Robin Wright, Crazy Star, John Williams and his sonRobin Wright, director of the School of Social Work, watches as John Williams unveils his painting “Crazy Star,” which will hang in the main entry of Windsor Hall. Williams’ son looks on.

Indigenous artwork to inspire social work students

A crowd of University and community partners, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and family members gathered in the School of Social Work’s Windsor Hall main floor Thursday afternoon to witness the unveiling of a new commissioned painting by Ojibway artist John Williams from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia.

Elder Theresa Sims of the upper Mohawk, Turtle Clan of the Six Nations Reserve, and Beverly Jacobs of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, senior advisor to the president on Indigenous relations and outreach, opened the event prior to the unveiling.

The commission of Williams’ artwork was made possible by a grant from law professor emeritus Donna Eansor, former Indigenous program advisor Daniol Coles, and the 2018-20 University of Windsor Teaching Leadership Chair program “Open Hearts and Open Minds: Looking to the Future in a New Way.”

The winning proposal, titled “Decolonizing Education: The Role of Indigenous Persons in Shaping the Minds and Spirits of Social Work Educators, Students, the Next Generation, and Society,” was written by associate professor Thecla Damianakis and field learning specialist Katka Hrncic-Lipovic of the School of Social Work.

“John Williams’ painting represents the important role of the arts nonverbal communication and its power to start a conversation,” says Dr. Damianakis. “Both the school and the social work profession want to be allies to social change.”

Williams has titled this painting “Crazy Star.” He hopes his art will encourage everyone to “love your heritage, your being, and things you are passionate about.”

Williams’ artwork is based mainly on his Ojibway heritage but is not restricted to it. He has been commissioned to paint several mural-size acrylic pieces for local businesses. His work hangs in the Sarnia Police Training Centre and Great Lakes High School. Williams also holds in-person painting sessions in his home community for groups.

“Crazy Star” will hang the building’s main hallway where students and community groups using Windsor Hall will see it. It will also be visible to pedestrians on Pitt Street.

“The School of Social Work has a mandate to lead decolonization in education,” says director Robin Wright. “We want more inclusivity. We want to have Indigenous representation in education and the profession.”

The unveiling event was sponsored by the Office of Human Rights, Equity, and Accessibility; the Office of the Dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; the Humanities Research Group; the University of Windsor Alumni Association; and the School of Social Work.