Do you remember your first experience visiting an art gallery? Has that stayed with you?
My parents often took me to museums and galleries when I was a child, but I only have vague recollections of those visits. My daycare was close to a beautiful modern museum in my home town of Sarajevo – I have memories as a three or four-year-old playing on the grass in front of the museum with friends. But my first real memory of walking into a gallery and being struck by it was when I was 15. I was staying far away from my parents in a rather precarious situation in London, UK. This was in the early 1990s during the war in the former Yugoslavia. By that time I was already in an art high school (which I had to leave as a result of the war) and my only escape from the realities of being all alone as an underage refugee in a strange city was to go into museums and galleries and see some of the most famous works of art. I will never forget when I first walked into the National Gallery in London and saw its many galleries. It was like being in a dream, I cried. My parents were very keen on supplying me with art books and as a child (before the war started) I was well acquainted with the ‘great works of art’. At the time, in 1992, when in London I could see these famous artworks live. It was the most magical thing for an aspiring and scared 15-year-old artist. It helped me forget, at least for a moment, how difficult a situation I was in.
What drew you to the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery?
I have been teaching in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo since 2010. I have been to the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery on many occasions, and was always struck by the exhibitions which were of excellent quality, spoke to contemporary issues I was interested in, and are always meticulously executed. My students also visit the Gallery on a regular basis as part of the courses that I teach; we’ve spent time in KWAG’s Permanent Collection to do research work with the pieces in it. Everything that I have experienced in the Gallery was always positive, and told me about the Gallery’s commitment to excellence in working with modern and contemporary art. This is also what drew me to be involved with the work of the Gallery.
As a practicing artist do you see your relationship with art galleries differently than other members or gallery goers might? Or, why do you think people visit galleries?
I am not sure if I have a different relationship to artworks or art institutions. When I go to see a show I am always fascinated and interested in aesthetic and formal ideas proposed by curators and artists, I get excited by what the work is like, I love to talk about art, about how exhibitions are hung and what curators are proposing to us as audience members. So in that way I think I am no different than other visitors to the gallery. Perhaps where we differ is that I have chosen to make it my career, and to spend my life in and around galleries and art. This is a privileged position in many ways, and provides a unique vantage point when encountering art. As my entire life is committed to art I cannot see myself doing something different; I spend a lot of time in my everyday thinking and talking and doing art. However, as with many colleagues in the field, I am as excited to see a great show, and great art always brings up a curious child in me, as if I have never seen any art before.
If not art, then what? If life took you in a different direction, what do you think you would have been doing now?
I have a hard time imagining myself outside of the work that I do; as I mentioned before art has been a part of my life since I was a small child and since then I wanted to be an artist. This question will therefore have to remain unanswered.
Which KWAG exhibit have you enjoyed the most?
Oh, this is a hard question to answer, since I liked many of the shows at KWAG. There was one that was important and stands out in my mind however––The Fifth World, guest curated by Wanda Nanibush. The exhibition opened up an important dialogue with new Indigenous art, continuing and building on the work of earlier curators who presented Indigenous art in a Canadian context. I saw some excellent new work, and I remember bringing my Contemporary Art class to the exhibit. We all sat in the gallery and had an hour-long discussion about the work. Students opened up about their observations on Indigenous art, culture and history, and we had a deep conversation about settler-indigenous relationships, responsibility, and the role of art in the process of political struggle for agency and sovereignty. Other excellent exhibitions that impacted me were Shirin Neshat’s Soliloquy, Brendan Fernandes’ The Foot Made, the recent group exhibition Carry Forward curated by Lisa Myers in which I was so excited to see Mike MacDonald’s iconic piece “Electronic Totem,” (which I only ever saw in documentation), Joseph Tisiga’s exhibition and many more!