury.

Youth involved in RISE Truth Be Told educational outreach program

Exhibition Catalogue Design Award:  Graphic designer Sameer Farooq for work on the AGYU publication Migrating the Margins

Farooq was praised by the jury for the graphic design for the publication Migrating the Margins. In their remarks, the jury said: “Great use of different layouts and section dividers to mark different contributions (interviews essays, etc.) along with typographic choices that were impactful with great details.”