Organization of Kingston Women Artists
visual artists

Event Blog

Jane Derby, left, co-curator of the Organization of Kingston Women Artists’ exhibition ”A Sense of Place,” stands with one panel from her mixed media piece while Maggie Sutherland works on her piece "The Day They Took the Herd." (Julia McKay/The Whig-Standard)

Kingston artists find 'A Sense of Place' By Peter Hendra, Kingston Whig-Standard, Wednesday, March 23, 2016

After artist JT Winik moved into her Swamp Ward home in 1998, she would often arrive home and find the same female prostitute standing near her house under the blinking red traffic signal. “It was culturally diverse and also demographically diverse,” Winik said of her neighbourhood back then. You had a lot of artists, a few upwardly mobile people, and you had a great deal of very stray people, people who live on the edges, I would say.” A couple of years later, though, the prostitutes vanished from ‘Rag ‘n’ Bag’ (the intersection of Raglan Road and Bagot Street).

“One wonders what we do with these marginalized people, where they go, and where they’re forced to go, especially with sex workers,” said Winik. So, when she was asked to create a piece for the Organization of Kingston Women Artists’ new exhibition, “A Sense of Place” — which opens Friday at the Pump House Steam Museum — she thought of that young prostitute, who is the focal point of her oil painting “The Girl on the Corner.”

“It was something that came to my mind in terms of looking at one specific corner I knew a lot about and seeing how it had transformed,” she explained. “The Swamp Ward, in general, has transformed over the years.” Gentrification has crept in, and the area is now home to young professionals and their families, as well as artists and writers. The transformation of Swamp Ward is but one of several changes that have taken place in Kingston over the years.

Jane Derby is the co-curator, along with Mieke Van Geest, of the juried exhibition.

“I grew up in Kingston, and I really like the idea of having a show where the individual artist looks at Kingston from their own viewpoint to see what they would come up with,” said Derby, who, for her piece, re-created a rockface found in the former Pittsburgh Township out of recycled metal. “Of course, all of them are totally different. Some of them are landscapes, some of them have a more social viewpoint — but they’re all unique and idiosyncratic.”

The paintings of artist Maggie Sutherland, whose nude portrait of former prime minister Stephen Harper grabbed national headlines a few years ago, often contain some sort of social commentary. Her submission for the OKWA show, “The Day They Took the Herd,” chronicles the closure of local prison farms. “It stuck in my mind,” she said. “That was five years ago, and I finally did something. It’s ironic that it’s taken me so long that the cows may actually be coming back now.”

While she took part in some of the earlier protests, she was out of town when the cows were actually taken away. A friend of hers, a retired teacher, was there and she was struck by how things soon turned confrontational. That, Sutherland said, was reflective of the national mood at the time.

"Kingston is a dichotomy. On one side we’re very conservative,” she said, “and on the other side we do have people who are willing to become very socially involved and go as far as being arrested.”

For Marney McDiarmid, who has a master’s degree in history, the area’s rich history sometimes inspires her work. Her submission, a ceramic box titled “There Are A Lot of Things I Do Not Know,” is intended to question the history of First Nations people in the area. A friend of McDiarmid’s who’s an archivist found a deed for the sale of Rabbit Island in the Thousand Islands. The proceeds from the sale to a private buyer were supposed to go to the indigenous people.

“I also went to a talk and there was an arts group, an aboriginal arts group, that was presenting and part way through that talk I realized how little I know, and a lot of people know, about the history of indigenous people in this area,” she recalled about the inspiration for her piece. “Going to that talk, combined with seeing the deed, it just raised a lot of questions for me.”

While Hanna Back doesn’t live in the city but to the north of it since 1979, her piece, “It Could Happen Here,” a spiral comprised of 140 pieces of paper porcelain, paper and wood, is meant to symbolize Kingston’s potential. “I have seen Kingston grow over the past 35 years and have seen tremendous changes,” she said. Kingston’s downtown has potential for tourism and small businesses, but she doesn’t feel it’s being supported the way it could be.One thing that concerns her is the lack of a public gallery downtown. She would like to see the creation of one that would be free of charge, inside a space already owned by the city, perhaps somewhere inside City Hall. She would like to see the creation of a public gallery, one that would be free of charge, inside a space already owned by the city, perhaps somewhere inside City Hall.

Like Back, Derby is concerned about the city’s downtown core, specifically the towering housing projects being proposed. The one proposed for Princess Street between Sydenham and Montreal streets, in particular, concerns her esthetically. “Ugliness is not a criteria for making decisions,” she suggested, “but I think it should be.” Artists, she feels, notice things, mostly visual ones, that the general public might overlook, and that the exhibition offers a unique perspective.

“I thought that it would be good for the community to appreciate and question and criticize,” she concluded, “the way Kingston has evolved.”

The Organization of Kingston Women Artists presents “A Sense of Place,” featuring the work of 26 artists in the Pump House Steam Museum. The exhibition runs from April 1-23.