Helma Sawatzky, PhD

Instructor in Art + Design
I see my role as a facilitator of learning—as a coach who supports students in becoming more confident, resilient, and self-directed as life-long learners. I seek to foster a mindset fueled by intuition, curiosity, and creativity and encourage students to welcome moments of ‘failure’ as opportunities for learning and growth.

A self-identified ‘generalist,’ Helma Sawatzky brings a broad, interdisciplinary academic background and professional experience to her teaching, scholarship, and creative practice. As an artist-researcher and musician, she explores the phenomenological dimensions of media—ways in which various media technologies participate in shaping and transforming the lived experience of time, space, and embodied being-in-the-world. Her work playfully and critically engages both contemporary and universal themes—raising questions about humanity, fragility, reality, perception, accumulation, pollution, and possibilities for regeneration and transformation.

  • PhD in Communication Studies (School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada; 2011-2020)
  • MA in Communication Studies (School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada; 2009-2011)
  • BFA in Visual Arts & Photography (Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, BC, Canada; 2005-2009)
  • Desktop Publishing Associate Certificate (BC Institute of Technology, Burnaby, BC, Canada; 200-2002)
  • BMus in Music Education & Contemporary Voice (Stedelijk Conservatorium, Groningen, The Netherlands; 1986-1992)


Photography Theory, Critical Theory, Post-Phenomenology, Arts-based Research, Contemporary Art, Defamiliarization, Image Event, Intra-action, Mediation, Visual Perception

Awards & Honors

  • President’s PhD Scholarship, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby BC Canada (2015)
  • The 2013 MEA Linda Elson Scholar Award for Top Student Paper for“Reconfigurations: Unfolding the spaces of mobile listening” (2013)
  • The 2011 MEA Linda Elson Scholar Award for Top Student Paper for“Anemone Theory: An Exploration of Digital Media as Phenomena” (2011)
  • Special Graduate Entrance Scholarship, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada (2011)
  • SFU Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology SSHRC recipient award (2010)
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) (2010)
  • Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (2010)
  • The Governor General’s Academic Medal (2009)

Recent Publications

  • Dart’s Hill Garden. Panoply. May 15, 2022 to September 25, 2022. Surrey BC, Canada (2022)
  • Surrey Art Gallery. Where We Have Been. September 19, 2019 to December 13, 2019. Surrey BC, Canada (works from the collection) (2020)
  • Surrey Art Gallery. Garden in the Machine. September 21, 2019 to December 15, 2019. Surrey BC, Canada (2019)
  • President’s Gallery. Trace Elements. February 17 to March 21, 2015. Trinity Western University, Langley BC, Canada (solo exhibition) (2015)
  • AgentC Gallery. Gross Density Parcel. July 23 to October 1, 2015. Surrey BC, Canada (group show) (2015)
  • Surrey Art Gallery. Views from the Southbank II | Moments, reflections, intervals. April 11, 2015 to June 14, 2015. Surrey BC, Canada (2015)

  • ART 230 Intro to photography
  • ART 370 Professional Practices
  • ART 390 Critical theory
  • ART 490 Directed study: Advanced topics in photography
  • SAMC 112 Interdisciplinary History of Western Arts (co-taught)