Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Varley Art Gallery of Markham is proud to announce that two of its projects received three Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries (GOG) awards at a ceremony held Nov.28.
Now in its 45th year, the GOG Awards highlight the “importance of Ontario’s public art galleries as essential cultural resources and institutions.” This year’s awards committee received 74 nominations from 22 art galleries located in 17 cities.
“The gallery is extremely proud of these projects. They’re projects that were developed either just before the pandemic or during the pandemic, so everyone worked really hard under less-than-ideal circumstances,” said Anik Glaude, curator of the Varley Art Gallery.
A jury of peers from the art community determines the GOG award winners. This recognition, along with the opportunity to celebrate in person after a COVID-19 hiatus, was meaningful for Glaude and the gallery, given the close ties with other galleries across the country.
The Varley Art Gallery and exhibition team for the Elusive Desires exhibit won the Exhibition Design and Installation award. Exhibition awards are given for “exceptional and original curatorial and artistic achievement, supported by technical excellence in exhibition design and installation,” explains the event program.
Marissa Largo, the exhibit’s curator, won the Curatorial Writing Text Between 2,000 and 5,000 Words award for her essay “Elusive Desires: Queer Feminist Asian Diaspora and Suburban Possibilities,” part of the exhibition catalogue that accompanied the exhibit.
The exhibit was also shortlisted for the Exhibition of the Year, Budget Over $20,000 Thematic award.
Artists Ness Lee (they/she) and Lan Florence Yee (they/theirs) used illustration, painting, installation, embroidery, and sculpture in Elusive Desires to represent their struggles amid familial, cultural, and societal expectations as queer Asian diasporic artists. The exhibit was featured at the gallery from Sept. 2021 to Jan. 2022.
The exhibit sought “to create a space in which the often-obscured subjectivities and intimacies of queer Asian diaspora are brought to the fore in the archive, gallery, and public realm,” explains the exhibit’s website, elusivedesires.com.
Annie Wong and Chen Chen won the Art Publication award for How to be a Chinese Ally. The bilingual Chinese and English digital and print publication was created “in response to the lack of Chinese language anti-racism resources,” writes the Varley Art Gallery Facebook page.
The publication “asks its Chinese readers to consider what it means to be an immigrant settler, how to address anti-Black and anti-Indigenous bias within Chinese communities, and how to challenge the model minority concept and its complicity with white supremacy,” adds the gallery’s comments.
Glaude recently celebrated her 12th anniversary as curator for the Varley Art Gallery. She explained her motivation behind bringing these projects like Elusive Desires and How to be a Chinese Ally to the gallery.
“We have a goal that every Markhamite visit the gallery at least once, and part of that is the Chinese communities that live in Markham. Over the course of the last few years, we’ve really explored that. We’ve invited artists from various backgrounds and from various communities across Canada to talk about their experiences,” she said.
Glaude aims to offer a wide range of projects for visitors to enjoy, with exhibitions changed three times a year, in January, May, and September
“What I try to do as a curator is offer a wide range of projects. From show to show, you might see something completely different. There’s a bit of everything for everyone.”
Glaude also hopes to enrich and enlighten the community by selecting exhibits from artists who “really talk about what is happening today,” which can mean working with artists “who are critical – sometimes of society.”
After reading some of Largo’s articles, Glaude recognized the potential for one such project and asked Largo to pitch an exhibit concept which resulted in the Elusive Desires project.
“We developed a beautiful and meaningful exhibition with artists who were queer and also part of the Chinese diaspora community,” explained Glaude, who worked behind the scenes as the coordinator for Elusive Desires in collaboration with Largo as the exhibit’s curator.
“For (the gallery), it was really important because we hadn’t really had a queer exhibition, so that was really exciting,” she said. Also exciting was that Largo received grant funding from the Ontario Arts Council ($25,000) and Canada Council for the Arts ($27,000).
Photo: Elusive Desires, installation view, Varley Art Gallery of Markham, 2021, photographer Toni Hafkenscheid.