George Gilmour Members’ Gallery
As an adult language teacher of newcomers to Canada, Susan Cunningham’s role is to assist her students to acquire English, a language that can be the social and economic key to successful and productive lives in this country. As such, what she does and doesn’t do in the classroom can affect their life chances. This is a big responsibility. She is acutely conscious of her privilege and of the power imbalance that persists between her and her students, just because by a trick of fate she was born in Canada. The majority of her students are highly educated, experienced and respected in their fields. All of them have risked leaving everything they know to begin new lives here.
Periodically, Cunningham’s students give her small gifts. Tellingly, they are almost always tiny, cute, feminine trinkets they have brought with them from their homelands. Each gift represents pride in their culture and functions as an assertion of their own identity. As well, these objects are tokens of their esteem and expressions of gratitude.
In this body of work, Cunningham has sought to elevate these tokens to objects of totemic proportions, four or more times their original size. Grouped together in a grid, they take on a presence that honours the people who gifted them.
Born and raised in Toronto, Susan Cunningham has been an active member of Open Studio since the early 90s. Primarily a screenprinter, she has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally. Cunningham is represented in various collections such as Air Canada, Seiko Canada, Falconbridge, BMO and the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs.