New photo exhibition at Club Ilia strikes at the heart of the SFU community

Curated by and for the community, Jennyfer Chamberland’s archival art exhibit provokes conversations about SFU’s history

Photos from SFU’s history are displayed throughout the restaurant. Image courtesy of Chris Ho / The Peak.

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

In an effort to help foster a strong sense of community on Burnaby Mountain, SFU alumna Jennyfer Chamberland, who works with Club Ilia, has created an ongoing art exhibition in the restaurant, curated from the SFU archives. Chamberland and Tina Blakeman, general manager of Club Ilia, spoke to The Peak about their motivations behind the selected pieces.

I met Chamberland and Blakeman at Club Ilia to view the photo exhibition and discuss its origins. Chamberland was deeply motivated to curate pieces that spoke to the SFU community because of her connection to it. 

Chamberland has multiple connections to the mountain: she was a student at SFU, staff member at SFU, lives at UniverCity, and has a daughter at the school. With this, she claims to have a big heart for the school and restaurant. “I was happy to reach [out] to my contacts and knowledge of this community to make the display,” Chamberland said, gesturing to the newly framed photographs all over the restaurant.

Club Ilia has been open at SFU for over 10 years, and it’s located right between the campus and UniverCity, the residential and commercial community developed adjacent to the school. Its history and location make it the perfect intersection where the campus community meets the larger Burnaby Mountain community. This was the starting point for Chamberland’s work.

Chamberland reached out to SFU Archives and Records Management first, then explored alternate sources to curate this collection. 

“We reached out to The Peak, but we also reached out to other groups like the Terry Fox Foundation, [the] First Nation studies [department], various sports teams, and other community groups like the SFU Community Trust.”

At the time of The Peak’s meeting with Chamberland and Blakeman, there were 12 displays in the restaurant, all revealing different parts of the SFU community. One frame showed athlete and SFU alumnus Terry Fox, and another showed activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu receiving an honourary degree. The black and white tint cast over all of the photos made them look timeless. 

Image courtesy of Chris Ho / The Peak.

“I wanted to capture photos of key figures,” Chamberland said, looking at the photos. 

She and I conversed briefly about the significance of these people and their relationships to SFU. Pointing to the frame of Desmond Tutu, she said, “A lot of people don’t know that he was here to give a degree speech! A new student coming in might find that really neat.

Image courtesy of Chris Ho / The Peak.

In the main room of the restaurant, more photos are framed above the seats. The two pictures that drew my attention depicted students protesting tuition hikes in the 1980s, photographs which remain relevant for students today. 

Image courtesy of Chris Ho / The Peak.

“SFU has a history of protest,” Chamberland nodded, looking at the photographs. “We tried to capture some student protests [ . . . ] it’s always been a struggle. So when you look at these pictures, and you see that continuity [from then and now], it’s a conversation starter.” 

Engaging with the SFU community is ultimately Chamberland’s goal with the exhibit. 

“A lot of students are coming here from far away, and they’ve left their homes. You know, it’s scary enough being a full time student in a far away place. [But] where do you go to make connections?” Indeed, Chamberland’s sentiments highlighted SFU’s reputation as a commuter campus. 

Chamberland said that Club Ilia has, by virtue of its location, a role in creating this special space for the community. 

“Sometimes the campus hasn’t provided a lot of options for that. But we [Club Ilia] feel like we have that intimate space, that home-cooked kind of feeling [ . . . ] where people can come and connect.”

For future plans with the exhibit, Chamberland is looking to the SFU Community Trust. 

“They have a lot of pictures that reflect the SFU community up here,” explained Chamberland. 

“They’re literally building a community up here,” she continued, referring to UniverCity. 

Moreover, Chamberland is also looking to engage with student groups to capture some of their activities, such as showcasing the art of SFU students. Chamberland indicated that there are many directions the exhibit can go, as it is the restaurant’s first launch into a creative partnership with the community.

“This was our first selection, and what we plan to do is continue to get submissions from various groups and actually change them up on a regular basis,” Chamberland explained, noting that she’d like the pieces to help people learn more about their campus and their community. 

Jennyfer Chamberland’s curated exhibition of archival photos is currently on display at Club Ilia.

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