Changing the Narrative for the Twenty-first Century

In 2020 the Art Canada Institute set out to create a more inclusive art history and to celebrate the contributions to art in this country made by those who have been overlooked due to their gender, race, or cultural background. Guided by an extraordinary group of academic and museum leaders, ACI created the Redefining Canadian Art History Fellowship Program to recognize the work of individuals doing pioneering research on artists who have not had a place in art history. We are pleased to introduce the second group of fellowship recipients and share their important work.

2023-2024 ACI Fellow Roopa Kanal | Research Project: The Art and Career of Sarindar Dhaliwal

Left: Roopa Kanal. Right: Sarindar Dhaliwal, Triple Self Portrait with Persimmon and Pomegranates (detail), 1988, mixed media on paper, 101.7 x 152.5 cm. Courtesy of Sarindar Dhaliwal.


Since the 1980s, Toronto-based artist Sarindar Dhaliwal (b.1953) has forged a path for the representation of South Asian diasporic histories in her multimedia practice, exploring intergenerational memory and the legacies of colonialism. Though she has exhibited widely, Dhaliwal has faced misunderstanding and marginalization based on her cultural background. Born in Punjab, India, and raised in England before immigrating to Canada in 1968, Dhaliwal grounds her practice in personal experiences. Her works, including Triple Self Portrait with Persimmon and Pomegranates, 1988, layer cross-cultural imagery to communicate the complexities of establishing one’s sense of self in relationship to place. Through her research, Roopa Kanal will examine how Dhaliwal’s works approach migration—a dissonant experience that has impacted both settler and Indigenous communities—as a wider interpretive lens for the social, cultural, and contextual realities that inform the construction of Canadian art. Kanal has more than a decade of experience in program and policy development and research expertise in South Asian art. She holds an MA in Art History from the University of Victoria.


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2023-2024 ACI Fellow Jennifer Orpana | Research Project: The life and work of Violet Keene Perinchief

Left: Jennifer Orpana. Right: Violet Keene Perinchief, A Modern Miss (detail), c.1940, photograph. © Estate of Violet Keene Perinchief. Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.


The cultural contributions of the English-born Canadian photographer Violet Keene Perinchief (1893–1987) have not been widely studied, except in relation to the work of her mother, renowned photographer Minna Keene (1861–1943). An accomplished portrait photographer in her own right, Violet Keene managed two busy Toronto studios in the 1930s and 1940s, a time when women rarely had careers as professional artists. Her portraits capture a range of subjects, including families, debutantes, brides, and prominent historical figures like aviator Amelia Earhart and writer Aldous Huxley. Dr. Jennifer Orpana will explore how the artist played a formidable role in the history of photography in Toronto by examining Keene’s vast portfolio and considering how her work reflects varied ideas of femininity that manifested privately and publicly during the interwar period. Dr. Orpana’s research will look at what Keene’s images—and her career—can reveal about the changing, nuanced roles of women as consumers, professionals, photographic subjects, and artists in Canada during that time. Dr. Orpana is a photography historian and lecturer who has taught at Toronto Metropolitan University, University of Toronto, OCAD University, Western University, and Brock University.


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2023-2024 ACI Fellow Christopher Smith | Research Project: Tsimshian master carver Samuel Elwitt

Left: Christopher Smith. Right: Samuel Elwitt, Model Totem Pole (detail), c.1900–10, wood, paint, 35.7 x 8 x 8.7 cm. The Tom and Frances Richardson Collection, Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Vancouver (Nb9.63). Photo credit: Rebecca Pasch.


In 2018 the Alaska-raised, Vancouver-based scholar and writer Christopher Smith identified several unattributed model totem poles using the Reciprocal Research Network, a digital database that enables the simultaneous search of Northwest Coast cultural objects in museums across North America. Smith was able to pinpoint the works as those of Samuel Elwitt (c.1834–1919), a disabled and prolific master carver from Kitselas First Nation who created objects to be sold to collectors or used by communities along the Skeena River in northwestern British Columbia. From monumental poles to carved spoons, Elwitt’s works were esteemed by Indigenous peoples and settler collectors alike but have been broadly misidentified, despite being acquired by a number of prominent institutions. Smith’s research will untangle historic intersectional discrimination and uneven museum cataloguing practices to affirm Elwitt’s historical significance and to return knowledge of his work to his community. Christopher Smith is a socio-cultural/museum anthropologist focused on Alaska Native and Northwest Coast material culture. A PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, he has been researching the life and work of Samuel Elwitt since 2008.


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2023-2024 ACI Fellow Tamara Toledo | Research Project: Latin American Women Artists in Canada: Body of Resistance

Left: Tamara Toledo. Right: Helena Martin Franco, Altero(s)filia o los Juegos de Fuerza de Fritta Caro, Meter el Hombro (detail), 2018, performance documentation. Courtesy of Helena Martin Franco.


Faced with a predominantly white settler narrative, it has been a challenge for Latin American diasporic artists in Canada to enter mainstream art discourse, especially when their art practices are perceived as radical or resistant. According to Chilean-born, Toronto-based scholar and curator Tamara Toledo, this lack of representation demonstrates the myth of multiculturalism; these artists’ works have not been shared, recorded, theorized, or archived despite being worthy of attention. Toledo’s project examines the practices of three contemporary Latin American women artists from the Colombian and Mexican diasporas: Claudia Bernal, Maria Ezcurra, and Helena Martin Franco. All three use the presence and absence of the female body in their installation and performance works to critique the factors that determine inclusion within a historically exclusionary canon. Through her research, Toledo will trace the transformative impact that Latin American artists have had on contemporary artistic milieus in Canada. Toledo is the Director/Curator of Sur Gallery, Toronto’s first gallery space dedicated to Latin American and diasporic art practices. She is also the co-founder of the non-profit organization Latin American Canadian Art Projects and a PhD candidate in Art History and Visual Culture at York University.


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