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Image of Hamideh Behgar's work.

The MFA Thesis Exhibition runs from May 23-June 23. The opening reception is May 26, from 5-8 p.m. Pictured: Hamideh Behgar: Playful Family (detail), 2023; styrofoam, epoxy clay, paper clay; 48 pieces, various sizes. Image courtesy of the artist.

It’s time for the 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibition

And a peek into the small MFA program that’s punching above its weight

May 19, 2023 — 

It’s a small program that attracts international students to the University of Manitoba and has an outsized influence on the art scene in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada. From May 23 – June 23, the five artists graduating from the School of Art’s Master of Fine Arts program are set to show their work at the 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibition.

The show includes work from each of the MFA candidates – Hamideh Behgar, Timothy Brown, Sonny Cai, Ashkan Nejadebrahimi, and Niki Saghar – who have designed their own installations, after receiving professional training in curatorial practices and exhibition design last fall in a week-long workshop with curators Rodney Latourelle and Louise Witthoefft from Berlin, specialists in exhibition installation, public art, colour and light concepts.

“It will be an eclectic mix of works ranging from video and performance, through sculpture to drawing,” says, Oliver Botar, associate director, graduate studies and research at the School of Art.

Three out of five of the students are originally from Iran, and a theme of displacement runs through the works, he says.

Botar encourages people to come out. He points to the calibre of artists who have graduated from the MFA program over the last 12 years of its history.

“The School of Art has produced a long roster of artists that have gone on to local, national and indeed international fame, including a goodly list of international “art stars,” some of whom continue to live here, and others who’ve gone on to major careers in larger Canadian art centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but also to New York, Chicago and Berlin,” says Botar. “In other words, through our graduates and our network, we are an art school that is present way beyond our borders.”

About the show

Hamideh Behgar – Embracing Imperfection

As a female artist who grew up in an environment full of restrictive societal norms, Hamideh Behgar experienced many boundaries, limitations, and high expectations. Through her artistic journey, she has explored the societal pressure to achieve perfection, despite the inherent imperfections that exist in the natural world beyond our control. Her current artistic practice is inspired by childhood imagination and the importance of free play and play sculptures.


Timothy Brown – Waves

Timothy Brown
Processor 1 (still), 2022
Image courtesy of the artist

Waves is a temporal conversation taking place across a variety of media, in which Timothy Brown addresses the grief and trauma from the loss of his mother while also re-examining his identity in relation to the birth of his son. The exhibition utilizes audio, video, installation, drawing, and text while also inviting the viewer into the exhibition space as a participant. With Waves, history, lineage, identity, grief, trauma, control, and emotion collide, re-examining the relationship between viewer, artist, and artwork.

Sonny Cai – Three Begat All Things

Sonny Cai
Image courtesy of the artist

The exhibition title, Three Begat All Things, comes from the description of Yinyang in Tao Te Ching: the existence of the laws of Yinyang, the human understanding of these laws, and the physical manifestation of these laws. These three concepts come together to form 道Tao and produce all things. The direct translation of Yinyang from Chinese to English is “Sun” and “Shadow”, which is perfectly embodied within Sonny Cai’s choice of medium: The series Three Begat All Things uses Cyanotype techniques creating a beautiful blue visual effect in accordance with the sun and its shadows.

Ashkan Nejadebrahimi – Autopsy of the Remains

Ashkan Nejadebrahimi
Immersion I, 2023
Mixed media (wire, wood, clear acrylic sheets, ink, spray paint), 70 x 70 x 35 cm
Image courtesy of the artist

Ashkan Nejadebrahimi makes abstract drawings on 2D surfaces and sometimes the lines he draws move into three-dimensional space, taking on sculptural qualities. Drawing for him is an act of probing what is going on inside and around him. He employs Surrealist “Automatist” techniques, which allow him to suppress conscious control over the creative process. Ashkan’s work researches the interactions between Self and Other in psychological and social senses, and in his studio, subjects such as monsters, the unconscious, and the quality of non-finito, that is “unfinishedness,” meet on the ground of drawing.

Niki Saghari – Fading Roots, Blooming Branches

Niki Saghari
Image courtesy of the artist

Niki Saghari is an Iranian multidisciplinary artist currently based in Canada. Her work encompasses photography, performance, video, sound, and installations. She aims to draw attention to the seemingly mundane aspects of daily life and transform them into works that challenge our preconceptions. Through her art, she explores the complexities of human relationships and identity, as well as the passage of time and the impermanence of all things. By revealing the unconscious and exposing our shared experiences, Saghari aims to promote empathy and understanding between people from different cultures and backgrounds. Saghari will be presenting a performance as part of her thesis show at 6PM.


MFA Thesis Exhibition

May 23-June 23
School of Art Gallery

Opening reception: May 26; 5 – 8 p.m.


The art school that punches above its weight

Botar notes that the School of Art and the MFA program have a lot to offer the city and the province. “The School of Art is the only art school with a graduate program between Regina/Saskatoon and Toronto/London, and there is no such program in North Dakota or Northern Minnesota.” This points to high demand for the graduate program.

“With the establishment of our MFA Program some 12 years ago, we also began to attract a good number of international students from countries such as Iran, China, Korea and Latin America (among others), that has helped internationalize our art scene.”

Enrolment numbers have been kept small despite the demand says Botar, running to an intake of about five per year for the competitive program which typically see 85 applicants per year. Students accepted to the program get a large studio, receive personalized instruction in small groups from an outstanding roster of faculty, and their degree culminates in a professional MFA thesis show that includes a hard-cover publication of the exhibition.

And the program is growing. “We have just doubled our potential intake to 10 due to the demand, which will ensure a larger, more dynamic cohort of students, something that is beneficial for artists at the start of their careers,” says Botar. “The newly established MA Program in Art and Architectural History (beginning Fall 2023) will further increase the annual cohort by two for the time being.”

That personalized instruction, along with outstanding production facilities and full technical support in the award-winning ARTlab are large draws for the program, along with numerous professional development opportunities including workshops, studio visits from top curators, artists and journal editors, says Botar.

“We also currently have an artist-in-residence, Prof. Emeritus Erwin Huebner (Biology), who offers one-on-one instruction in scientific imaging techniques and art making – to my knowledge the only such instruction and facility in an art school in the country,” says Botar.

“Without this art school, that was founded together with the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1912, Winnipeg would not be the cultural centre that it is. Our graduates are the foundation of a complex and rich art scene in Winnipeg, including not only the WAG-Quamajuq, but also many artist-run centres in the fine arts, including video/moving image, installation, printmaking, craft, ceramics, and more.”

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