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Artists About Town: Art school through COVID earns personal triumphs

MacEwan art students win in grad show while as VASA lines up new online exhibit

For many reasons, art is a decidedly intimate and hands-on enterprise, requiring proximity with instructors, fellow students, and galleries in many cases, and involves investigating one’s own psyche more than one might have originally suspected.

In short, it’s tough being an artist but even tougher becoming one in the first place.

Now throw a pandemic on top of your studies and see what kind of art comes out of it. That’s the big draw for the MacEwan University 2021 Fine Art Grad Show now on virtual display through the institution’s John and Maggie Mitchell Art Gallery.

For St. Albert-raised art grads Aminata Bah and Kirsten Sorensen, the show is not just a celebration for a degree well-earned and a cap on what might have been the most challenging fine arts program ever offered. It’s also perhaps a most deserving entrée into their futures as practicing professional artists.

“I think, before this program, art wasn't really about what I was feeling, what I was experiencing. It was just, ‘Okay, let's get a mark, let's get some praise from an art teacher or my parents,’” Sorensen began. “This program really taught me to make art for myself, for what I'm going through and the experiences around me. I just have this new relationship to it, so it's difficult not to go into the heavy stuff.”

Heavy stuff seems to be Sorensen’s oeuvre. For the show, she has a painting called Monumental Construction, the image of which centres around a tank on a trophy stand across a barren wasteland where strangely human-looking army green appendages stretch out under a cloud-filled sky.

Her monumental commentary stems from a Morinville plan to install a public monument of an LAV III military vehicle made out of demilitarized parts that would pay tribute to the service of the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. The artist began the work out of frustration with the installation’s design but then realized her main issue was with what it represented.

“I found this really big disconnect between the idea of seeing a military vehicle just sitting on a cement platform, and the people it's supposed to be representing. There's lots of these monuments across Canada that are planned, and they all look the same, and it doesn't really point towards the people. This painting was showing how that monument is just not pointing towards the people. I wanted it to be this big trophy that was crushing the representation of Canadian soldiers that it’s supposed to represent.”

Otherwise, Sorensen has concentrated on creating video art that delves into the pandemic's effect on her daily routines, especially her habits and dependencies on food, technology and pharmaceuticals while struggling for other stimuli.

Bah’s video contribution is also very personal: the artist and her mother bonding together while doing some traditional home cooking. Coming from Senegal means adapting to Western culture in many ways, and cuisine is one of the big ones. There just isn’t enough time to cook the Senegalese way. You can still cook the food, as long as you do it faster.

That’s why the artist strove to capture some cooking time with her mother: working together in the kitchen and asking her questions about her life and how she has found things to be different in Canada. Her mother took on a job but still had to raise her children, cook and doing everything else for the family with a much busier schedule.

The film, entitled Home Cooking Style, could serve as a precious way of preserving a tender family memory but here, it serves as a view into another world. It’s only 11 minutes long, which could be another commentary on how life in this country has sped up her clock.

“It was nice. I loved it because I was learning more about my culture, since it's been a while since we come back home. Having food represent that in a way and showing all the good, happy memories that you can bond with really brought us closer in the kitchen. The kitchen isn't always a place where we get tired and just quickly slap some stuff together. It's also a time where we take the time to come together and help out each other,” Bah explained.

Joining Bah and Sorensen in the exhibit are new fine arts grads Nicole Balaberda, Dana Belcourt, Isabella Camerino, Elizabeth Carr, Jayce Desjarlais, Max Elwood, Charlie Fairbother, Hannah Ferguson, Autumn Fjeldberg, Mackenzie Fragoso, Rebecca Klotz, Taylor McConaghy, Gwynne McMaster, Amy Munoz Morales, Mark Perez, Maddison Post, Gracie Safranovich, Ana Smith, and Jasmine Valdepenas. To view the work, visit It will be on display until May 15.

New VASA exhibit online day by day

May is going to be 31 days of fresh art on the computer screen. The member artists of the Visual Arts Studio Association are offering their spring exhibition on social media, with a fresh entry every 24 hours. Visit to catch the show.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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