"  The Ph.D. program in Contemporary Arts piqued my interest because of its multidisciplinary approach and its emphasis on utilising multi-modal contexts to disseminate art and research. Moreover, the combination of art and technology in one academic department motivated me to choose SFU. "

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Edward Sembatya

January 08, 2024

Contemporary Arts doctoral student in the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology

Tell us a little about yourself, including what inspires you to learn and continue in your chosen field

I am a versatile artist and ambitious academic from Uganda, possessing expertise in various fields such as dance performance, choreography, and drumming, particularly in the knowledge of Ugandan drums. I am currently pursuing a practice-based doctorate in contemporary arts with a specialization in dance at the Vancouver Campus of Simon Fraser University (SFU). I received my master's degree from Choreomundus, a program offered by a consortium of four universities: NTNU (Norway), Roehampton (UK), Szeged (Hungary), and Clermont Auvergne (France). I derive significant influence for my research and artistic creations from the contemporary aspects of daily life and the abundant wisdom and expertise inherent in traditional African dances (specifically Ugandan), music, and folklore. I have expertise in both African (Uganda) Indigenous and Western dance epistemologies. Hence, in my creative process, I derive pleasure from crafting dialogues between African and Western dance techniques. Consequently, I have a strong passion for combining dance, music, and storytelling as a means to promote positive transformations in communities. The ardor I possess for dance and the arts at large propels me on this path of artistic and research innovation.

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

The Ph.D. program in Contemporary Arts piqued my interest because of its multidisciplinary approach and its emphasis on utilising multi-modal contexts to disseminate art and research. Moreover, the combination of art and technology in one academic department motivated me to choose SFU. Moreover, the number of colleges that provide a practice-based Ph.D. degree is quite limited, and SFU is one of them. Due to its scarcity, I aim to improve my artistic abilities by utilizing advanced technological instruments.

How would you describe your research or your program to a family member?

I inform them that the primary focus of my research is on the teaching, learning, and performance of African Indigenous dances (Uganda, to be specific) in environments and locations that are distinct from their original settings. Precisely, the research aims to examine what becomes of the inherent skills and embodied knowledge content of traditions, narratives, and community-specific practices when they are embodied beyond their places of origin. Furthermore, it also explores what happens when these forms are recontextualized into contemporary theatrical dance performances with different conceptual and aesthetic objectives. The project also aims to investigate and create educational and creative tools that will contribute to the improvement of the teaching and learning of dance skills and socio-historical knowledge. As such, my areas of interest are: dance as intangible cultural heritage (ICH), cultural appropriation, dance and activism, contemporary dance, dance diversification and decolonization, interculturalism, and dance identity and ownership.

What three (3) keywords would you use to describe your research?

Indigenous-Contemporary, Knowledge, Art

How have your courses, RA-ships, TA-ships, or non-academic school experiences contributed to your academic and/or professional development?

I am deeply grateful for all the RA's, TA’s, and SI's I have been offered each semester. With regards to sessional teaching, I was presented with the opportunity to instruct CA 120 Introduction to Dance Forms: Contemporary and Popular CA. This course attracts students from diverse academic backgrounds and at various levels of their education. By engaging in practical exercises, theoretical analysis, and fruitful discussions, we explored highly captivating subjects that greatly enriched my research. During my teaching of practical classes, I successfully developed dance teaching tools, specifically the multi-movement learning approach and participatory learning approaches. The former approach acknowledges students’ diverse strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. It also offers adaptability in terms of material, process, and approach to meet the specific needs of each student. Whereas the later makes individuals feel valued, empowered, and included in the teaching and learning processes regardless of their experience in the subject matter. Through the research assistantships, I was offered the opportunity to travel to different places, such as Victoria, to present on a panel during the Mapping Black Creativity in the Arts, Sciences, Technology, and Business panel presentation at the University of Victoria (2023). I have also artistically contributed to many events, including but not limited to Community Making and Black Flourishing Through the Scarborough Charter Symposium. Many concerns and questions raised during these encounters were thought to be provocative to my research, especially as an upcoming researcher in the North American African/black studies.

Have you been the recipient of any major or donor-funded awards? If so, please tell us which ones and a little about how the awards have impacted your studies and/or research

I was awarded a scholarship by the Norwegian College of Dance in order to attend its three-year undergraduate program. This was followed by a two-year masters degree program offered by a consortium of four universities, namely NTNU (Norway), Roehampton (UK), Szeged (Hungary), and Clermont Auvergne (France). The full financial support I received for my postsecondary education greatly influenced and shaped my intellectual, ethical, and creative growth. As a PhD candidate at SFU, I am primarily expanding my knowledge thanks to the Dean's Graduate Fellowship, the GPS Graduate Fellowship, the Special Graduate Fellowship, and the DPS Graduate Fellowship. Among the most recent are the graduate scholarships from Steel Memorial. This will contribute to the completion of my six-week field research in Karamoja, Uganda.

What have been the most valuable lessons you've learned along your graduate student journey (or in becoming a graduate student)?

Understanding how to integrate practice and theory into my artistic and research endeavours is something I continue to gain knowledge of. A significant insight I have gained from my graduate studies is the importance of designing instructional materials and facilitating dance classes that cater to students from various academic backgrounds. Collaboration and teamwork with the students, faculty, and community members around SFU is another valuable lesson learned by graduate student Journey.

How do you approach networking and building connections in and outside of your academic community?

My artistic experience has provided me with the most effective means of connecting with both the communities within and outside SFU. I have engaged in a variety of activities, including performances, teaching, workshops, and academic presentations, both at SFU and at other locations. This has fundamentally established a robust network for the dance community and individuals of African descent in the diaspora. These factors collectively contribute to my development in both artistic and academic domains.

What are some tips for balancing your academic and personal life?

Addressing procrastination is one of the recommendations. Undertaking a practice-based Ph.D. is highly demanding, particularly for international students who must navigate various academic, social, cultural, and economic factors during the initial two years. To stay updated on the studies, it is advisable to promptly complete all tasks instead of delaying them. I also prioritise my family and education; therefore, as a father of three, I allocate time for both and ensure that I commit to both responsibilities.

If you could dedicate your research to anyone (past, present and/or future), who would that be and why?

I would dedicate my research to future dance scholars who aim to bridge the gap between Western and African dance and arts studies, fostering a constructive approach.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I am immensely grateful to the members of my research committee, my fellow students, and the teaching and non-teaching staff at the School for Contemporary Arts for their unwavering support and advice in academic, social, cultural, and economic support that I have received thus far.


Contact Edward:esa84@sfu.ca

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