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Big partnerships, bigger possibilities

Learn about how the AGO’s Virtual Schools Programs is partnering with MoMA and Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery to teach students virtually about art.

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Image courtesy of iStock

On the heels of last week’s April Break: Spring into Art, and as part of the AGO’s ongoing educational programming, Virtual School Programs has announced partnerships with cultural institutions across Canada and abroad to offer accessible ways to learn about art. “The goal of these partnerships is multifaceted," explains Zavette Quadros-Evangelista, AGO Curatorial Associate, School Programs and Early Learning, “but ultimately, it's centred on supporting the wellbeing of students while expanding how they can experience and be inspired by the arts across disciplines, geographical locations and cultures.” Included among this year’s roster of special guest presenters are The Modern Museum of Art (MoMA), Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery (HKUMAG), the National Ballet of Canada, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Canadian Centre for Architecture. Students from JK to grade 12 are invited to join these interdisciplinary virtual sessions,Monday to Friday of each week, at no cost.

To discover more about what the program has to offer students, AGOinsider spoke to educators from MoMA and HKUMAG about their respective virtual sessions this month. MoMA will dive into their collection to examine two themes: Art and Storytelling, and Art and the Senses. HKUMAG will connect their exhibition Colours of Congo: Patterns, Symbols and Narratives in 20th-Century Congolese Paintings to the AGO’s African art collection and more broadly, art from the African Diaspora. Read on below to get inspired. 

Art and Storytelling/Art and the Senses with MoMA

A chat with Lisa Mazzola, Assistant Director and Larissa Raphael, Associate Educator, School and Teacher Programs at MoMA. 

AGOinsider: Students will explore artwork from MoMA. Which artworks have you selected, and what makes them compelling?

Mazzola and Raphael: We are dedicated to teaching with artworks from MoMA’s collection that have not been shown as regularly as works by other artists. The work by Remedios Varo in Art and Storytelling is a new acquisition from 2019 and is the only painting in our collection by this artist. We feel that by showing these artworks we can present new narratives and alternate perspectives. We also chose artworks that we are drawn to and enjoy teaching with since students pick up on our enthusiasm and genuine interest. That is one of the reasons why we chose to show the work of Ruth Asawa in Art and the Senses since we are drawn to how her work is so closely tied to the natural world.  

AGOinsider: Can you explain what students can expect to learn through the lens of Art in Storytelling and Art and the Senses?

Mazzola and Raphael: Both of these themes (Art and Storytelling and Art and the Senses) present opportunities for students to discover new entry points and ways to engage with visual art. We hope that delving into the stories in the artworks will help them make personal connections to people and narratives in their own lives. Activating the senses can be a powerful way to engage with art and the creative process and can provide the opportunity to explore sensations, which helps build resilience. Both of these are social and emotional skills that are critical for students at this time.

AGOinsider: What lessons do you hope students will take away from this program?

Mazzola and Raphael: We would like the students to leave the program with more tools to explore art on their own or with their friends or family. Hopefully, the students will also feel the sense of joy that comes from connecting to universal ideas that unite us. We want students to walk away with a sense of empowerment, trusting their own abilities to observe and make associations between art and their own lives.

Getting to Know Art of the African Diaspora with the HKUMAG 

A chat with Florian Knothe, Director of the HKUMAG 

AGOinsider: The HKUMAG exhibition Colours of Congo: Patterns, Symbols and Narratives in 20th-Century Congolese Paintings is the focal point of this program. Why is it important for students to learn about the history and art of the African Diaspora?

Knothe: Many important community members in our society are of African origin and thus, it’s important for us to know about their rich and unique culture. Our Congolese Paintings exhibition is an interesting study of a phenomenon that only came about when different cultures met. African and European artists collaborated to create something that did not exist previously. In 1926, a member of the Belgium colonial administration in the Congo started a community workshop and introduced paper and watercolours to Congolese artists who had previously painted houses, carved ivory or woven textiles. Consequently and quickly, Congolese easel paintings became successful as a medium that combined African subject matter with European materials and techniques. Over the following decades, several studios and a remarkable art academy developed, and Congolese paintings were collected throughout Africa and Europe. Today, this understudied art form reminds us of the artistic achievements that originally began with the encounter of different cultures and the successful adoption of styles and materials that combined create this visually stunning art.

AGOinsider: Which artworks from the AGO Collection will be included in this program and why? What can students expect to learn about Congolese art through this connection?

Knothe: The AGO’s Bamana peoples’ Antelope Headdress of the late 19th or early 20th century perfectly corresponds to the iconography of several of the Congolese paintings. The colourful visual representations show antelope (as can be seen in the painting by Kipinde that we discuss in class) as well as masks. Headdresses and masks were, and are still today, used in celebrations and community gatherings. They can be flamboyant or terrifying, and they build a playful connection between human beings and the animal world around them. It is remarkable to many of us city-dwellers that the rural population in Africa lives in harmony with wildlife, hunts and fishes, and sustainably lives with and from nature. Visitors to Africa are often deeply impressed by the beauty of the landscape, the clean air and warm light, and the simplicity of life that many continue to cherish and embrace whenever they can. It is a good reminder to us to live sustainably, treasure nature and to do our utmost to keep our planet clean and stop pollution.

Bamana peoples. Antelope Headdress

Bamana peoples. Antelope Headdress, late 19th-early 20th century. Wood with applied coating, Overall: 60.5 x 5.5 x 16.5 cm. Gift from the Frum Collection, 2001. © Art Gallery of Ontario 2001/102.

AGOinsider: What lessons do you hope students will take away from this program?

Knothe: Students—young and old—learn about the importance of cultural influences and collaborative work. [In other words,] the success of being open-minded and adapting […] something that may seem foreign and strange. When we push our boundaries, broaden our abilities and learn to be more inclusive, we’re able to understand and embrace different cultural phenomena. At first, it was not easy for the Congolese painters to use watercolours and the climate in the Congo was so different from what the European artists knew. Patience and exercise led to a truly extraordinary array of paintings of African wildlife and community activities. Even still today, these artworks are celebrated in the same way, so can our artworks, music performances, sports and academic studies if we put our heart and soul into them and make the best of our abilities.

For what promises to be an interactive exploration of art, click here to register. Stay tuned for sessions with the National Ballet of Canada and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in May and sessions with the Canadian Centre for Architecture in June. 

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