By Meredith Dault
21 October, 2010
In many ways, it makes sense that Mimi Gellman, a second year PhD student in the Cultural Studies program, would credit a fateful train trip for her decision to pursue her degree at Queen's. After all, her experience here has been about movement, mapping and learning more about herself.
"My coming to Queen's really was a combination of serendipity, providence and good fortune," she says thoughtfully. After finishing a Master's degree in Visual Studies at the University of Toronto, Gellman decided she was keen to continue in academia. A practicing, multi-disciplinary visual artist and curator with many years of experience, Gellman already had an impressive list of accomplishments under her belt: from creating half-million dollar art projects for SkyDome Stadium (now the Rogers Centre), to designing installations for the Toronto Transit Commission and creating architectural glass for churches and synagogues. She had also taught courses in design methodology and ethics at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
"I was hired to teach in the design faculty based on my professional experience in the field," explains Gellman of her experience at OCAD, but I had no paper credentials. When she decided to embark on her first graduate degree, she was at least 20 years older than most of her classmates, but she loved the experience, deciding to continue on to a PhD. She then applied to (and was accepted at) four different programs at four different universities. That's when fate intervened.
It was while riding home on the train from London,Ontario, on day she had decided to accept a place in the Visual Studies PhD program at Western, that she met Clive Robertson, a professor in the Art department at Queen's. "In the two hour ride to Toronto, we engaged in a sweeping, thought provoking conversation, which ultimately convinced me to come to Queen's," she says with a smile. Though the decision came with a move into the discipline of Cultural Studies, Gellman says it felt like a good fit.
"It was a combination of individual professors and their scholarship, plus the framing of the new Cultural Studies program, which I saw as a program that both acknowledged and validated both traditional scholarship and embodied knowledge." Gellman, an Ojibway/Jewish Métis who grew up in a predominantly Jewish milieu, sees her current research as a way of "reclaiming my aboriginal heritage," -- an opportunity she says may not have arisen as seamlessly had she pursued her PhD elsewhere.
Her current work involves looking at the relationship between Indigenous mapping and Indigenous "ways of knowing," and how those issues play out in regards to Indigenous self-determination and Land and Treaty Rights in Canada. Because the Cultural Studies program has a project-based thesis project, Gellman intends to work towards curating a multi-venue exhibition of Indigenous maps, with a didactic catalogue as the written dissertation.
Gellman who was the recipient of the Arts 49 Principal Wallace award, has also been involved in other aspects of life at Queen's. As the Aboriginal Graduate Co-ordinator on campus, she organized a six-day writing retreat last year for Aboriginal graduate students. She is also on the university's Aboriginal Council and on the School of Graduate Studies Council. "This is my give-back time," says Gellman. "Part of my motivation for doing what I'm doing is that I've reached the point in my life where it's time for me to give back to my communities. To do something for others."
When asked if she ever regrets her decision to come to Queen's, to get on that train, Gellman doesn't miss a beat. "Not a day," she says with a smile. "I am where I'm supposed to be."