Sharing a spotlight with the underrepresented: Miriam Fabijan’s story

On March 17, 2023, Miriam Fabijan shows old catalogues of previous exhibitions she was featured on. The catalogue contains Fabijan’s artwork from her younger years as an artist. (Photo by Joanna Mendoza/The Press)

You might want to call her a local legend.

Miriam Fabijan is a multi-media artist and independent curator in Calgary. She builds and connects bridges, uplifts the underrepresented and gives a voice to the unheard.

Fabijan’s involvement in Calgary’s art community has led her to curatorial projects focused on promoting artworks by Indigenous, immigrant, and emerging and marginalized artists, with an emphasis on artworks by and about women.

Fabijan’s first curatorial opportunity was with the Tsuut’ina nation as a member of a committee tasked with curating a dinner series. The series invited artists to join and create art that reflected their experiences and journeys.

“I thought, ‘Well, this artwork should be shown in Calgary,’ because the whole dinner series was called the Nihisgaka Ogha, which means For the Children, and it was to connect the Tsuut’ina community with the Calgary community … as building a bridge between the two communities,” said Fabijan.

According to Fabijan, it was an independent project but through her connection with the land that falls under Treaty 7, she was able to make it happen.

“I had volunteered with them before, and they were doing an Indigenous art exhibition. So, we morphed the work that I had collected from the dinner series with an exhibition they were doing,” she said.

This project led to another opportunity the following year.

“They asked me to curate another Indigenous art exhibition, and that one was much larger. It was at the Arts Commons and the Calgary Central Library,” said Fabijan.

Aside from being a curator, Fabijan also mentors fellow artists. Autumn Whiteway, a Saulteaux/Métis artist, was one of her mentees.

Whiteway and Fabijan worked together for an exhibit called: Indigenous Motherhood and Matriarchy. Fabijan initiated the project, as she wanted the third one to be done by an indigenous curator.

“For that one, I mostly functioned as the exhibition coordinator, and I did some mentoring, but Autumn is a very gifted and intelligent woman, and she didn’t need much direction in terms of curation,” Fabijan said.

Fabijan’s projects have helped marginalized artists have a platform in the industry. According to her, the exhibits that she curates are about the people behind the artwork and not her.

“That’s all because I wanted the voice of the artists and their artist’s statement of their work to be the primary focus. So that is how I approach curation, and even with the indigenous art exhibitions, I did not have a big curatorial statement. It was just getting the artwork up, out and having the artist statements posted there for people to read,” she said.

Aside from showcasing Indigenous artworks, Fabijan also likes to highlight women artists in Calgary. In a recent project she worked on called, In Full Bloom: A Celebration of Artwork by and About Women, she focused on collecting pieces from women artists of different backgrounds.

 

Miriam Fabijan, giving her curatorial speech to the audience on March 8, 2023 at ATB Financial’s branch for Art and Culture. Fabijan recently curated an exhibition called, In Full Bloom: A Celebration of Artwork by and About Women. (Photo by Joanna Mendoza/The Press)

“What I was looking for was a range of representation. Women from various cultural backgrounds, very different visual arts backgrounds, in terms of where they are in the career, the type of education they had, whether they’re self-taught or they’re even at the master’s level,” Fabijan said in a previous interview,

Fabijan believes women’s artwork is different and needs to be highlighted.

“I also believe that creatively, women, their voices are different, and need to be recognized as being different,” she said. “So many subjects, we approach with very different lenses of how we look at things, so I wanted to highlight that. I [also] wanted to highlight people’s stories about where they come from, and how they got there.”

The artists in Fabijan’s life

Throughout Fabijan’s life, she had been surrounded by creativity and art.

Fabijan’s mother was a lacemaker and growing up, she admired her work, which slowly became Fabijan’s greatest inspiration.

“My mom, who was a very avid lace maker, knitted and crocheted lace. She’s been a great inspiration to me just because of how she integrated this creativity into her daily life,” says Fabijan.

Another great inspiration Fabijan had growing up was her dad.

“My dad was an engineer, but he did a lot of carpentry work. So, he was constantly building things. The fact that my parents were constantly making things with their hands gave me sort of the permission to do the same thing by being an artist,” she said.

Some of Fabijan’s artworks have remnants of her family and her Slovenian background. These pieces contain stories of individuals who are part of her personal and cultural identity.

On March 17 2023, Miriam Fabijan shows her favourite piece in her home. Hung in her living room is an embroidery portrait she made of her Slovenian grandparents. (Photo by Joanna Mendoza/The Press)

Fabijan’s biggest inspirations were not well-known artists in the industry, but her parents who made art daily.

“They’re probably my greatest inspiration to being an artist. A lot of my work reflects their voice and what they taught me growing up, and my cultural identity,” she said.

Involvement leads to connections, and connections lead to opportunities

The opportunities that come Fabijan’s way are a product of her involvement with the community and her hard work.

“I don’t know exactly how things happened,” she said. “it was often being in the right place at the right time.”

Fabijan did not say no to any opportunity that came her way.

“You don’t know where it’s going to lead, you might be working on a small project, a small exhibition— like I did with my first solo exhibition,” Fabijan says. “But it led to me connecting with Arts Commons, which led to, you know, working on some other projects with them, which led to, them then knowing I was working on the indigenous mother in a matriarchy exhibition series.

“So, it’s more just starting with small steps and then being open to you know, how it’s going to evolve, and not have necessarily a prescribed formula that you’re going to follow,” Fabijan said.

“For younger people, I think, just accept the steps as they come. The more that you’re out there, the more opportunities will come your way. If you’re interested in a particular gallery community, just start going to their events, and you know, getting to know the people there and, or volunteering or if you have the background, get on the board of something that you’re interested in whatever sort of avenue you feel most comfortable with taking,”

Taking one step at a time got Miriam Fabijan to where she is now. With her involvement and friendly nature, opportunities organically came her way. She eventually shared that opportunity with underrepresented artists in Calgary.

In her younger years, Fabijan was given a chance by her community to prosper as an artist, and now she is giving back by helping fellow artists have a platform to shine.

About Joanna Mendoza 6 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Joanna Mendoza is working as a writer for The Press in 2023.