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Emelie Chhangur

Toronto, CA

Emelie Chhangur (1977) is an artist and award-winning curator and writer based in Toronto, where she works as the Interim Director/Curator of the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU). Over the past 15 years, she has developed an experimental curatorial practice in close collaboration with artists and innovated in the field of creative art criticism. She is known for her process-based, participatory curatorial practice, the commissioning of complex works across all media, and the creation of long-term collaborative projects performatively staged within and outside the gallery context.  Examples include The Awakening, a three-year multi-faceted participatory performance and “civic ceremony” with Panamanian artist Humberto Vélez, Parkour atheletes and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation (2009-2011) staged at the Art Gallery of Ontario, no.it isopposition., an exhibition and two-year collaboration with Argentinean artist-curator Carla Zaccagnini (2006-2008) that performatively enacted the art work’s operative concepts through exhibition design, Imaginary Homelands, a three-year residency project and exhibition that took place between Bogota and Toronto (2009-2012), and the Centre for Incidental Activisms (CIA), a radical proposition of gallery “in-reach” where participatory, activist, and research-based practices were emphasized over conventional methods of exhibition display (2011, 2014, 2016).

Chhangur is recognized for her innovative, trans-disciplinary projects that bring the local in dialogue with the global through integrative approaches to what she calls “curatorially engaged acts.”For instance, her two-year collaboration with Trinidadian artist Marlon Griffith was a 300-person street procession along University Avenue from Queen’s Park to City Hall (Toronto) that opened the Para Pan Am Games (2013-2015) and brought together the Missississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Capoeira practitioners, Disability dancers, spoken word poets from Jane-Finch, Regent Park and Malvern, Toronto, 52 Division of the Toronto Police, City Hall, and Queen’s Park Legislative Assembly. She is also known for putting Canada on the international map: from 2017-18 she was the commissioner and executive producer of the film RISE, an experimental short film by internationally renowned Brazilian artists Barbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca. Shot on the Toronto Transit Commission’s new Line One Subway extension, the film, which features poets, rappers, and singers from Toronto’s suburbs, was premiered at FRONT International Biennial of American Art, Cleveland and has subsequently been shown at the São Paulo Biennial, Scarborough Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s CONTACT Photography Gallery and upcoming at the Berlinale Film Festival, Berlin.

Since 2004, Chhangur has won over 20 of the Ontario Association of Art Gallery Awards in all major categories: best exhibition, installation and design, art writing, publishing, public programming, and education. In recognition for her innovative and inclusive programming, in 2014, the AGYU was a finalist for the Premiere’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and, in 2016, the gallery was a finalist for the TD Bank/City of Toronto’s Diversity Award. Chhangur’s research and cultural work has been awarded SSHRC Funding, Canada Council for the Arts Grants, and Ontario Arts Council Grants.

Chhangur has published a number of texts, which follow the principles and strategies of the artists she works with such as the hybrid screen play and curatorial text Mechanisms at Play: a genre bending adaptation of Oliver Husain’s Hovering Proxies; a song for the artist collective Fastwürms entitled AGYU Flava: Learning to Play Donky; the relational text/diary Walking into and along-side Diane Borsato’s Walking Studio and a performative text that mimicked the work of Indigenous Blackfoot artist Terrance Houle entitled Indian Givn’r. Her recent publications, Aesthetics of Collaboration, No.it is opposition., and Will Munro: History, Glamour, Magic are distributed by DAP, New York. Other recent publications include: Imaginary HomelandsProvenance UnknownSymbols of Endurance, The body will always bend before it breaks; the tower will always break before it bends, andMigrating the Margins. In addition to books, Chhangur has published reviews in magazines, peer review articles in academic books and journals, as well as contributed to numerous catalogues for art institutions across the country, most recently for Blackwood Gallery, Mississauga and the OR Gallery, Vancouver (2017).

Chhangur has presented papers at a number of international conferences, including the Theorectical Forumat the 11th Havana Biennial (2012), Decolonial AestheticsEnvisioning a Practice: International Symposium on Performing Arts Curation and Encuentro 2014 hosted by the Hemispheric Institute of the Americas, Visiting Mindsin Panama (2013) and she was the keynote speaker for the 2015 ARCCO conference. She is a regular contributor to talks and lectures at York University, in classes, at symposia, and summer institutes, most recently: School of the Arts, Media, Performance, and Design’s New Ways of Thinking and Making Public Art (2017); the Summer Institute in Sexuality Studies (2017);  York University’s City Institute’s Beyond Suburbia Global Sympoisum where she has convened a timely panel that asks: What special circumstances does the suburban locale offer curating at the level of practice and, more importantly, how does this locale’s social and civic particularities challenge curating’s conventions or concerns? Chhangur has participated in a number of artist and curatorial residencies including Onagawa AIR and Kamiyama AIR (Japan) Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño (Colombia), and FOCUS: Institute Français. 

Distinguishing herself as a cultural worker dedicated to questioning the civic function of a contemporary art gallery, Chhangur believes that the contemporary art gallery must serve a social as well as aesthetic function. She is known across the country for her innovative, participatory, and socially engaged programming as well as for developing radical new methodologies for working across cultural, aesthetic, and social differences through a practice she calls gallery “in-reach”—a concept that has since transformed engaged institutional practice in the arts across Canada. 

With a full tuition fellowship from the University of Toronto in 2014-16, Chhangur completed her Masters of Visual Studies, Daniels Faculty of Landscape, Architecture, and Design with high distinction.