When Jennifer Willet was invited
to show her art at the APEC conference last month in Brunei, her first
instinct was to refuse. Like many Canadians, she associated APEC with
the notorious pepper-spraying incident at a previous meeting in Vancouver.
However, she couldnt resist this opportunity to show her work
and say something about Canada to a highly influential international
Thats Jennifer in the photo, standing next to U.S. President Bill
Clinton in Brunei Darussalam, at the meeting of the organization for Asia-Pacific
Economic Co-operation (APEC).
The blanket behind them is the famous red-yellow-and-green-striped Hudsons
Bay blanket, that icon of Canadas trading origins, radically altered
by Willet with text, photographs, quilted fabric, acrylic paint and other
media to make a provocative statement about Canadas landscape, people
and economic history.
Jennifer, who is 25 and grew up in Alberta, already has an impressive
list of exhibitions to her credit. She got a Canada Council grant this
summer, and when that agency was asked to find promising artists aged
25 and younger for an exhibition to run concurrently with the international
conference, she was invited to represent Canada.
In Brunei, a wealthy Muslim oil-producing nation of only 300,000 people,
she was billeted with a hospitable family. I learned so much more
that way than if I had travelled around by car, she said in a phone
interview. We did a lot of cooking together, and I learned about
their daily life, including the cycle of prayers.
The works of the young artists at the exhibition presented an unusual
challenge for the local organizers, since Brunei has no infrastructure
for transporting, storing and showing art in the Western tradition.
In fact, Jennifers work, Untitled (Hudsons Bay Blanket),
is staying in Brunei. It has been acquired as part of the countrys
first art collection.
Before she left, Jennifer was interviewed coast-to-coast by Shelagh Rogers
on CBC radios This Morning. When she got to the APEC event, as well
as meeting President Clinton, she met the Sultan of Brunei.
Now shes at Concordia, starting her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies
(Humanities), which will involve applying literary theory, including the
theories of the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, to representations of
the body and the emerging field of the digital arts.