For the past year, Emma Hassencahl-Perley of Tobique First Nation has been working as an Emerging Curator at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB. Emma began her work through JEDI’s Indigenous Internship Program (IIP) which provides recent university graduates with the opportunity to gain meaningful experience in the workforce.
Emma holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) with a concentration in painting and printmaking from Mount Allison University. After receiving her BFA in 2017, Emma worked as Mount Allison’s Indigenous Affairs Coordinator. “It was a really rewarding job,” said Emma. “I had the opportunity to work closely with students, faculty and staff. But the job just didn’t really nurture my creative side.”
Emma found out about the Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s Emerging Curator position through Mawi’art: Wabanaki Artist Collective where she is a board member, “I never thought about [working in] curation until another board member encouraged me to apply.”
After interviewing Emma, the Art Gallery was so eager to work with her that they approached JEDI to see if we could assist with the position; fortunately, JEDI’s IIP Program was established to do just that – offer support to post-graduates in a field related to their studies.
Since beginning her internship, Emma has been presented with several opportunities. She has curated: Everything’s Gonna Be Fine: 50th anniversary of the New Brunswick Art Bank (alongside two other emerging curators, Emilie Grace Lavoie and Erin Goodine), Percy Sacobie: Wolastoqey Storyteller, and Carl Beam: one who is brave hearted – all of which have been and will be featured at the Beaverbook Art Gallery. Independent from her work at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Emma will curate the exhibition that coincides with the Petapan Indigenous Art Symposium which is being held in St. Johns, Newfoundland.
But that’s not all, Emma has also begun a casual teaching position at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design (NBCCD). She teaches one class titled “Designing Bodies” in the Aboriginal Visual Arts Program – the course explores topics such as cross-cultural body modifications, tattooing, scarification and piercing. “I love it. I’m hoping that I eventually get [to teach] more courses. I would love to continue teaching in some capacity.”
Emma says that the best part about her time at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is working with her colleagues. “It’s kind of rare that you find people that you work so well with – I feel very fortunate. We’re very respective of each other’s time, ideas and opinions - even if our views conflict we always manage to work it out.”
She also says that the training and mentorship she’s received has been invaluable. “I work under the supervision of Manager of Exhibitions and Collections, John Leroux. He oversees all of my research and writing. He challenges me [and at the time of the Art Bank show, ‘us’] to think critically about everything we tackle.”
Emma’s talents have taken her far beyond New Brunswick. She recently attended the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City alongside a group of Wabanaki youth – her ability to see the world through an artistic lens provides her with a unique perspective in her advocacy work for Indigenous issues.
When asked about her hopes for the future, Emma says “I hope to keep taking on more collaborations, to keep up my personal practice, and I’d love to continue to teach in some capacity. I’d also like to continue my work with Mawi’art.” Additionally, Emma, alongside the two other Emerging Curators, have also moved forward with creating a collective that they’re calling the 3E Collective. “We’re hoping to keep working together after this program is over, to apply for more funding for shows, and to keep writing books together. I never expected that this would come out of this project.”