UNB Arts Centre hosts first in-person show since pandemic

A collection of woven images by Vita Plume entitled “Patterns and Portraits” opened at the UNB Arts Centre on Sept. 10. (Submitted: UNB Arts Centre)

After nearly a year and a half of waitlists and web shows, the University of New Brunswick Arts Centre fully opened its doors.

A collection of woven images by Vita Plume entitled Patterns and Portraits opened on Sept. 10 and was the first, full in-person exhibition since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Anybody who wants to show-up [to the gallery during regular hours] can, so it takes the barrier away, which is wonderful for the artist,” said Maria Maltais, the UNB Arts Centre’s director.

During the peak of the pandemic, in order to enter the Arts Centre and see a collection, a visitor had to make an appointment and be COVID-symptom-free.

Maltais said the limits created frustration because it constricted traffic into the gallery.

“Some exhibitions we had to cancel because they didn’t work, so it was kind of a bottleneck,” she said.

Despite the negative impact the lockdowns had on the institution, the downtime also gave the centre an opportunity to engage in online displays.

One of these efforts includes its “online exhibitions,” where the centre presents any ongoing displays for the public to access online.

“That was one of the positive things that came out of the COVID experience,” said Maltais, in reference to the UNB Art Centre’s digital efforts. “I think it pushed us to develop on that side of things.”

As a result of the lack of space and other complications, a waiting list of artists wishing to be featured was created. Plume was the first of the artists to be selected.

Plume’s shaded woven tapestries perfectly filled both the East and West Galleries. Her images depicted vivid portraits and scenes based around conflict, biography and tradition. She also focused on the challenges faced by her Latvian ancestors in this collection.

“Most of the time [my work] is spent rolled up in my studio. So it’s lovely to pull it out, and put it up and see it in a new context,” said Plume.

Vita Plume creates the tapestries using a traditional Japanese method of tie-dying called Shibori. (Submitted: UNB Arts Centre)

Plume creates the tapestries using a loom and then dyes the fabric using a traditional Japanese method of tie-dying called Shibori.

While creating these pieces, Plume has reflected on her own history and place in the world. She hopes that by seeing her works, the viewer will do the same.

“I’m so lucky I was born in Canada. I haven’t experienced war or being a refugee, but through my family, through the osmosis of nightmares, I carry that information in me somehow, even though it’s secondhand knowledge,” said Plume.

After Patterns and Portraits, the arts centre plans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a photography collective Silverfish as its final showcase of 2021. Maltais said the collection explores perspective with a focus on the concept of looking and seeing.

The coming season for the arts centre features three new shows, including the woven work of I-Chun Jenkins, a Black History Month celebration in February and the return of their World Water Day activities in the Spring.

Apart from the confirmed schedule, the centre has been trying to catch up on their backlog of shows.

“We’re in the process right now of straightening everything out … confirming people who had committed, or seeing if they’re still able to do their thing with restrictions,” said Maltias. “There’s a lot up in the air right now.”