KPU art exhibit addresses issues with the Canadian education system

The display features repurposed desks to represent the artist’s experiences as a student and educator

Krystal Charlston's art exhibit Pedagogy is on display in the Arbutus building at the KPU Surrey campus until May 15. (Suneet Gill)


Krystal Charlston’s art exhibit Pedagogy is on display in the Arbutus building at the KPU Surrey campus until May 15. (Suneet Gill)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University fine arts graduate and Langley-based mixed-media artist Krystal Charlston is displaying sculptures that represent her criticisms of the Canadian education system in the Arbutus building at the Surrey campus until May 15. 

Charlston repurposed six desks for the Pedagogy exhibit, reflecting her experiences as a student and special education assistant in B.C. schools.

“As a teacher, we are told to find our own pedagogy and what suits us,” Charleston says. 

“My pedagogy is actually based off of … what I went through as a student [from] elementary to high school, and how I understand when kids are struggling,” 

Charlston faced learning disabilities that affected her ability to read as a student, which she represented with a desk called “Illiteracy.”

She covered the desk and its chair with redacted pages from a book on pedagogy and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, a novel she felt excluded from reading when she was younger.

“Read,” “stupid,” and “can’t” are some of the words Charlston left visible on the desk and also  glued the line “I can’t read,” to a page.

“I’ve [come] across so many students who [have] the same struggle. They can’t read and they feel stupid and they use devices to help them [with] reading,” Charleston says. 

“I want to acknowledge that, because all those kids, including myself, we can do it. We’re smart. I have a degree.”

Charlston also included a desk with mirror shards attached to it, acting as a self-portrait.

“I am that desk. I am broken because of what has happened to me. I was told I was stupid. I was called the r-word because I was in a resource [room] growing up,” she says.

“But I’m putting myself back together, and I am reflecting on not only my own experiences, but what I’m learning now and the history and what works in Pedagogy. It’s always evolving and changing.”

On another desk, Charlston arranged erasers to form an “F.” 

She failed Grade 10 and was told she wouldn’t graduate high school, so the erasers represent how those words can’t be removed. The chair is white with horizontal lines and a red margin to look like ruled paper.

An additional desk has a zoology textbook with a drawing of a crowned boy sitting on a hockey stick throne and a mug on the desk representing teachers.

“Especially in the Lower Mainland, hockey players [seem] to be the top dog or the king of social hierarchy,” Charlston says.

“As teachers, we teach [social hierarchy], unless we change it and acknowledge the people who are ‘the underdogs,’ as they would say.”

The last two desks are about Charlston’s family heritage and the importance of learning in nature.

Aside from desks, the exhibit features a TV playing a video of a factory, symbolizing how schools were designed to create factory workers. Charston also attached images of her old progress reports and assignments to the walls.

KPU fine arts instructor Maria Anna Parolin asked Charlston to display her work on campus after seeing it on Instagram.

For students, Charlston hopes the exhibit can help them reflect.

“I hope it brings back good memories, [or] maybe bad memories that [they] don’t want to think about,” she says. “I think so many people can relate to [that] experience in education.”

In the future, Charlston wants to expand Pedagogy to 30 desks, creating a full classroom. She’s currently studying to become a teacher.

Visit or @krystalc_art on Instagram to learn more.