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Meet Kemi Craig, Victoria’s new artist in residence

Craig is a dancer and visual artist whose practice embodies themes of community and empowerment

By Emily Vance
November 4, 2022
Good news
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Meet Kemi Craig, Victoria’s new artist in residence

Craig is a dancer and visual artist whose practice embodies themes of community and empowerment

By Emily Vance
Nov 4, 2022
Kemi Craig is the City of Victoria's new Artist in Residence. Photo: Emily Vance / Capital Daily
Kemi Craig is the City of Victoria's new Artist in Residence. Photo: Emily Vance / Capital Daily
Good news
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Meet Kemi Craig, Victoria’s new artist in residence

Craig is a dancer and visual artist whose practice embodies themes of community and empowerment

By Emily Vance
November 4, 2022
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Meet Kemi Craig, Victoria’s new artist in residence
Kemi Craig is the City of Victoria's new Artist in Residence. Photo: Emily Vance / Capital Daily

When multi-disciplinary artist Kemi Craig found out she would be the City of Victoria’s new Artist in Residence, she said her reaction to the news was “sheer joy, and total excitement.”

“I’m honoured, and very excited,” Craig said. “I think it's such an incredible project. And I wish every city had one.”

Appointed in October 2022, Craig will serve in the role until November 2024, drawing on her existing practice to create accessible art in the city's public spaces. She is the city’s third Artist in Residence, following in the footsteps of musician Kathryn Calder and visual artist Luke Ramsay.

The goal of the program is to work collaboratively with city staff to integrate publicly accessible art into the landscape of the city and its capital projects. Craig will spend the first six months of her residency creating a plan for her projects, and will spend the next year and a half bringing them to life.  

A dancer and visual artist, Craig works with both analog and digital technologies, creating performance installations at the intersection of film and movement that are rooted in themes of anti-oppression and social justice. Prior to her appointment to the city, she participated in artist residency programs with CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and most recently, Dance Victoria. She also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver.

Though her work spans several disciplines, Craig said her main medium is curiosity.

“I just follow things that I'm really interested in, and then try and learn that skill,” she said.

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Craig grew up in the southeastern United States, in the territories of the Cherokee and Catawba Nations, between the mountains of North Carolina and foothills of South Carolina. Growing up in a rural area, her access to formal artistic education may have been limited, but creative expression was a part of her everyday life.

“I grew up dancing, not in the studio context, but just as a part of everyday experience in life,” Craig said.

Her early exposure to the professional dance and visual art worlds came from taking trips with her mother, who always encouraged her to travel and see the world. She remembers being particularly inspired by Alvin Ailey, a contemporary dance company rooted in West African dance and knowledge as expressed through Black American culture.

“I just remember being blown away at seeing [a] predominantly … Black company. And just seeing the beauty. I was always really inspired by that,” Craig said.

The experience that sparked her interest in contemporary visual art was on a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, where she saw a photography exhibition by multimedia artist Lorna Simpson. Simpson’s work explores themes of representation, gender, identity, and race. Craig had always enjoyed visual art, but up until that moment, it hadn’t had a personal resonance.

“When I saw her exhibition, I wasn't even thinking about it. Something clicked. It was just like, I want to do that. I want to be an artist,” she said. “It was accessible because it was talking to me, and about me.”

Craig moved to Victoria 20 years ago, after a period of time spent living and teaching in Japan. Here, she began to play with film, developing a deep love of analog film technology, and Super 8 film in particular. She started to take community-based classes at CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers, an artist-run society on Yates Street. At the same time, she was studying at the University of Victoria, learning about community-based anti-racism and anti-oppression work.

It was in graduate school that Craig started to pull all those elements together. She began to push the boundaries of conventional filmmaking by blending digital technology and projection mapping with her dance background, exploring and creating site-specific performance installation work. That combination of performance art and moving image projection is where her practice currently lands.

“I'm learning about movement of the body, and movement in terms of images, in tandem. I'm learning how to offer them different spaces, and specifically, public spaces,” Craig said.

Kemi Craig outside of her installation for the City of Victoria's Storefronts Exhibition Program in 2019. Photo: Submitted

She’s particularly interested in breaking down the barriers between performer and audience. As an example, Craig points to a performance she hosted in Charlottetown, P.E.I for a contemporary outdoor festival this past August.  Dancers taking part in the piece wore illuminated headpieces that were triggered by movement. The lights in the dancers’ costumes were triggered by sounds from the audience and movements from the dancers, getting brighter when they moved in a certain direction.

That performer-audience interaction is a theme that Craig hopes to explore in her residency going forward as she brings performance and installation art into the city’s public spaces.

“It was also to highlight that we're when we're in that space performing, that [the audience] is in that space of being a witness, and that their presence shapes the space just as much as our performance does,” Craig said.

Her work also remains strongly rooted in creating and sharing her practice in community, and learning from others.

“I really believe that art is for everyone, and that it's something that is necessary for everyone and also … achievable. That we all have a gift and a voice. And it's not just for someone that has trained in a specific way, and then they’ve reached this idea of “high art,” Craig said.

In terms of what’s inspiring her in Victoria, Craig said she loves to see more spaces opening up around the city that are specifically for those who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour).

“When I first moved to Victoria, I didn't know how to find my community, because there isn't really a specific place that you can go to and gather,” she said. “Those are the things that make me want to stay.”

For anyone interested in finding out more about Craig and her work, the City of Victoria is hosting an evening meet and greet on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 6pm. The event is free and open to all ages and takes place at the City Hall Antechamber.

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