Law through a different lens

How does art come into play with the law? Osgoode Hall Law School has found a new way to intersect the two.
Visual artist Cindy Blaževic has been selected as Osgoode’s new artist in residence for a term during the 2013-14 school year.

Blaževic, a documentary photographer, will teach an upper-year elective course that explores justice and the law. Specifically, she has proposed to take students to the Kingston Penitentiary on the night of its decommissioning — scheduled to take place in April 2014 — and photograph its interior and interview key stakeholders.

Osgoode dean Lorne Sossin says the course will explore different perspectives on the criminal justice and penal systems, including how it looks from those involved, such as wardens, guards, inmates, judges, defence lawyers, and Crown attorneys.

“The pictures of the actual institution tell a great story of legal history, day-to-day reality in prison life, rehabilitation, punishment, all the tensions that go into the criminal justice system, and what comes out in terms of very human stories and human drama,” says Sossin.

This new program fits with Osgoode’s focus on experiential learning.

“The exhibit may be a series of photos and essays, but lying behind it will be a whole series of perspectives on justice that you couldn’t get in a classroom and you couldn’t get from writing papers,” he tells 4Students.

“A big part of law is advocacy, persuasion, telling stories, gaining new understandings of the impact of laws on people, and in all those respects art can achieve things that a more conventional approach to academic classroom settings or academic writing could never hope to do,” he adds.

Blaževic plans to collaborate with students on how to conduct this artistic project. Many of her past projects — which can be viewed on her web site — demonstrate a clear legal component.
She says law students can really benefit by using art to view the law.

“The law is a creative profession in the sense that you need to have a creative mind,” she says. “And when you approach anything in a different way, it shines new light on ideas, thoughts, and processes.”

Law student Pamela Hinman, who’s also president and co-founder of the Osgoode Fine Arts Collective, says it’s important for students to be exposed to the arts in law school.

“The arts can express what words can’t, and so a project like this has the potential to provide a variety of perspectives and a unique depth of understanding of law in action,” she says.

“As future law and policy-makers, I think it’s important that we’re exposed first-hand to education through art so that we can understand the value that it brings to our society,” she adds.

Blaževic has been awarded project grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council to cover the technical and logistical costs of the project. Osgoode is also providing her with a stipend.
Sossin says he hopes the artist in residence will continue as an ongoing program.

“It makes very good sense to broaden how we understand the impact of law through looking at it in the lens of an artist,” he says.

Among other artistic initiatives, Osgoode has engaged B.C. First Nations artist Charles (Ya’Ya) Heit to create a carving for the new law school building.

“Through each artistic medium, I think we’re going to get better perspectives on the legal issues and better perspectives on the connection between law and society,” says Sossin.

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