About Ilene Sova

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Ilene Sova is an Artist Educator with Afro-Caribbean Mixed Race, Seminole Indigenous and settler ancestry, who lives with a disability. As such, she passionately identifies with the tenets of intersectional feminism and has dedicated her career to art and activism. Ilene Sova is the founder of the Feminist Art Conference and Blank Canvases, an in-school creative arts programme for elementary school students. Sova is the Ada Slaight Chair of Contemporary Drawing and Painting in the Faculty of Art at OCADU University and her atelier, at Walnut Studios.

She holds an honours BFA from the University of Ottawa in Painting and an MFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Windsor. With extensive solo and group exhibitions in Canada and abroad, Sova’s work has most notably been shown at Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art, the Department of Canadian Heritage, and Mutuo Centro de Arte in Barcelona. Her exhibit, Missing Women Project, garnered much attention around issues of violence against women in our local communities. Sova’s work has been featured on television, the internet, and in print media with features in Metro, Toronto Star, CBC Radio, CTV Canada AM and The Toronto Standard. Sova was invited by two Members of Parliament to bring her work to Ottawa for a national Women’s Forum on Feminism and the state of women’s rights.

Sova’s work was featured in the Journal of Psychology and Counselling, the Nigerian Arts Journal, Tabula and the Italian feminist journal, Woman’O’Clock. A passionate public speaker, Sova was chosen to speak at the first TEDxWomen event in Toronto, where she presented a critical analysis of the Missing Women Project and Southern University New York where she gave an all University Lecture on Art and Social Change. Most recently, Sova has been invited to deliver the Arthur C. Danto Memorial Keynote Lecture at the 76th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics (ASA) in October 2018.

PROFESSIONAL PROFILE

Ilene’s painting practice focuses on social change with a feminist focus on creating a dialogue around anti-oppression. She is also heavily involved in the areas of arts advocacy, community activation, and promoting pluralism in the arts. In particular, Ilene was hired by both Harbourfront Centre and the Art Gallery of Ontario to implement extensive training in diversity and inclusion practices. This work was incorporated into the development, implementation, and delivery of their arts curricula. It is because of this work, recently, that she was invited to sit on the board of Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario.

Additionally, Ilene’s professional experiences include seeking areas of strategic external partnerships and organizational leadership. Alongside this work, her active participation in the Toronto art community contributes deeply to her teaching practice, as well as her abilities to communicate best practices in the areas of art and social change to students and colleagues. In the studio and traditional classroom environment, Ilene has consistently used alternative learning modes to develop a pluralistic, anticolonial, student-centred, process-based instruction, focused on encouragement, community building, and constructive feedback.

In studio practice, Ilene paints large-scale portraits of women, which provoke discussion about social change. She is interested in creating images that initiate a debate and are meant to provoke a shift in perspectives about the women in the viewers’ lives as well as toward women generally. In so doing, Ilene pursues narratives that focus on the aspects of women’s lives where inequality and systemic oppression exist. These narratives aim to metaphorically illuminate what is hidden or not openly spoken about; including partner violence, sexual violence, racism, and social importance.

Ilene’s recent portrait series, The Missing Women Project, received the attention of the popular press and initiated a more expansive discussion regarding violence against women. This project also led to consultation between Ilene and the policy advisor to the Minister for Women and Youth Services for the Province of Ontario on their Women’s Rights policy strategy. New curriculum policy was generated out of this activity and demonstrated how art can be a vehicle for social change.

In 2012, Ilene launched and coordinated the Toronto Feminist Art Conference (FAC). In March 2014, September 2015, and January 2017, FAC entered into a hosting partnership with OCADU, thus greatly expanding capacity for attendance consistently engaging over 500 participants in the conference’s programming. This two-week event consisted of panels of international artists representing current issues in social justice, and a complimentary and sizeable multi-disciplinary exhibit including photography, drawing, sculpture, painting, comic book arts, installation, contemporary dance, and spoken word. The conference is committed to providing a platform for diverse voices with the conferences opening with a prayer by Indigenous elders and as conference participants and keynote speaker. Also, since 2014, FAC has also been invited by Toronto Artscape to facilitate an annual two-week international feminist art residency on Toronto Island at Gibraltar Point, which attracts participants from all over the globe. Ilene has been leading this residency since its inception.

In addition to these professional and community activities, Ilene served as the Artistic Director of Walnut Studios, a multi-disciplinary artist collective providing affordable downtown open workspace for over fifty artists. Her responsibilities include studio management, programming and building community partnerships, leading committee meetings and programming the space with artistic projects for art-engaged Torontonians and the artists who make Walnut their primary studio. This also included starting a large in-school program called Blank Canvases, which functions to place artist educators in classrooms to teach children about local Toronto artists of note. This program has been endorsed with an official partnership by both the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Both institutions have hired Blank Canvases to deliver teacher training for their staff to be more effective in the delivery of their art curriculums. Administering this program, Ilene also works closely with students through the Department of Experiential Learning at OCAD University, Humber College, Queen’s University, and the Academic Internships Council.

During her graduate studies at Windsor University, Ilene served as Vice President of University Affairs, for the Graduate Student’s Society. As such, she gained first-hand experience and knowledge of procedures in sitting on faculty council, university senate, and hiring committees. While serving in this role she was advocating for social justice and human rights within the post-secondary institutional framework.