Originally published in The Brock News on WEDNESDAY, MARCH 03, 2021 | by Gillian Minaker
Caption: Suzanne Morrissette has joined the Department of Visual Arts at Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, where she is teaching Studio Art. (Photo courtesy of Red Works Photography)
First and foremost, Suzanne Morrissette is an Indigenous artist. Métis by way of the Red River Valley and Interlake regions in Winnipeg, Man., the artist, curator and scholar is a transplant to the territories of southern Ontario.
She vividly remembers the work of Indigenous artists on the walls of her childhood home and in her father’s office space, as well as the murals on buildings in her community.
“Growing up and being surrounded by this creativity was an exciting part of my everyday experience,” Morrissette says.
She always knew that working in the arts is where she would land professionally.
Working across disciplines in Indigenous and curatorial studies, Morrissette is the newest member of Brock’s Visual Arts Department, teaching Studio Art at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA). A trained artist, she holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, a master’s degree in Criticism and Curatorial Practice from OCAD University, and a PhD in Social and Political Thought from York University.
Morrissette has worked extensively in the field with Indigenous artists curating diverse shows with focuses ranging from perceptions of Indigenous political thought to relationships between land and place.
As a studio-based artist and scholar, Morrissette is deeply engaged in research creation, committed to exploring how creative work can be used to find solutions to research questions or problems. Her identity as an Indigenous artist and curator has a lot to do with the type of research she is involved with, and also shapes the way she participates in projects.
Engaging with Indigenous methodologies, histories and knowledge systems will be critical to her teaching and continued research work that she now brings to the Brock community.
“At Brock, I see a great opportunity to continue the research and work that I am doing alongside colleagues who share a commitment to rigorous visual arts and studio arts-based research, and in a strong program and facility that is incredible for student research and work,” she says.
Morrissette is currently working on a project close to her heart and personal history, a research study with collaborators Richard Hill of Emily Carr University of Art + Design and Jamie Isaac of the Winnipeg Art Gallery entitled “Social Histories / Indigenous Art: Curating Social Work’s Influence on Winnipeg’s Indigenous Art of the ’80s and ’90s.”
The project examines the relationship between the early developments of Indigenous social work that were taking place in Winnipeg in the ’80s and ’90s, and how these efforts supported concurrent developments in Indigenous arts.
Even though it wasn’t necessarily in the mandate for these organizations, they supported the arts and creative practice in the community, Morrissette says.
“My father and uncle were two of the people really involved in growing Indigenous social work capacity,” she says. “Our research team wants to learn about how this unstated but nonetheless important support of the arts came to be at that time.”
In addition to work on the study, Morrissette is currently taking part in an exhibition out of Kingston’s Agnes Etherington Gallery featuring Métis artists, and is involved in ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art, a new initiative reflecting the city’s renewed commitment to public art.
While she uses different mediums in her studio practice, Morrissette has recently been working with video and image projection in conjunction with audio recordings to create interactive experiences. As part of ArtworxTO, she aims to take over the walls and facades of Toronto’s trendy Junction neighbourhood at night throughout 2021.
Ultimately, the motivation for Morrissette’s research and creative practice is born of her work as a Métis curator and artist.
“I am working to address concerns that not only interest me and make me curious, but also to understand how I can contribute to healthier Indigenous communities in the future,” she says.
She plans to develop a course at Brock over the next few years centred on Indigenous representation that will enrich the educational experience for all students at the MIWSFPA.
“Issues of representation for Indigenous people are very important considerations for anyone with a creative practice, in any genre,” she says.
Morrissette is strategizing long term with her goals at Brock, acknowledging the history of the University and ongoing moves toward Indigenization.
“I bring a speciality in Indigenous art and I am mindful of the work done before my arrival. I am excited to learn what have my colleagues been working towards, who are the students, and how I can support Brock in its commitment to inclusivity and decolonization through my teaching and research practices.”