Graduates at Brandon University receive more than a degree when they walk across the stage at Convocation — they are also presented with a unique piece of commemorative art.
“This is one of our newest Convocation traditions, and quickly becoming one of our most cherished,” said Andrea McDaniel, the University Registrar, whose office oversees Convocation. “It was inspired in 2020 when we wanted to offer something tangibly meaningful at a time we were required to celebrate virtually. The art received such a heartwarming response from grads that we knew we wanted to do it every year.”
The art, commissioned annually by the university, is intended to be reminiscent in some way of the previous year at Brandon University. As one of the most dramatic additions to campus during the 2022–23 year was the installation of the soaring “Healing Together” Reconciliation sculpture across from the Healthy Living Centre, home of Convocation, BU turned to sculptor Kevin McKenzie — also an instructor in BU’s IshKaabatens Waasa Gaa Inaabateg Department of Visual Art — to help find a student who could capture an interpretation of the piece.
Artist Kaelin Grill’s piece this year depicts a Mother Earth type figure who is sewing a tear in their dress that fades into a river. Like the sculpture, which reminds many viewers of sewing a ripped seam, this piece highlights the process of Reconciliation, of repairing broken ties. It also echoes crafting practices like kintsugi and sashiko, which are about how the time and care to fix something make it more valuable while emphasizing previous breakages.
Grill is a current student of McKenzie’s, and although the final artwork is dramatically different, the piece itself is directly influenced by the sculpture. Grill said being able to discuss some ideas with the sculptor himself was helpful — but not too many ideas.
“Things can get lost when there are too many other people’s ideas,” they said. “There wasn’t any particular pressure. We work in a different medium, and have a different art style.”
A warm colour palette in Grill’s piece draws inspiration from the Prairie landscape, while the shape of the river recalls the void in the sculpture itself. Meanwhile, the braided hair of the sewing figure is an element that recalls Mamaawii-atooshke aakihkiwiin, the Brandon University Strategic Plan, where a braid is the central image. The prints also include a gold foil layer that catches the light at certain angles.
Aside from creating the art, the commissioning process was a learning experience for Grill as well.
“It feels cool,” they said about their first paid commission. “I’ve never been formally taught to go through that.”
Now, Grill is focusing on completing their degree in Gender and Women’s Studies, with a minor in drawing. They hope to pursue further education, possibly librarianship, and also to continue with art.
“It’s important to show a lot of diversity in art, to see people like myself represented, and to bring in topics for everyone,” they said. “Art can be easier to consume as a medium.”
Like the art commission tradition, Grill themself became part of BU thanks in part to pandemic restrictions. Although they grew up just outside of Brandon and attended Brandon schools, they’d originally chosen an art school in Alberta for post-secondary. Remote learning in 2020 didn’t live up to their expectations, however, so they switched to BU.
“It’s nice going to school here, with friends and family,” they said.
Some digital elements remain, however. The piece was created using traditional painting techniques, but in a fully digital environment, with a stylus and tablet instead of a brush and canvas.
Previous Convocation art commissions have included a print of the Brandon University campus by famed plein air painter and BU alumnus Weiming Zhao, a piece of art that represented graduates breaking free from video calling apps by noted comics illustrator and BU employee, Curt Shoultz, and a transition watercolour of the Kavanagh Courtyard, representing an easing of pandemic restrictions, by lifelong Brandon resident Grace Buitenhuis.
As the annual art presentation continues, the university is creating an important collection of original artwork that reflects each year at BU, and is actively looking for the right place to proudly display it permanently.
- Brandon University
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