The Power of the Arts and Humanities: Meet SFU's 2020-21 Shadbolt Fellows


2021, Arts + Culture, Series Shadbolt

The SFU Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) is pleased to announce the scholars selected for the 2020-21 Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellowship in the Humanities Program. The program increases the visibility of the contributions of the humanities and arts to the university community. It also engages the wider community through publicly involved scholarship and creativity.

The Shadbolt Fellows will engage with Metro Vancouver communities through exhibits, performances, artworks, workshops and events that realize FASS's values of advancing reconciliation; equity, diversity and inclusion; and collaboration.

Join us online to meet the Shadbolt Fellows in a panel discussion moderated by Stephen Collis (Professor, SFU Department of English) and June Scudeler (Assistant Professor, SFU Indigenous Studies). This event is hosted by FASS with the support of SFU Public Square.

Wed, 27 Jan 2021

6:00 p.m. (PT)

Online Event

The 2020-21 Shadbolt Fellows

Otoniya Juliane Okot Bitek

Otoniya is an Acholi poet. Her collected published poetry and essays provide revelatory new insights into, and narratives of, war and processes of reconciliation based on a deeply-rooted cultural understanding of the practices of storytelling. Otoniya has twice received the Canadian Council for the Arts Award and has been invited to national and international poetry festivals and events.

While at SFU, she proposes to amplify and provide spaces for conversations about belonging from the perspective of marginalized people who can relate as hyper-visible and invisible at the same time, including immigrants, refugees, racialized, differently abled, cis or not cis, and queer.

Otoniya plans to work on a collection of stories entitled “un/scripted: writing from these unceded lands”, which will build on her current work “Settled/Unsettled”, a collection of poems that grapple with marginality and belonging. She will also hold manuscript consults with students, emerging writers and others who may wish to discuss their creative writing on a one-on-one basis.

As part of the residency, Otoniya has begun a collaboration with Chantal Gibson from SFU’s School of Interactive Design and Technology. Some of this work is already up at the Belzberg Library as an exhibition titled “un/settled”, featuring the poetry of Otoniya and photography by Chantal.

Host: SFU Department of English

Eden Robinson

Eden is a Haisla and Heiltsuk novelist who is currently working on the final stages of the last book in her Trickster trilogy. The spine of all three of these novels is the figure of Wee’git, the Trickster from Eden’s Haisla and Heiltsuk traditions.

While at SFU, Robinson will work on a novel set in current times that explores the dynamics of a band council in the midst of accepting a proposal for a liquefied natural gas pipeline and plant. She is also in the early stages of researching a lyric essay about salmon on the Pacific coast and a novel set after the big Cascadia earthquake that knocks half of Vancouver Island into the ocean.

The terrain and circumstances surrounding Robinson’s fiction, along with the road she walks with her community and its history, gives her much to offer during public lectures while at SFU. She plans to work within SFU and with community collaborators on panel discussions with other Indigenous authors, and other events.

Robinson received an Honorary Degree as a Doctor of Letters from the University of British Columbia in 2018. She also holds an MFA from UBC.

Host: SFU Indigenous Studies

Fabian Romero

Fabian is an Indigenous community-based artist and filmmaker from Mexico who lives in Washington State. Romero brings a depth to their work formed from their own struggle as a Purepécha non-binary youth activist. Their work is carried out at the juncture of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies and American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

While at SFU, Romero proposes to strengthen Indigenous LGBTQ and their diasporic Purepécha communities at large, building an Indigenous Purepécha Collaborative Praxis. They plan to work on ethnographic fiction stories and poetry around insurgent kinship structures in urban settings based on their observations and their interlocutor’s contributions. Throughout the residency, they also plan to share their current collaborative projects with artist collectives of which they are a part of. Romero will also be available for consults with students and emerging writers.

During their Shadbolt fellowship they are taking leave from their doctoral candidate studies in the Gender, Women & Sexuality Department at the University of Washington.

Host: SFU Indigenous Studies

prOphecy sun

prOphecy sun is a Canadian emerging artist scholar who has an accomplished record of scholarship, research-creation, experimentation and teaching experience in the arts sector. She has co-authored several peer-reviewed book chapters on installation, sound art, film and domestic spaces. Her practice celebrates both conscious and unconscious moments and the vulnerable spaces of the in-between in which art, performance, and life overlap. Her recent research has focused on ecofeminist perspectives, co-composing with objects and matter, extraction and surveillance technologies, and site-specific engagements along the Columbia Basin region and beyond.

sun has received five BC Arts Council Scholarships, the SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship, among others and has received multiple Graduate Fellowships from Simon Fraser University.

While at SFU, sun proposes to establish common ground between art making, performance, artist presentations and creative writing. She plans to work within SFU and with community collaborators on an artist talk, a sound workshop titled Compositions for the Fraser Lowlands and an album, live performance and immersive exhibition, and publications. Her artist residency will take place in the tidal flats and marshland of the Fraser River Basin, where she will shoot a series of video vignettes, soundscapes and interventions in the landscape.

Host: SFU Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies

Event Summary

Recap of Collaborative Kinships: Reflections on an Evening with SFU’s 2020-21 Shadbolt Fellows

By Isabella Wang, SFU English and World Literature Student

On January 27, 2021, over 140 people gathered virtually to celebrate the four scholars who have been selected for the 2020-21 Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellowship in the Humanities Program at an event hosted by Dr. Stephen Collis (SFU Department of English) and Dr. June Scudeler (SFU Indigenous Studies). Over the year, the Shadbolt Fellows—Fabian Romero, Otoniya Okot Bitek, Eden Robinson and prOphecy sun—will contribute their invaluable artistic and collaborative visions to their communities at large.

Read More

It will be a pleasure this year to follow each of the Shadbolt Fellows as their works unfold. At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought innumerable challenges to the community of artists, scholars, and the public alike, it is assuring to know that communities are being made, and that different forms of art and collaborative projects have been mobilized to speak to our collective need for human connection and intimacy as physical distances continue to be maintained. The Fellows’ work shows an abundance of heart, commitment and generosity, as did their words tonight.

The panel discussion began with Dr. Scudeler, posing what seemed a formal question by all accounts: “[At a time when we are all] so starved for a future we can plan and anticipate, what are you looking forward to now and how are you getting through the stasis of the pandemic?” 

Otoniya Okot Bitek replied, “I am matching my nail polish to my scarf.” 

Eden Robinson, having stocked up on too many different kinds of beans from Costco, said, "following a more Marie Kondo approach, giving away my beans, making myself split bean soup and bean salad.”

prOphecy sun shared an anecdote about how her partner, thinking it was the apocalypse, began growing excessive amounts of potatoes. She herself, however, has taken to replaying certain conversations she has had with other people, reminding herself of the spaces she was in when it was possible to connect with people in public, physical spaces.

Fabian Romero showed everyone their new puppy. 

Scudeler’s question is a serious one met with funny anecdotes—meaning the fellows are less fixated on entering a conversation about the future, as they are staying and engaging in the present moment where plenty of work remains to be done. In Romero’s own words, “for me [. . .] thinking about the past is tricky and thinking about the future is a lot of anxiety, so living from moment to moment is the best.” 

Indeed, as a scholar embarking on their Ph.D. dissertation, Romero has anticipated collaboration and engagement with Indigenous LGBTQ youths and peoples from their diasporic Purépecha community. They have been looking forward to coming together and writing, creating experimental plays, poetry and videos. Due to the challenges of the pandemic, Romero has had to address the vital components of their project which, at the moment, are no longer possible to carry out. As Romero articulates, however, “What I’ve been given is an opportunity to think about this moment in a historic way—the fact that using forced isolation to survive is not new to Indigenous people.” It is a time for pause and reflection. Once their fellowship is over, they intend to return to their dissertation focused on cultivating what they call “insurgent kinships.” 

For Okot Bitek too, big changes have been made to the ways in which writers must conduct themselves in virtual literary events, book launches, and online workshop settings. While serving as Writer in Residence for the SFU Department of English, Okot Bitek has begun a collaborative project entitled “un/settled,” in collaboration with poet and artist Chantal Gibson. The exhibition, on display outside the Belzberg Library in downtown Vancouver, features poetry from Bitek’s collection, 100 Days—100 poems reflecting on the losses and lingering resonances of the Rwandan genocide—as well as photographs of Gibson’s multi-media art, which has simultaneously been on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery this winter. Together, their artwork fosters a COVID-19-safe and alternative way for the public to connect with poetry and art in their city, all the while making a series of profound, lasting impressions. 

When the pandemic began, I had listened through all of Robinson’s Trickster series, as well as her novel Monkey Beach on audiobook. Her reflections tonight reminded me of the responsibility that storytellers bear in relation to land, and in Dr. Scudeler’s words, in relation to the “places that give us stories.” Putting aside the stimulus of the news, the noise of the outside, pandemic world—or as Robinson calls it, “insanity”—the present day has afforded her the space to become “hyper-focused” in her work and the stories set in her father’s community. It’s a process that can incur difficulties, nevertheless, while establishing the delicate balance collaborating with people from other cultures and adhering to your own culture’s protocols. At the same time, Robinson affirms, “sometimes these painful breaks in communication open doors you didn’t know existed.” 

Equally memorable were sun’s video vignettes of the sound and landscapes surrounding the marshlands of the Fraser River basin. Filmmaking is presented as a powerful lens of storytelling, imparting the atmospherics, artistic and geographical nuances of a storied place. One particular conversation stood out to me: when Dr. Collis remarked that “in your videos, prOphecy, someone’s always on the ground and they are moving around it.” In response, sun replied, “I’m in this place right now where I want to be observing things more; more witnessing than [exhibiting] action towards something. Seeing how things fold out[…] trying to step back.” Her words have resonated with me, as a poet myself, trying to become a more attentive observer and listener, and allowing my thoughts to remain in the present for longer. 

It takes creativity to create; adaptability and change. In spite of the obstacles presented by COVID-19 in the past year, the Shadbolt Fellows are each finding inspiring ways to engage their visions with the wider public, and foster their daily relationships to land and their individual communities.


In the News

Poetry to amplify important conversations — CBC's The Early Edition (January 25, 2021)

Shadbolt Fellow Fabian Romero puts art at the forefront — SFU News (January 5, 2021)

Shadbolt Events