Zainub Verjee

Photo credit: Ontario Association of Art Galleries

by Olivia Barrett, Editorial Associate

Thursday 25 January 2024

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Zainub Verjee moved to the United Kingdom to attend school. She came to Canada in the early 1970s and began to leave her mark on Canadian society. Her extensive work in the arts across the country gained immense recognition, resulting in Verjee being one of the 2023 appointees to the Order of Canada.

Her appointment to the Order recognizes Verjee’s commitment to representation and equitable policy legislation in Canada’s arts and culture sector. Verjee has served on the board of directors of the Aga Khan Museum since 2021 and as the executive director at the Ontario Association of Art Galleries since 2015. She was also a board member  for several organizations, such as the B.C. Arts Council, the B.C. Arts Board and the Racial Equity Office in Canada’s Council for the Arts. Her work with the B.C. Arts Board led to the B.C. Arts Act legislation and the formation of the B.C. Arts Council. Verjee also founded In Visible Colours in the late 1980s, a film and video festival by and for women of colour 

As for her artwork, Verjee’s work has been displayed in many galleries across North America. This includes the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art in Oregon and in various private and public collections in the Vancouver Art Gallery in British Colombia. 

Beyond her work in the arts, Verjee has also worked as a public servant. With the City of Mississauga, Verjee was the inaugural director of the culture division and its first culture master plan. She also worked as a senior policy advisor for the Department of Canadian Heritage and program officer at the Canada Council for The Arts. 

In addition to Verjee’s work in the arts and as a public servant, she is also a Senior Fellow of Massey College and a McLaughlin College Fellow at York University since 2021. She is also the laureate of the 2020 Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts Award For Outstanding Contribution. She has also received honorary doctorates from OCAD University in Toronto, NSCAD University in Halifax, Simon Fraser University and University of Victoria in British Colombia.

Through her work as a writer, critic, curator, contemporary artist and public intellectual, Verjee continues to reshape the arts and culture sector through her work on the boards of various arts organizations, such as the executive director of Galeries Ontario-Ontario Galleries.