When I first had Meera as an instructor at OCAD U, she was teaching a “Reconsidering Documentary Photography” course in my third year. I was looking for direction within my own artistic practice, which is rooted in documentary practices, and I needed a course that would – for lack of a better phrase – kick my butt. This course quite literally changed my view of documentary practices, ethics, aesthetics and foundations. As anyone who has had Meera as an instructor would know, she will push you into spaces you couldn’t conceive of. She won’t let you off the hook, and in the end you will end up with work that you didn’t know you could create.
In this series of Faculty Spotlights, we chat with Meera Margaret Singh about her practice and her approach to being an artist, an educator and how those two collide.
How would you describe your art practice?
My lens-based art practice (photography and video) has always revolved around a negotiation and exploration of intimacy and displacement. This has predominantly been examined through individuals and their landcape, be that physical or psychological. I often construct and examine various relationships between body and environment, while further exploring the suspended space that exists between the real and the fabricated, the historical and the contemporary.
As a mixed-race Canadian of South-Asian descent, I am negotiating identity as shifting and malleable through both my daily life and my artistic practice. I have created numerous works that attempt to reconcile ideas of ‘home’ in both space and body by exploring ideas of displacement; often as physical or gestural manifestations that serve as metaphors for cultural displacement.
Of key importance to me while presenting my work is creating an intimate, minimalist and accessible space; one that is not as didactic as it is an invitation for diverse viewers to question what is happening in each work and to allow the space for them to insert their own experience.
What is your favourite course or theme/topic to teach?
I really love teaching studio/seminar courses that allow for discussion about photography and representation, power dynamics at play in the relationships between subject/photographer, the complexities of the gaze, and feminism/intersectionality and its relationship to the lens. Courses like “Reconsidering Documentary Photography”, “Contemporary Issues”, “Current Practice” are wonderful for allowing for these discussions. I’ve been teaching INTAC (International Art Collaboration) with Peter Sramek for 4 years now and I adore teaching this class, as it takes a specific student to be interested in collaborative work and cross-cultural experience. It’s a very special space for learning. I am also teaching Colour Photography this semester which is so rewarding, as I get to share and witness the magic of the colour darkroom with students who are using it for the first time.
How does teaching arts affect how you approach your own art practice?
Being in a teaching environment where people are dedicated to sharing their diverse perspectives and experiences as expressed through their art definitely inspires both my teaching and my art practice. The classroom is a unique space where everyone makes themselves vulnerable in some capacity: professors and students alike. I always feel it’s a very privileged space to occupy: one where a group of individuals can discuss intention and output, particularly when most other disciplines focus solely on output. This dialogue and expression of intention is really profound for me. While actively listening to students describe their intentions, I am constantly checking in with myself about my own.
My work is also deeply connected to my interest in human experience and various levels of intimacy. I work closely with people/communities in my practice. This isn’t dissimilar to the classroom: creating safe and generative spaces for art to connect diverse individuals or communities.
What do you think is valuable about having a fine arts focused education?
I came to Fine Art in a very unplanned way after completing a degree in Anthropology. I actually aspired to be an archaeologist. When I was introduced to photography, I never imagined the need for more schooling. While I did learn a lot of technique independently, I quickly realized that I needed a community around me to grow: for critique, community, support and critical dialogue. Once I made the decision to return to school, my professors really encouraged the need for using art (and, specifically, photography) as a means of transforming and communicating one’s experience and ideas. I can’t speak for everyone (because a formal fine arts education is not for everyone), but I can say that a fine arts education improved my problem solving skills, assisted me in editing my words and ideas to clarify meaning, granted me permission to dig deeper and further inside of myself. It introduced me to mentors I am forever grateful for. It provided me with a stronger sense of community and a space to figure out where I fit in in terms of theoretical/critical/historical/contemporary photographic frameworks. It also granted me the structure I truly rely upon to create my work.
Meera Margaret Singh is a visual artist based in Toronto, Canada. She holds a BA in Anthropology, a BFA in Photography from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in Canada and an MFA from Concordia University, Montreal in Canada. Singh has been the recipient of numerous residencies and awards, most notably several Canada Council for the Arts production/creation grants, an Ontario Arts Council mid-career grant, and a Toronto Arts Council visual arts grant. She has been a selected artist at the Banff Centre for the Arts; artist-in-residence at The Art Gallery of Ontario; artist-in-residence at 1Shanti Rd in Bangalore, India; artist-in-residence at JACA Residency, Brazil; selected artist in an international residency with German photographer Thomas Struth at the Atlantic Centre for the Arts, Florida; scholarship winner and participant in the Magnum Workshop with photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti; visiting artist/instructor at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India; McCain Artist-in-Residence at the OCAD University, Toronto. She has exhibited widely in group and solo exhibitions throughout Canada and internationally. She is currently an Assistant Professor at OCAD University.
Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams
Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on photography basics, intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.