Art in Action: A Discussion with Dr. Roger Boshier

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Roger Boshier (left) and Selwyn Muru (right)

By: Eileen Chen

Photo credits: Roger Boshier

University of British Columbia (UBC) Professor Emeritus Dr. Roger Boshier, who specializes in art, Asia-Pacific studies and adult education, sat down with us for a talk in late October.

Roger was born and raised in New Zealand, but has lived in Canada for most of his adult life, where he taught graduate students in the Department of Educational Studies at UBC. He has written numerous papers on psychology, lifelong learning and adult education around the world and, since the 1980s, has been conducting research in rural and urban China.

He is interested in understanding the socio-cultural dimensions of learning and his research is applicable to a wide range of fields – such as health-care, occupational health and safety, rural revitalization and social activism. Along with helping UNESCO build “learning cities,” his current projects concern ways to actively involve indigenous elders in settler universities. He is also writing a biography of Selwyn Muru, a New Zealand Māori painter, sculptor and broadcaster.

During our conversation, Roger repeatedly emphasized the need for Eurocentric universities to incorporate Indigenous knowledge systems – especially in the context of serious problems like climate change. With this in mind, he believes schools and settler universities need major reform.

“They need to seriously embrace indigenous world views. Indigenizing the curriculum  or tokenistic welcomes to ancestral land are not enough,” he said.

Roger cites wānanga (public institutions providing education in a Māori cultural context) in New Zealand as a successful example of how to foreground indigenous world views and knowledge systems.

Apart from working in academia and writing papers and books, Roger runs boats and enjoys life on an eight-acre island in the Gulf of Georgia. Living off-the-grid – with storms, gardens, chooks, misbehaving otters and noisy seals – he has had to educate himself about solar energy, wildfire, tools, marine mammals, island  culture and extreme weather.

He strongly believes in a “do-it-yourself” ethos and regrets the professionalization of so many (mostly routine) aspects of daily life. In addition, he is a very strong supporter of GIRO (the Gabriola Island Recycling Organisation) and the UNESCO concept of “learning villages.”

“Many Canadians rely on paid helpers for things they should do themselves,” he said. For example, he laments the fact people turn to paid counsellors instead of unpaid friends in pubs to sort out marriage difficulties.

Roger loves the cultural diversity of Canada, but has his New Zealand roots to thank for his hands-on attitude and spirit of adventure. “Doors open and close.  When a door opens, do you have the courage to go through? That is the question! In Canada there is sometimes too much paralysis by analysis.”

Roger believes the tendency to commodify things weakens the quality of life. We’re witnessing a “professionalization of human relations,” he said. He is happy to see home made protest signs carried by children at anti-pipeline protests.

“Here is a case of art-in-action! This is encouraging because it is difficult for kids to put down phones.  But when kids create art to build a better world we have to be happy,” he said.

“Maybe adults can learn from kids?”

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