The yearlong project in the foyer of the iconic Victoria College Building where the portraits of former presidents and principals are displayed was launched on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, September 2023. A frame with educational information was hung in the place where a portrait of Egerton Ryerson, one of Victoria University’s founders, was displayed prior to 2021. Reflections on Art & History at Victoria University will feature art takeovers in the space by Indigenous and Black student artists throughout the year. The project was conceived of in collaboration with Victoria University’s Indigenous Advisory Circle, which is comprised of Indigenous community leaders, students, faculty and staff.
“When I became the first Black woman to lead a university in Canada, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on what this milestone meant both to me personally and to the university. Walking through the foyer of Old Vic, greeted by the faces of revered former presidents and principals was a reminder of the talent and vision that came before me, but also of the stark lack of diversity. I hope that Reflections on Art & History at Victoria University will be a catalyst for deeper dialogue that can cut through polarization so that we can learn from one another,” says Rhonda N. McEwen, president and vice-chancellor.
“Inviting Indigenous and Black students to display their art in the same space as portraits that reflect Victoria University’s history is an exciting way to celebrate progress, but also an important reminder that there is still so much work to do to ensure all voices, perspectives, histories and cultures are embedded within the University,” says Shane Joy, president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), and member of the Indigenous Advisory Circle.
Victoria University will decide how to approach the portrait of Egerton Ryerson in April 2024, following the yearlong discussion and learning generated from Reflections on Art & History at Victoria University.
“Instead of hiding our history, we are choosing to have a dialogue with it. Students, faculty, librarians, staff and community members are invited to learn, challenge and consider how we present and engage with our history,” says President McEwen.