Zainub Verjee conferred with an Honorary Doctorate for her exceptional contribution | (@zainubverjee)

On June 11, 2021, Zainub Verjee received her honorary doctorate at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) University, Canada.

“A prescient provocateur, persuasive champion of arts and advocate for artists rights, Verjee is currently Executive Director of the Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries. Her work across sectors and disciplines as an artist, curator, critic, policy maker and cultural administrator has led to institution-building, cultural planning and addressing racial equity across Canada.

A leading spokesperson and advocate for the visual arts, she worked on arts policy, intellectual property rights and art in a digital ecosystem at the Department of Canadian Heritage. She strengthened the Media Arts program at the Canada Council for the Arts, and developed artist-scientist research partnerships. She also expanded awareness around issues of race and gender to ensure equitable funding for artists and art organizations.

Through her work at the Vancouver Arts Initiative and as the inaugural Director of the Cultural Division at the City of Mississauga, she contributed to the pioneering cultural planning in these cities. She has also contributed to international instruments of culture such as Status of the Artist and Cultural Diversity.

Her leadership has been critical to the success of many artists and organizations. She led In Visible Colours, a critically acclaimed international film and video festival and symposium in Vancouver that foregrounded the practice of Third World women and women of colour (1988-1990). Her work on the British Columbia Arts Board led to the British Columbia Arts Act and the formation of the British Columbia Arts Council. Following the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, she was appointed as official moderator for the Citizen’s Forum for Canada’s Future, also known as the Spicer Commission.

Working in Canada, and internationally, she has advocated for issues of artist rights, ‘art in digital culture,’ racial and gender equity.

With the global pandemic, Verjee has continued her four decades of arts leadership by lobbying for federal and provincial benefit programs to extend to the visual arts. Before COVID-19, she recognized the changes that digitization is bringing to the arts world, and began a three-year initiative to support public art gallery sector in developing data literacy.”

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Dr. Verjee speaks to the students from Aga Khan Museum:

In a speech delivered to the students from the Aga Khan Museum, Dr. Verjee has stressed on the importance of learning arts and how does it has the power to make us think and question the world we live in.

“What I learnt is that Art has a huge power to make us think and question the world we live in and to take action and find our agency! Whether it is making a pact at the age of 12 or advocating for arts and artists or raising issues of racism and inequities, it calls us to activate our agency,” said Dr. Zainub Verjee.

But to activate this agency, she said: “It requires Moral Courage. It takes moral courage to act and to speak for the public good; to speak for the oppressed; to speak for civil society; to speak for peace; to speak for pluralism; to speak for making this world a better place.”

Talking about Moral courage as a philosophical idea and how it is experienced, she said: “One feels it in the moment of vulnerability when you decide not to follow the flock. The vulnerability that you experience when you take your own authentic path. Moral courage is located in that experience.” However, to build and nourish this force within you, one way is “through listening”. “Listening is an endangered social practice. Listening will give you strength. And remember, listening is a political act, do not undermine it,” she added.

Author: Sujjawal Ahmad

Sujjawal is an invited blog author from Pakistan. He finds it extremely exciting to develop a deep love of cultures around the world. The stories that are about humanity, and emotion, that compel us as individuals, and connect our hearts and minds are the kinds of stories Sujjawal has always gravitated to, and the kinds he tells. He can be reached at:

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