Three UWinnipeg history (honours) students, who are in the final year of UWinnipeg’s curatorial studies practice program, have jumped on the opportunity to put their theory into practice. Laura Bergen, Sonia Gaiess Somersal, and Adele Ruhdorfer have all contributed to public exhibits in the city.
“The practicum course is designed so students can succeed in the museum/art world,” said Dr. Serena Keshavjee, associate professor, history of art. “We aim to introduce some of the hard skills into the class, but the best way to figure out what you need to complete a job is to actually do it. This year it worked out that these incredibly bright students who have a critical lens had these incredible opportunities.”
Curating public medical history
As long as Bergen can remember, she has been interested in the history of medicine, as well as the aesthetics of curiosity cabinets. Bergen discovered she could combine her interests when she started working at a museum after high school curating medical history exhibits.
This time, Bergen was able to use her past experience and her continued interests to curate a public medical history exhibit at the Health Sciences Centre. She worked with the Health Sciences Centre’s Archives and Museum archivist, Emma Prescott, to create an exhibit that showcases a number of eye-catching anatomical models previously used at the hospital.
“It allowed me to shed light on a unique area of Winnipeg’s past through these previously hidden pieces,” shared Bergen, who is in her fourth year of studies. This exhibit can be seen until the end of March.
Gaiess Somersal has been working with the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) conservator, Vitaliy Yatsevych. In her first week she helped install the Kent Monkman show, Shame and Prejudice. She now works in the conservation lab at the WAG assisting in treatments, and preparing outgoing art piece loans.
She also was given her own project.
“I’m currently working on recreating a missing tail and fin for an Inuit sculpture of a beluga whale.,” said Gaiess Somersal. “Once completed, this piece will be kept for educational purposes.”
Gaiess Somersal is also in her fourth year. She began her studies at the University of Prince Edward Island. Once she completes her BA at UWinnipeg, she plans to pursue the Material Conservation program at Queen’s University.
Curating experiences with disability
Ruhdorfer’s practicum placement is at UWinnipeg‘s Gallery 1C03, with curator Jennifer Gibson as her mentor. Ruhdorfer has been immersed in courses that deal with ableism, and so she invited artists who identify as disabled to the exhibition. The result is Gallery 1Co3’s exhibit, Yearning for Comfort, Not Cure, that ran from January 9 – February 8, 2020. The exhibit featured work by six artists who explore their varied embodied experiences with disability, chronic illness, and madness, which are materialized and given form through the labour-intensive processes of performance, craft-based, and digital media.
UWinnipeg’s curatorial studies practice program gives students an excellent foundation in both the academic and professional aspects of gallery and museum work. The mixture of theoretical and practical courses introduce students to critical issues in the study of visual cultures. The practicum is cross-listed between an honours history degree and a master’s program, which allows undergraduate students like Bergen, Gaiss Somersal, and Ruhdorfer to gain experience and make professional contacts in this field.