That is the idea behind the Lens of Empowerment project, a three-course program undertaken by 11 UFV students that examines the lives and experiences of women in Stó:lō territory.
The Fraser Valley audience will have the chance to view the results of the project on Friday, March 30 at the opening and premiere of the Lens of Empowerment exhibition. The photographic and video exhibit opening ceremony will be at 3 pm in the gallery in Room B136 on the Abbotsford campus. The students will then show their videos in the lecture theatre (B101) at 5 pm. The public is welcome and attendance is free.
Part of the inspiration for this project came from a desire to acknowledge Stó:lō territory for future generations.
“Women are mothers, teachers, aunties and mentors,” explains UFV Senior Advisor on Indigenous Affairs Shirley Hardman. “The stories of every woman in Stó:lō territory have an impact on nation. The telling of these stories through photography and video strengthens connections and nurtures awareness for coming generations because storytelling connects us to the land, and to each other. Historically, newcomer communities in the Fraser Valley, especially, have been agriculturally based and very connected to the land, and that’s what we all have in common in Stó:lō territory.”
The exhibit will be presented at a conference in Loughborough, UK, in July. UFV visual arts instructor Sarah Ciurysek will also be an artist-in-residence at the same event.
The 10 women and one man enrolled in the Lens of Empowerment project each took Visual Arts 180 (Digital Photography) with Ciurysek and Visual Arts 160 (Video Production) with Gould in the fall. During the winter semester, they worked on bringing the exhibition together in the VA 390 (Community Arts Practice) course, team-taught by Ciurysek and Gould.
Some of the students had previous photo or video experience or were already enrolled at UFV; others came to the university specifically to take the program and had no or little visual arts experience. Some are Stó:lō or from another aboriginal community; others are not.
The photos and videos that have resulted from the project include biographical pieces about local women.
Instructor Stephanie Gould says the intensive seven-month experience has been “extraordinary” for all involved.
“It is fantastic to be part of something larger than ourselves and so community-based. We have got to know each other much better than one does in a normal course,” she said. “Across differences in culture, gender, and experience, this group of students has brought focused attention to stories of place, and women’s stories, through lens-based art. This attentiveness through art to one another’s stories is as critical to understanding our diverse local communities as it is communities and home places across the world.”
The instructors, UFV Dean of Arts Jacqueline Nolte, and some students will be travelling to England to participate in an international conference in July. Other shows in Stó:lō territory are also planned.