A week-long event celebrating diversity at Vancouver Island University began with the presentation of a new work of art that does just that.
This week We are VIU: A Celebration of Community Spirit and Unity, a ceramic ‘mural’ composed of 276 clay tiles woven together with copper wire, was unveiled at the opening of World VIU Days.
“It’s the most meaningful work I’ve ever done, without question,” ceramic artist and VIU graduate Joe Lyons said. “Because it’s not about me, it’s about we. It’s about us and community and many hands made this project happen.”
Lyons started the project at World VIU Days in 2019, back when he was a student himself. Throughout the week Lyons volunteered his time by operating a booth where people could stop and paint a tile of their own to be included in the final mural.
“I was an international student and so I thought about making ceramic tiles that people could paint and just kind of tell a little bit about themselves,” he said. “And so the theme of the mural became ‘What do you bring to VIU?’”
The tiles are black and white, with the darker tiles spelling out “VIU.” Lyons said his booth was open during midterms and provided students, staff and faculty a break from stress and a moment to “paint and relax and celebrate the reasons you’re here.”
“That was really a cool experience,” Lyons said. “Because sometimes people would just sit down for two minutes or five minutes and some I had come and stay for hours working on one or two tiles because they got really into it.”
Lyons said the final painting sessions were particularly special to him because they were done at VIU’s Indigenous learning centre, Shq’apthut, meaning “gathering place.”
“To me it was really important to recognize that I’m a visitor on the Snuneymuxw First Nation territory and to reach out my hand to First Nation students and faculty and staff just to invite them to participate,” Lyons said.
Once the painting was completed, the finished tiles sat in the ceramics room at VIU until this spring, when Lyons was finally able to pick them up and have them fired. He said VIU and the people there mean a lot to him and this project was a way of showing his appreciation.
“I came here to make some changes in my life and VIU was a huge part of my reason for being and staying in this community,” he said. “And to know that I’ve, with the help of so many others, left a bit of a legacy there that celebrates the good parts of university life, it feels really good in my heart to have been given this opportunity to create that piece with people.”