The University of Winnipeg



Cultural Studies grad student turns passion into exhibition opportunity

The impression Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk left as an undergrad set her up for success as a grad student

Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk

Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk

It wasn’t the first impression Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk made on Dr. Serena Keshavjee, but it was one that left a lasting impression. Tasked with giving a brief presentation in Keshavjee’s class during her undergraduate studies, Hodges-Kolisnyk, a photographer and lover of the arts, used her time to dissect not just a photograph but explore the history of the medium. It gripped the classroom, students and professor alike.

“It was so good, we just all sat back,” Keshavjee said. “I realized I was learning from her. That was sort of the beginning of me seeing that obviously she’s a fantastic student, she wants to learn – and I love that she was and is a practitioner.”

It just so happened to be a glimpse into Hodges-Kolisnyk’s future, as well. In the midst of her undergraduate studies at The University of Winnipeg, she earned a photography degree, which she put the training to use designing programming for and teaching students of her own. But after more than a decade as an educator, and after completing her undergraduate studies on the side, Hodges-Kolisnyk began to the feel the pull of graduate studies, specifically UWinnipeg’s Master of Arts in Cultural Studies program.

Community curation

As a mature student, the 12-month, course-based program was appealing, as was its Curatorial Practices stream, with its focus on museum studies. (The program also offers a Texts and Cultures stream, which emphasizes theoretically grounded cultural analysis.) That the stream offered Hodges-Kolisnyk ways in which to build upon and diversify her understanding of the ways we learn also attracted her, as did its insight into Indigenous ways of knowing.

“The program was huge for that, and just learning about museum studies and how people engage with art and with culture was a big part of the program,” she said. “I’m taking that back to the learning and engagement side of culture in Manitoba.”

Being able to train individuals to contribute to the museum and gallery sector has long been one of the program’s primary tenets, too. During the program’s inception, UWinnipeg was approached by those within the industry who were seeking graduates who could step seamlessly into the field with both practical and theoretical understanding. And the program’s ability to fill that gap has led to some experiential learning opportunities for its students, not to mention jobs post-graduation.

“We place students in a range of local galleries and museums,” Keshavjee said. “We rely on the expertise of curators from the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Manitoba Museum, as well as Plug In, Gallery 1C03, and more community-oriented venues such as Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art. We talk to students, find out what skills they want to learn, and then send them out into the community to do their placements.”

Opportunity leads to exhibition

But Hodges-Kolisnyk’s experience in the Cultural Studies stream went beyond local museums and the classroom. Around the time she applied for the program, her then-former professor, Keshavjee, had received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant from the federal government which she had earmarked for an exhibition on photographs of ghosts. Keshavjee knew she couldn’t analyze the photographs by herself, however.

“I needed a photo historian,” Keshavjee said. “And that was Sarah.”

Alongside Keshavjee, to whom she was a research assistant, Hodges-Kolisnyk went through the process of recreating an image of a ghost – or discarnate spirit, as it was called by physician and photographer Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton, whose photos are a primary source for Keshavjee. First, Hodges-Kolisnyk searched high and low for the technology and film that was used to take the photographs. Then she and Keshavjee, with the help of student models, recreated the photographs to get a deeper understanding of their original creation. Hodges-Kolisnyk’s participation didn’t end there, however. She’s set to be involved, one way or another, in Keshavjee’s planned exhibition, and is currently looking into creating an augmented reality installation.

As she approaches graduation, Hodges-Kolisnyk can’t say enough about what the bonds she has formed throughout her studies at UWinnipeg have meant.

“It’s been everything,” she said. “Beyond just Serena, a lot of the professors and guest lecturers that I have had the opportunity to work with at the University have just been so supportive and really going above and beyond to help me through the program, to learn about me as an individual, and then guide me forward to continue to develop.”

Applications for the 2022-23 Master of Arts in Cultural Studies intake will be open in early November 2021. The course-based program is offered in two specializations: Texts and Cultures or Curatorial Practices.

For more information about the Cultural Studies program, please visit the departmental website or contact Dr. Bruno Cornellier by email at:

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