White walls that were once blank are filled with a six-foot-tall painting of a white silhouette on a black background, mirroring the other wall with a six-foot-tall painting of a black silhouette against a white background, preparing for performance artist Veronica Spiljak’s show “Session One.”
A poster of a tiny fist with text reading The Tiny Fist Gallery is plastered on the outer wall of the cubicle in the mezzanine of Sheridan College’s Annie Smith Arts Centre in Oakville. Before the Tiny Fist Gallery opened, students of Sheridan College and University of Toronto Mississauga’s (UTM) joint Art and Art History program had a lack of space to showcase their work in a professional setting.
“Inspired as an act of resistance, trying to build against what the school didn’t want to give them, the Tiny Fist was born,” said Sarah Pereux, a member of the Tiny Fist Collective. The Tiny Fist is a new artist collective that consists of five artists—Angela Clarkson, Mackenzie Boyd, Nada Hafez, Sabrina Bilic and Sarah Pereux; all current students in the Art and Art History joint program at UTM and Sheridan College Trafalgar Campus.
Pereux and Hafez attended an end of the year program advisory meeting for the Art and Art History Program at Sheridan College last year, where they met with outside contemporary arts professionals, professors, and program coordinators to review and discuss the program.
John Armstrong, Program Coordinator of Art and Art History at Sheridan College, said that the voting members of the committee agreed that there should be an independent gallery space available to students that they would manage themselves and that was more formal than the spaces previously available, adding elements of traditional gallery spaces like openings, exhibition statements, and artist talks.
“We didn’t have the space for it, but we’ve been asking for it for a long time. It’s wonderful having the Art and Art History program between two institutions, but in some ways, we can fall through the crack,” says Armstrong.
With the permission of John McCartney, the technologist of the Art and Art History Program, Pereux gave up her cubicle space—a space that upper year Art and Art History students are given to create and store their artwork.
With the repurposed space, the Tiny Fist Gallery was constructed. The collective transformed the cubicle into a gallery by adding walls, covering the window on the existing wall, and making it a space to showcase art works of all mediums.
The Art History side of the program is at UTM and the studio practices are at Sheridan College. The atrium of the Annie Smith Arts Centre at Sheridan College has walls for students to showcase their work and an end-of-the-year exhibition called Project, but nothing like the Tiny Fist Gallery existed before the collective launched the gallery, explained Armstrong.
This is because of the lack of space available at Sheridan College, due to the volume of studio practices offered. There is one gallery at UTM, the Blackwood Gallery, but there are limitations with this gallery for students, as it is exclusive for established artists and not open for student submissions, besides the end-of-the-year graduation shows.
The Tiny Fist Gallery is “a little bit more organic in the sense that it’s tailored more towards finding emerging artists and building artist community instead of catering specific to the public,” said Pereux.
“With the stresses of being an emerging artist comes this feeling of being cut off from the gallery world filled with established artists. Finding opportunities to get into galleries becomes an adversity,” said Jessica Velasco, an artist who showcased her work in The Tiny Fist Gallery in the fall. “The
Hafez mentioned that in addition to building up student and recent graduate credentials on CVs, having a space like the Tiny Fist also promotes networking among students and helps teach the steps needed to have a successful show—something that cannot be done in class, and is easier to learn with hands-on experience.
Armstrong explained that an important part of the Art and Art History program is to help students understand how their work might be read. Having a space like the Tiny Fist allows for students to produce introductory panel text for their exhibitions and communicate their artwork in a concise way.
“Ideally, we would [have a space] like the Tiny Fist always,” said Armstrong. It is not certain that the gallery will continue after the collective graduates in the summer and will be dependent on student initiative, as well as the logistics of the space of the cubicle still being available. Pereux said that there is student interest in wanting to be involved with running and taking over the gallery space once the collective graduates.
Logistics first need to be figured out.
“It’s more of the space that we want to pass on,” said Boyd. “We might have to do some renaming or revamping.”
There is hope from students and faculty that the space continues to operate after the collective graduates, and there is hope from the collective that the collective stays together after they graduate.
“I love these four girls to death and hope to continue working with them and we hope to continue to find other curating opportunities or create our own, like we have with the Tiny Fist,” said Boyd.