Demystifying Research & Archives with Creative Problem-Solving - Nia Centre for the Arts
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Demystifying Research & Archives with Creative Problem-Solving

Seminar by Dr. Cheryl Thompson


October 14 - 14, 2021


6:00PM - 8:00PM

How can research be used to support Black artistic creation?

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How can we begin to distinguish research as a discipline, and move towards viewing research as an on-going discipline that supports the artistic creation and projects of Black artists? Led by Dr. Cheryl Thompson, this seminar will explore various research methods, including those rooted in, or informed by Afro-Diasporic tradition, and how these methods can be incorporated into and leveraged towards the creation of Black artistic projects. The seminar will support artists in developing strong and clear research ideas, concepts, and outcomes – taking your research beyond the who, what, where, when and how. The seminar will engage directly with attendees with activities, and periods for both conversation and question & answer. Attendees are encouraged to come prepared to engage, ask questions, and learn in a collaborative virtual space.

This seminar will ask:

1) How do you “read” images and/or artefacts in advance of visiting an archive? What do you look for? What questions do you ask of the image and/or artefact?

2) How do you determine which archive to visit (e.g., a public library versus a city, provincial or national archive)? What questions do you need to ask before you arrive, and what questions do you need to ask when you get there? How do you determine which methods, i.e., arts/visual-based, document-based, ethnography (interviews), will best suit the needs of your project?

3) After you’ve visited an archive and have found something(s), how do you figure out how to use it? How do you make use of archival materials while honouring the subject(s) of the materials and/or their descendants? What are the ethics around using archival materials?

Call and Response Activity:

As part of this seminar, Dr. Thompson will “read” a photograph submitted in advance by one of the session’s participants. This photograph will be a live example of how you would figure out the approximate year an image was created, and other factors such as determining its location, and using buildings and/or objects in the image to figure out the place, class, education, employment, etc. of the sitters in an image.

To submit a photo in advance to be read live as part of this activity, please email Nia Centre at with the subject line: Call and Response Submission.

About Dr. Cheryl Thompson

Dr. Cheryl Thompson is an Assistant Professor in Creative Industries at The Creative School. She is the author of Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty (2021) and Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture (2019). Dr. Thompson is currently working on her third book on Canada’s history of blackface as performance and anti-Black racism. This book is based on research conducted with the assistance of multiple Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grants. The first, funded through an Insight Development Grant (2019-22), will produce an open-source resource website and video series. The second, funded through a Connection Grant (2020-22), is in collaboration with Toronto-based film company Pink Moon Studio. Together, we are co-producing a feature documentary film on Canadian blackface. In 2021, Dr. Thompson was a recipient of an Ontario Early Researcher Award(2021-26) titled, “Mapping Ontario’s Black Archives Through Storytelling,” this project aims to catalogue Ontario’s Black archival collections, and through ethnographic interviews with the province’s creative community, collect stories about the collections that will culminate with a public exhibition curated by Dr. Thompson and her research team, which includes postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Karen Cyrus. In addition to publishing in academic journals, magazines, and newspapers, Dr. Thompson has also appeared on numerous podcasts and media platforms in Canada and internationally. Dr. Thompson holds a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University. She previously held a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Theatre, Drama & Performance Studies, and the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Department of English & Drama. In 2021, Dr. Thompson was named to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists

Shaya Ishaq is an interdisciplinary artist, designer, and writer whose research interests are engaged in craft, diaspora, design anthropology, and afrofuturism. Devoted to materiality, she works with textiles, clay, and wood to create wearable art, jewellery, and installations. Her design palette extends to furniture, objects, and spaces which allows her work to live at the junction of community engagement, creative practice, and speculative imaginings. She has studied Fibres & Material Practices at Concordia University and has previously attended Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine. Shaya is currently based in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal, situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka.

About the Left of Centre: Research & Archive Series

As part of our Left of Centre program, this series of talks & events centres around exposing Black artists to the various methods and applications of research and archive as it relates to Black artistic creation, practices, and preservation. This series aims to present research & archival practices from the lens of Afro-Diasporic tradition and artistic output, and de-institutionalize the way that we understand and engage with(in) research & archive.

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