by Anna Foschi Ciampolini
Pathways to Modernity: Sculpture from Emily Carr University of Art and Design Alumnae, the latest art exhibition curated by Dr. Angela Clarke of the Centro Museum with Ruth Beer, Department of Sculpture, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, marks the start of a year-long series dedicated to the work and legacy of influential Italian-Canadian sculptor Charles Marega (1871-1939.) The Museum gallery displays four small maquettes including “Christ with Thorns,” “A Horse,” and two larger plaster maquettes of Benedictine monks by Marega, in juxtaposition with the contemporary works of Connie Sabo, Sydney Pickering, Lyndsay McKay, and Debbie Tuepah, four young female artists trained at Emily Carr University.
Charles Marega was born in Lucinico near Gorizia and studied in Italy and Vienna before building a highly successful career in Vancouver where he settled in 1909. He executed public monuments and architectural sculptures for buildings and bridges that are recognized as Canadian landmarks. The two iconic Lions at the entrance of Lions Gate Bridge remain his most famous sculpture. An active promoter of art education, Marega served as the first instructor of sculpture at the Vancouver College of Art (now “Emily Carr”) from 1925 to 1939. He brought European training and sensibilities to the still raw Vancouver art scene and introduced the use of stucco and marble. The exhaustive video complementing the display shows the relevance and lasting impact of this artist’s presence in Vancouver and his contribution to Canadian art.
Marega’s work embodied the spirit and cultural attitudes of his times. It celebrated influential people and important historical events. Contemporary themes, including social justice, feminism, and ecology, emerge instead from the Emily Carr alumni sculptures. The use of non-traditional media brings a striking change, particularly evident in “Sterile Field of Fungal Cultures” by Lindsay McKay, with fungi culled from provincial lands, and in Connie Sabo’s large composition “Information and Impression” in mixed media, including newsprint and papier-mache. Two works by Debbie Tuepah: “Bangladesh Factory Collapse” and “Why Couldn’t You Just Keep Your Legs Together” reflect social dilemmas. The first sculpture shows a twisted, deformed knot of multicoloured acrylic paint threads hanging on a shiny chromed clothes rack, as a stark reminder of how indifferent consumerism exploits underpaid, unprotected labour. Tuepah’s other latex and acrylic paintwork is a crumpled, anguished heap of red, purple, and black suggesting the pain that violence against women causes. Sydney Pickering displays a deer hide and video installation to narrate aspects of the land and Nature. Other media featured in the exhibition include wire, bronze, reclaimed wood, and beeswax. The exhibition is open until September 10, 2021.