Interview with Nadine Valcin, 2015-16 Osgoode Hall Artist in Residence

Valcin photo

This week we have an interview with Nadine Valcin, one of the two women named as 2015-2016 Osgoode Hall Artists in Residence. Valcin is a documentary filmmaker, whose work has aired by broadcasters including CBC, TVO, W, TFO, and the History Network. We asked her more about her project and the relationship between her work and the law that will be explored during her time at Osgoode:

SR: Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your trajectory to becoming an artist in residence here at Osgoode? What attracted you to the artist in residence program?

NV: I was trained as an architect, have worked as a documentary filmmaker for nearly twenty years and am now also starting to write dramatic film scripts. The residency at Osgoode is a tremendous opportunity to immerse myself in an academic setting and explore a topic that is of great interest to me without having some of the time and financial constraints that often come into play when working on film project.

SR: What interests you about the law? What about your particular artistic medium: Why have you chosen it and how have you found it as a tool for engaging with the law?

NV: I’m interested in issues of social justice and how race, class and gender influences how people are perceived and treated in the world. The law fascinates me because it is meant to uphold the official parameters through which our society should operate.

Some of my work is related directly to the law. Years ago, I directed a documentary entitled Still Waiting for Justice for the National Film Board of Canada about a legal battle around racial harassment in the workplace. In addition to the project I’m doing at Osgoode, I am also writing a feature film script that deals with some of the issues around child soldier refugees.

Film, be it documentary or fiction, can raise awareness about important legal and ethical subjects while humanising them in very concrete terms. It is also about communicating what may be complex situations clearly and concisely.

SR: How do you view the role that art can play in legal education and/or the study of law?

NV: Art can be an important component of a legal education because it encourages creativity and the quest for different ways of tackling a problem. It also promotes seeing issues from a multiplicity of viewpoints and learning to adapt your message to effectively reach the audience you are addressing.

SR: Could you describe the project you will be undertaking at Osgoode?

NV: I am researching the topic of slavery in Canada to inform an interactive documentary project that is still in the very early stages of development.

The enslaved Africans who were on the margins of society weren’t well documented. One of the few ways in which they are visible is, for better or worse, through the legal system. Those who were accused of crimes, who escaped or who, in some cases, contested their status, have part of their stories inscribed in official court records. The artist-in-residence program is the ideal opportunity for me to delve into these legal records and to do broader research into the laws surrounding slavery in this country.

During my residency, I will be producing a video installation entitled Whitewash on a very specific part of that history. It recounts the story of the Shepard family starting with David and Kesiah Shepard, who were enslaved Africans brought by Loyalist Edmund Fanning, the Island’s second Lieutenant Governor in 1786. There are 9th generation descendants of the couple still living on the Island. Some of them retain darker complexions and African features, while others are very light-skinned with red hair. The piece looks at the process of assimilation that parallels the collective amnesia about Canada’s history of slavery.

SR: From what I understand, you’re seeking JD or graduate students who are interested in becoming involved in your project. How can students get involved? And how should they contact you?

NV: I am looking for students to help me scour legal documents for traces of stories about enslaved Africans (and about the Shepard family) that would shed some light about their lives here. I am interested in determining what the laws surrounding slavery were in this country, how they were applied and how those enslaved Africans were treated by the judicial system. I also need help for the production of the video installation and the documentation that will accompany it.

Students interested in the project can contact me at nvalcin@yorku.ca.

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