Meet Riva

Get to know the WAG’s Head of Collections & Exhibitions and Curator of Canadian Art, Dr. Riva Symko, who started in January.

Riva’s primary areas of research include 20th and 21st-century Western visual culture, North American Indigenous creative practices, Canadian art, copyright law, and the doctrines of fair use/fair dealing. She’s also interested in feminist theory, theories of authenticity and originality, historiography, and decolonization pedagogy and methodology. Learn about what Riva is working on next for your WAG below.

What are you most excited about doing at the WAG?

I have been a big fan of the WAG’s collection and exhibitions for quite a while now having used the WAG’s catalogues and online art search database in my research and teaching quite extensively before coming to Winnipeg. Getting to be part of the curatorial team that makes it all happen is thrilling! I am most looking forward to working with all of the staff at the WAG. In the short time I have been here, they have shown how enthusiastic and dedicated they are to providing representation for communities who have historically been marginalized in the art world, and are not afraid to use art to tackle difficult questions of decolonization, reconciliation, climate change, and health in meaningful and thoughtful ways. I am most interested in finding ways to bring more women artists into the exhibitions at the WAG as well as building more artwork by women into our permanent collection….And I can’t help but add that I am pretty proud to be leading a predominantly female curatorial team at the moment!

Is there an exhibition you’re working on?

I have some (still secret) ideas I will reveal when the time comes! But, in general, I like to produce exhibitions that I would want to see as a visitor. Exhibitions that make connections between historical artworks and the goings-on of our current times. Exhibitions that help (and challenge) us to think about the issues at hand from perspectives we may not have considered before. Exhibitions that give us something to take-away and think about, and perhaps even motivate us to initiate change on. And exhibitions that are downright interesting to look at and spend time in.

Right now I am busy supporting the curators who are working towards some of the exciting exhibitions we have coming up this summer and fall: Kwaata-nihtaawakihkA Hard Birth guest curated by Sherry Farrell Racette and Cathy Mattes, which will reflect the Metis story of Manitoba’s 150, and To Draw Water, curated by Jaimie Isaac which is the Winnipeg Triennial of Indigenous Art featuring artists from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

What is your favourite piece/artist you’ve come across from the WAG collection?

My favourites change on a daily basis, but I can tell you that today my favourite piece is Kelly Mark’s I really should… (2001), which is a standard refrigerator covered with the artist’s felt-marker musings on things she feels like she really should do – from the mundane, like: “I really should pay off my student loan”, “I really should re-patch my walls”, “I really should drink more water”. To the profound: “I really should plan ahead”, “I really should keep in touch”, “I really should clarify my position”. To the downright humorous and absurd: “I really should amass biological weapons”. Things most of us, at one time or another, have probably all thought we really should do too. You can listen to an audio version of this artwork on Mark’s website here.

Strangely enough, while this list of “really shoulds” is, on the surface, hopefully ambitious it is also vaguely regretful. Much of Mark’s work thinks about how the commonplace aspects of everyday life shape the way we perceive ourselves in witty and poignant ways. Those commonplace things tend to take on new significance(s) in times of disruption and crisis. Today, as I am working from home in self-isolation due to the COVID19 virus, I am thinking of all the things I really will do when we are free to roam our cities and gather in groups again.

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One response to “Meet Riva”

  1. Sandra Pettigrew says:

    Perhaps I’ll begin my own list of “really shoulds” to implement once life is back to a healthy normal pace!

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