THIS WEEK IN OTTAWA & TORONTO: #BlackHistoryMonth ends but the contemporary influence continues

Club SAW hosts Black History Month Doc & Talk in partnership with One World Film Festival. 

WHAT: Screening of Invisible City
WHERE: Club SAW at 67 Nicholas Street, Ottawa
WHEN: Thursday, February 25 at 7 pm
COST: Suggested donation is $5 for the general public & $4 for One World Arts members. **Seating is limited**

One World Arts and the One World Film Festival are marking Black History Month with a screening of the award-winning documentary INVISIBLE CITY and a post-film talk with Saide Sayah  (Program Manager for the Affordable Housing Unit at the City of Ottawa) and Chelby Daigle (Community activist and long-term resident of social housing).

The evening will also feature a new Heritage Minute about Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond, a Nova Scotian woman who challenged racial segregation and is often referred to as “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” courtesy of Historica Canada.

INVISIBLE CITY follows the lives of two black teens from Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, Kendell and Mikey, as they make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Their mothers and mentors root for them to succeed as the teens grapple with issues of race, crime and notions of manhood and the social pressures of an environment that places them at risk.

Turning his camera on the often ignored inner city, Oscar-nominated director Hubert Davis sensitively depicts the disconnection of urban poverty and race from the mainstream. INVISIBLE CITY was the winner the Best Canadian Feature award at the 2009 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

Click here to join, like and share this event on Facebook!

More on Invisible City director Hubert Davis on this BlogTO article.

Also, this week INTERGALACTIC NOISE:: A partnership between Black Future Month & the Art Gallery Mississauga 

WHAT: Panel Discussion and Reception
WHERE: Art Gallery of Mississauga
WHEN: Friday, February 26 at 7 – 10 pm

Intergalactic Noise invites a re-engagement with the concept of Black History Month, as artists, designers, and multi-media creatives explore the concept of Afrofuturism. In using the date of 3016, Black Future Month offers an entry point to imagine utopic Black realities beyond the assigned month. Rather than accepting a naïve concept of a future full of advanced technology, the featured artists instead contemplate the possibilities of an advanced humanity.

Exhibiting artists:

  • Sherrae Lyon
  • Quentin VerCetty
  • Danilo McCallum
  • Ekow Nimako

Amanda Parris, host of CBC’s arts & culture programme Exhibitionists moderates a discussion between artists Camille Turner, Ekow Nimako, and Quentin Vercetty.

Join the INTERGALATIC NOISE:: Facebook Event Page for more information

***FREE TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE AGM via BUS! 
BUS PICK-UP LOCATION: GLADSTONE HOTEL (1214 QUEEN ST. W, Toronto) AT 5:30PM.***

upclose shot of black man's hands holding a pink lego mask
Mask by Ekow Nimako. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

 

THE CURATOR AS A 21ST CENTURY AGENT OF CHANGE: Leah Snyder presents at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s Power of the Arts Forum

Since the end of August life has been a blur of important events, all of which focus on CHANGE.

Change the way we protect the environment. In August, at the People’s Social Forum Ottawa, I was introduced to people who have become activists out of the necessity to ensure that the land we share is safe.

Change the way we fund community initiatives. In September I was one of 40+ professionals invited by the Governor General David Johnston to be part of a think tank at Rideau Hall that was centred around creating a new Foundation for Canada.

Change the way we construct historical archives. In October I participated in the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective Colloquium in Montreal where one of the main focuses was best practice design for the structure of digital archives that challenge entrenched national narratives.

Change the way we think about diversity. In November I presented at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s The Power of the Arts Forum. I encountered many cultural provocateurs who are adding to the discussion around what diversity looks like.

My own presentation assessed the role the institutional curator can play in facilitating deep cultural transformation in Canada.

Since 2010 when I began to write about contemporary culture in Canada I have been fortunate to to attend hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds!) of events. What this gives me is a bird’s eye view of the changing cultural landscape. I have the luxury of being able to stand back as well as step in allowing me both critical distance and intimate knowledge of the environment.

It was a great opportunity to speak at The Power of the Arts and my fellow presenters offered me even more inspiration, ideas and provocative food for thought around broadening the definition of what we mean when we say ‘diversity’.

Below is the transcript of my presentation as well as the Powerpoint images with the accompanying text. If you want to read the presentation along with the images you can click on the top left image and the rest will follow!

black stroke

black stroke

2013 was a year that Canada experienced a lot of growing pains. We are a young nation and sometimes we act with youthful grace and other times with the messy inappropriateness of bodies not yet used to the skin they are quickly expanding into.

Idle No More was a movement that probably wasn’t on most people’s radar when it first formed but it rapidly spread thanks to the brilliant ease that technology allows messages to travel.

What it also did was start to shake the foundational narratives and pushed Canada into a bit of an identity crisis.

And an identity crisis can be good a thing. Even healthy! If it is recognized as a moment to reflect back on who you were before the rug was pulled out from underneath you.

And like any identity crisis the signs were already pointing to a breakdown long before it happened. If you step away from the history of colonization and the impact it has had on Indigenous populations there are other histories Canada has had trouble acknowledging – slavery in Canada, the treatment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, and the unfortunate history of the community of Africville, Nova Scotia to name a few.

Canada has not always been a safe place for new immigrants and there are still areas where many Canadians feel they are outsiders in their own nation. LGBTQ rights have been a work in progress and away from urban centres it can still be unsafe to be open about your sexuality.

But I have hope. BIG HOPE! I know Canada is going to make it through this incredibly painful time where collectively as a Nation we are having to acknowledge hard truths about our history.

WHY am I so hopeful? Because I have the wonderful fortune of working in the Arts (and with people like this)

This is where I see amazing work being done. And I see a lot of that work happening in institutional settings.

Outside of producing Mixed Bag Mag I am also a web designer. Many of my clients are artists, and more specifically Indigenous artists whose work is about dialoguing with national narratives regarding historical and contemporary realities of First Peoples in Canada.

One of my clients is Jeff Thomas, a self-described Urban Iroquois, and who I have dubbed “The Godfather of Indigenous Urban Photography.” I will come back to him later but where I want to start my story is on a cold, winter night in Toronto that included a snow storm, a Tribe Called Red and a gifted ticket from a stranger on Facebook. I found myself, last minute, at the Art Gallery of Ontario for First Thursdays.

If you don’t know about first Thursdays, it’s a great event that happens the first Thursday of every month at the AGO. The night includes entry to the exhibits, live music, performance art, interactive demos and food. This particular Thursday A Tribe Called Red was performing.

Despite the cold it was a hot night! Sold OUT! I left my decision to go so late I couldn’t even get a media pass so I put a call out on Facebook and a friend -of-a-friend gave me his ticket.

I stood above the crowd packed into Walker Court in order to get a good photograph. What I witnessed made me stop and put my camera down to take it all in. I have these times as a photographer where I know I need to stop and spend time with the moment – to just feel the energetics of the space. I was having one of those moments.

Duncan Campbell Scott, the man who was head of Indian Affairs in the early 1900s was quoted as saying “The happiest future for the Indian race is absorption into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government.” Here were 3 men – 3 men that if Duncan Campbell Scott had his way would not exist – being unapologetically Indigenous. And the crowd could not get enough of their beats that include mixing dance hall, reggae, hip hop and powwow.

One of the members of Tribe is Jeff Thomas’ son – Bear Witness.

I know he is damn proud of Bear’s work because as he says “he is reaching people I never could.” So why is Bear, a DJ who re-mixes club music, playing for a young, fashionable crowd so important? Because traditionally spaces of Western Culture are not welcoming spaces if you are someone who lies outside the dominant culture. If you are Indigenous, African, South American, basically any culture conquered by the European Countries and colonized you have undoubtedly found your culture being reduced to relics in the structures that dictate what is culturally relevant – even what is culturally ALIVE.

And now a quick history lesson on Museums and Galleries.

The history of what Philippe de Montebello, former director of The Metropolitan Museum Art, calls the “Universal Museum” is around 200 years old. The concept, which we are all familiar with, is to take a look at the world, in chronological order, a linear space where we move through time – a documentation of “PROGRESS.” This type of space allowed for aesthetic connections to be made between culture objects from varying places from the same points in time – a visual record of history – but whose history?

The Louvre was the first public museum. The princes wanted to show what they had “acquired.”

As de Montebello says “Western museums started because they felt legitimately entitled to take the art of the places they were conquering and bring them back to study them.”

With this start as the backdrop it is easy to understand how objects became festishized for their aesthetic and stripped of the human stories that accompany
…their creation,
…their use within their own culture context,
…and then the often tragic events that lead to their acquisition in the collections.

But in the context of the pluralistic realities that we live in now this way of organizing what is our experience of culture is highly problematic. We know there is more than one entry point to history and multiple views are not only valid they are necessary to reconstruct a strong foundation upon which to move forward.

While on a recent trip to New York City I visited the Brooklyn Museum. They had this tremendously beautiful gallery space that was about just that – the act of reconstruction.

As you entered into the space you were met with the words “CONNECTING CULTURES…Museums bring the world’s treasures to the public. Like many other museums The Brooklyn Museum collects works of art in order to inspire, uplift and inform.”

The room was a glorious hodge podge of exquisite and ancient craftsmanship and work by contemporary artists. It was clear that in this space notions of hierarchy were dissolved. A linear progression was abandoned. Instead there was a conversation between equals. And that is an important note of difference.

This image says it all because this young boy who was there studying and taking notes would have been denied access to this museum in a recent past.

Everywhere you turned in the museum you were met by thoughtful curation and diadatic panels that added more voices to the mix. And their emphasis on presenting contemporary African-American artists like Kehinde Whiley makes sense in a community where there is a huge Black population.

Ok, so enough about America, let’s get back to Canada and that night at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The AGO, at the height of Idle No More movement, just weeks after Chief Spence ended her hunger strike, had Tribe programmed to perform. Inside an institutional space that traditionally was about implied exclusivity the performance of 3 men related the message:

NOT ONLY AM I ALIVE, BUT I AM YOUR CONTEMPORARY.
NOT ONLY HAVE MY PEOPLE SURVIVED BUT WE THRIVE.

That’s powerful stuff, especially in light of the historical documents currently being uncovered that speak to the strategies to annihilate Indigenous populations here in Canada.

A few months after that Tribe performance at the AGO the National Gallery of Canada had an exciting opening – Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art Exhibit – that included 150 works of recent Indigenous art by over 80 artists.

This exhibit was the groundbreaking because of the fact it was the first of its kind – an exhibit that took an international scope of Indigenous artists alive, THRIVING, today. This wasn’t a show about surveying artifacts. This was an exhibit about the relevance of Indigenous artists using their practice as social commentary. Sakahàn was long in the making before Idle No More but the timing was certainly interesting as it situated the work of Indigenous artists working in Canada in the present tense. Canadians could frame the work with current events of Idle No More, Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the call for an inquiry into the  Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Sakahàn means to strike a light, a fire, in the Algonquin language. Algonquin people, part of the greater cultural group of Anishinaabeg peoples, are the traditional custodians of this land where Ottawa is now located so it was an appropriate and important gesture to use this as the show’s title.

The three curators who organized this immense project were Greg Hill (Audain Curator of Indigenous Art) and Christine Lalonde (Associate Curator of Indigenous Art) of the National Gallery as well as independent curator Candice Hopkins (Elizabeth Simonfay Guest Curator).

I am grateful to Greg, Kayen’kahaka (Mohawk) of the Six Nations of the Grand River, for giving me an thorough tour of the show. What blew me away was the fact that the artists in this show were working way beyond being concerned with just an aesthetic. They were working from deeply personal spaces. They understood their role as artists and their responsibility as cultural producers to make visible what has been buried.

It was overwhelming, emotional, beautiful, and I went back 5 more times. One of the most powerful things that Sakahàn did was it reached out to the larger arts community in Ottawa. Auxiliary shows and events happened all over the city. This is where I felt Sakahàn had it’s most transformative impact. In Ottawa last summer, you encountered contemporary Indigenous art everywhere.

But Sakahàn wasn’t the only show that year that managed to squeeze itself into the institutional space to force open a crack to allow change in.

Between  2013 to 2014 I have lost count of how many shows I have attended that are about using an institutional space to create meaning around contested histories, controversies, and current events. This doesn’t even include the shows that came prior to 2013. Many people have invested blood, sweat and tears and had doors shut on them. It’s the legacy of their labour that allows for the incredible explosion of culturally transformative work we are witnessing now.

I have seen these types of shows in New York and here at home in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa as well as smaller cities like Kitchener, Oakville, Oshawa, and Markham. Something has definitely shifted!

The door is now open and there is no going back into the shadows.

In recent news The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has been open about their epic fail when they launched “Into the Heart of Africa” in 1989 – a re-framing of the Africa collection through colonial eyes. Although meant to be a critique, once it opened what was demonstrated was that the curators were still not willing to consider that perhaps their framing perpetuated hurtful narratives. There were protests that had little immediate impact but what we see now, as we approach the 25th anniversary, is a demonstration in best practice around the complexities of reconsidering history from alternate perspectives.

The ROM has brought in Julie Crooks and Dominique Fontaine to curate “Of Africa” a “multiplatform and multiyear project aimed at rethinking historical and contemporary representations of Africa.”

On October 24 the ROM Hosted a symposium in preparation for “Of Africa” that included panel discussion on “Learning from Into the Heart of Africa.”

“The elephant in the room” as Silvia Forni the ROM’s curator for African programming calls it has now become a moment upon which something transformative AND truthful can be built.

We are in a beautiful moment in time. We can be intentional about how we move forward to create change. There is opportunity for everyone’s voice to be represented at the table. Best practice around how to navigate this new space we are in is:

  • First acknowledge the hard truths

  • Second, like the ROM, acknowledge how communities were wronged

  • Be ok with being uncomfortable

  • Be open to learn something new

  • Inquire about Protocol

  • Outreach to communities

  • Get to know the leaders

I am going to book end this talk by finishing where we started at the AGO’s Walker’s Court. On July 30 this year, on a little warmer of a night, with no snow storms in the forecast, Beyond the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes opened. At the very top of the court were a series of drums by Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle, who was also in attendance. The drums hang in the place where the German artist Lother Baumgarten was commissioned, in 1984, to do a site-specific work that he titled Monument for the Native People of Ontario. In this piece it was clear that neither Baumgarten nor the AGO did their research. The recent AGO renovation did away with the install and now Robert’s work intervenes in the neo-classical space with his series that references the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabeg peoples.

  • Zaagi’idiwin / Love

  • Nibwaakaawin / Wisdom

  • Dabaadendiziwin / Humility

  • Minaadendamowin / Respect

  • Debwewin / Truth

  • Aakode’ewin / Courage

  • Gwayakwaadiziwin / Honesty

The opening began with prayer and song by Elder Garry Sault who spoke in both Anishinaabemowin and English followed by a welcoming by Chief Bryan LaForme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

Also on the agenda that  night was an awards ceremony. Metis artist Christi Belcourt, the woman behind the initiative Walking With Our Sisters, received the Ontario Arts Council’s Aboriginal Arts Award. When Christi got up to accept her award she used it as a platform to educate the audience about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Her act was an important intervention into the space.

In the palatial court part of the Beaux Art structure built in 1920s and revamped by architect Frank Gehry in 2008 what could have been just-another-art-party became a somber and important moment of remembering.

When Andrew Hunter, Curator of Canadian Art at the AGO, came up to the podium to speak he made one thing clear – this was not a show of contemporary art paired with “artifacts” but of contemporary artists juxtaposed with past masters. Indigenous art has often been presented as relics of a dead culture far removed from contemporary realities and without relevance to current events.

This small statement powerfully defines how today’s institutional curator can be an instrument for change.

Andrew stood in solidarity with a community who has had the institutional door closed on them many times.

At some point in the evening I took a moment to go back up to the area where I watched A Tribe Called Red perform over a year before. Again, like that night, Walker Court was packed full of people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. I took a few photos. Then I put my camera down.

I listened to the moment.
I heard change.

Thank you. Merci. Miigwetch.
black stroke

Check out Mixed Bag Mag’s poster submissions for The Power of the Arts. Top poster features talented dancer / choreographer Emily Law, middle poster visual artist Ekow Nimako with his amazing work, and dancer / choreographer Esie Mensah, another beautiful talent!



AS BLACK HISTORY MONTH ENDS: Reflecting on Wedge Curatorial Collective & Jon Blak @ The Gladstone

Jamall Brothers by Jon Blak courtesy of Wedge Curatorial Collective.

Looking back and forward at the Wedge Collection.

A few times a year Wedge Curatorial Collective produces shows that explore Black Identity from the perspective most often located in the Caribbean Diaspora.

Image by Dennis Morris

My earliest memory of Wedge is back sometime around the early part of the millennium. Wedge’s founder, Kenneth Montague, had set up an exhibit of British-Jamaican photographer Dennis Morris’ work in his home (the original gallery space for Wedge exhibits called Shift Gallery). I met Dennis, who was in attendance, and became interested in the work Ken was doing as he was one of the people working to fill in the gap between fact and fiction when the institutions of culture overlooked contemporary narratives of Blackness.

Fast forward a decade and Ken has turned Wedge Curatorial into something much more than exhibits of photography. Wedge has become about conversations – around race, identity, community and culture. And Wedge has certainly played a part in working towards closing that gap by providing the necessary insertion of Black Identity into cultural institutions like the ROM with exhibits such as Position As Desired / Exploring African Canadian Identity.

This year Wedge has partnered again with the Gladstone Hotel and TD Bank for the “Then & Now Black History Month Series” to present local photographer and youth educator / mentor Jon Blak. Titled HOME Jon’s work is about reaching back to his familial roots in Jamaica while dissecting what it means to be a product of a culture here in Canada, that because of its hybrid mix, can at times cause feelings of dislocation.

Wall of Fame by Jon Blak courtesy of Wedge Curatorial Collective.

Half of the exhibit was photographs of subjects located in Jon’s memories of Jamaica and contemporary youth culture. The other half of HOME spoke to the memories Jon has of the elders in the local Caribbean community who played a critical role in his own youth. There were several rooms full of warm and intimate images of tailors, shopkeepers, and barbers – all the enterprising individuals who added a new layer to Canadian identity while keeping strong ties to the cultural associations back home.

Oakwood by Jon Blak courtesy of Wedge Curatorial Collective.

One room was ‘stacked’ floor to ceiling with photographs that almost convince the viewer that the room is stocked with all the staples one needs to cook a satisfying meal. It’s the replication of the West Indian shop that speaks to the collective memory many of us have from growing up in suburban and urban Southwestern Ontario – a place where you could buy a ‘ting’ or two.

Image by Yannick Anton.

On the night of the opening the install was interactive with boxes of the staples come to life – scotch bonnets, plantain, and callaloo as well as loaves of hard do bread were handed out to the lucky guests while peppery corn soup was served hot and fresh by One Love Vegetarian Take-out.

Image by Yannick Anton.

The night was a reminder of how much the culture of the Caribbean has infused the culture of Canada. Maybe now the conversation about what is home will become less dislocating because of projects like Wedge that support emerging artists who document the facts of Blackness in Canada.

For more information on Wedge Curatorial Collective projects and shows visit their website or follow on Facebook and on twitter @Wedge_Toronto.

For more of Jon’s work visit www.jonblakfoto.com.

THIS WEEK IN TORONTO: Reel Artist Film Fest, The State of Blackness, The Artist Project & Building Black

Drawing of a black woman's torso and heart like a anatomical drawing superimposed on itStill We Rise by Rema Tavares, panelist at The State of Blackness Conference.

The body, the face, a space – artists’ ability to mirror who we are & who we can be.

This week in Toronto incredible talent will be gathering to celebrate but also critique.

Colourful painting of a man's torso in a suit jacket
The Introduction #8 by Samara Shuter, The Artist Project Toronto.

Black outline of the backside of a woman lying down filled in with geometric patternsAfro-priation by Rema Tavares, panelist at The State of Blackness Conference.

black stroke

REEL ARTIST FILM FESTIVAL

Logo for Reel Artist Film Festival Tonight Canadian Art’s amazing documentary film fest, RAFF (Reel Artist Film Fest) launches. Under the direction of the former Executive Director of Canadian Art, Ann Webb, RAFF became the sweet spot in the year for incredible inspiration. The Opening Night has become a big art star event with this year’s guest of honour Kehinde Wiley in attendance. Known for his vibrant portraits of black men that reference the portraiture work of Renaissance painters, Kehinde has (with some trepidation)  moved on to paint women. An Economy of Grace is the documentary that follows Kehinde as he searches for the women who will become his new muses.

RAFF will also be screening two of Art21’s New York Close Up shorts this year. The first is by LaToya Ruby Frazier, one of the artists short-listed for last year’s AIMIA AGO Photography Prize.

“Her work interrogates how the toxic postindustrial geography of Braddock, Pennsylvania has shaped multiple generations of her family, acting as a mirror for the complex social problems that beset America today.” Read more…

The second short is Rashid Johnson Makes Things to Put Things On.

“In this film, Rashid Johnson discusses the fluid nature of black identity in America and its escapist tendencies, from the Afrocentric politics of Marcus Garvey to the cosmic philosophy of Sun Ra.” Read more…

Portrait of a mirror image of a black man with dreads and suit jacket
Portrait of Rashid Johnson from RAFF website.

Painting of young white girl lying down and tracing the lines of a damask pattern
Vivid Blue by Eric Robitaille, The Artist Project Toronto.

black stroke

THE ARTIST PROJECT TORONTO

The Artist Project Toronto LogoAnother great art party happens Thursday night with the Opening Soirée for The Artist Project Toronto. Running until Sunday The Artist Project offers three full days to experience beautiful work.

Eric Robitaille’s pieces show his talent as a graphic designer with stories emerging from the many colour washes and textural layers of his work. “During the last few years, the development of several new techniques has allowed for a more spontaneous and raw style, balanced throughout with meticulous detail.” Read more…

Colourful painting of a man's torso in a suit jacketThe Introduction #5 & #11 by Samara Shuter, The Artist Project Toronto.

Artist Samara Shuter paints crayola coloured canvases of men in suits because the suit “has represented something for decades; power, productivity, strength, economic prosperity, and hard work.” Read more…

upclose photograph of towers like city skyscrapers made of colourful lego
Lego City Tower on Hill Elevation by Laird Kay, The Artist Project Toronto.

Laird Kay has studied planning and design so it’s not surprising his photography reaches back to the concepts of city planning via the playful medium of lego as the building blocks.

“Lego City Elevation, Is it Dubai? Is it Hong Kong? New York? Singapore? Toronto? Vancouver? Or all of the above? Cities used to be the result of collective will and a desire to shape – to control – our environments. They were expressions of the things that happened in them. Now they’re about branding and image. Like plastic, like LEGO City, they’re no longer built to last – they can be pulled down when fashions change. LEGO City expresses the modern absence of community in city-shaping. Although stylized, these photographs of LEGO City show us how the line between plastic and uninhabited has become virtually indistinguishable from the “real thing”.” See more…

Image of 3 white styrofoam cups on white background
Tears in the Ice Box by Noah Gano, The Artist Project Toronto.

The technicolour spectrum contained in Laird’s work on how places start to eclipse our human essence with their artificiality is in sharp contrast to the minimalist whiteness of Noah Gano who also makes use of materials the are divorced from the natural. “Navigating through themes of experience and identity, he works conceptually in photography, sculpture, and collage.” See more…

There is much to see at The Artist Project and much to buy with all artists exhibiting work that is for sale and ready to find a new home. Plan on making a purchase!

black stroke

Logo for The State of Blackness ConferenceAlso on Thursday The State of Blackness Conference begins.

“This conference consists of both closed working sessions and public events. The conference opens with one and a half days of closed working sessions designed to provide opportunities for artists, educators, curators, scholars, and cultural workers to engage in intensive and critical collaborative discussions about the current state of blackness and the challenges and strategies employed to increase visibility. Emphasis will be placed on developing networks of engagement and knowledge exchange while developing methodologies and practices that inform the future of black Canadian artistic production and teaching.”

Labeeb by Abdi Osman, panelist at The State of Blackness Conference

One of the panelists is Abdi Osman a “Somali-Canadian photographer whose work focuses on questions of black masculinity as it intersects with Muslim and queer identities.”

Also included on the public panel at Harbourfront Centre (Saturday 2 pm), are the artists Rema Tavares (work seen above), Olivia McGilchrist (work seen below) and Erika DeFreitas.


Discover Me…Series 1 & 2 by Abdi Osman, panelist at The State of Blackness Conference

black stroke

Heidi McKenzie, Curator of ‘Face Value’ from Heidi McKenzie on Vimeo.

Logo for Face Value Show

“What you see isn’t necessarily who you are”

Corresponding with the conference is the exhibit Face Value by curator / artist Heidi McKenzie.

“The way people look, and the way they are looked at, has a profound effect on the person being seen. For the bi-racial or mixed-race person, the simple act of being seen by others can be fraught with tension and ambiguity. The familiar unconscious act of identifying and categorizing a person’s race based on their face value slips beyond the concrete into the murkiness of the grey zone.”

Olivia McGilchrist Artist Statement from Heidi McKenzie on Vimeo.

(whitey) Discovery Bay by Olivia McGilchrist, panelist at The State of Blackness Conference 


Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

black stroke

Building Black at Daniels Spectrum

Another artist using Lego in his work is Ekow Nimako who uses the toy blocks to produce pieces that are about the less-than-playful issues around identity and racial narratives.

For the month of February his work in the show Building Black is part of Daniels Spectrum’s programming around Black History Month. On the main floor of the Arts Centre, Ekow’s work greets you at the side entrance and lines the hallway outside the theatre spaces. His masks reflect the cultural legacy Ekow inherited from his parents who immigrated to Canada from Ghana. They are each infused with their own personality and speak of the strength and tenacity of culture.

His other figures have darker stories which Ekow, also a writer, provides. Mounted on the walls is the poetry he has written for each piece. A golliwog sits less than comfortably, performing a stiff smile that would make Paula Deen feel nostalgic. The life sized figure of a child dressed like a flower girl is exhausting in its detail but also in the back story. Ekow was researching slave narratives and considering the lost girls who would never be granted the innocence of childhood dreams.

Flower Girl Requiem

Forever innocent they say,
Free from taint or world decay,
Pretty basket filled with blooms
Plucked from the earth none too soon.

Love she for all her hope and youth,
Her pretty gown, the purest truth
Her basket and the whites within,
The blooms of cotton, soft and grim.

The world can never seem so stark,
So bright, so safe, so cold and dark
As when gazed upon through childhood’s eyes,
For which my precious dare not oblige.

Alas, her aisle will not be strewn,
For she who’s ever loved is gone
The child of flowers, picked and praised
Forever innocent, they say.

Recent spread in Grid Magazine on Ekow installing his show.

black stroke

As part of the Building Black show Ekow will be giving an artist talk Talking Black this Sunday 3 – 6 pm at Daniels Spectrum, Regent Park.

More details and schedules for the events can be found on the websites listed below:

Reel Artist Film Festival (Wednesday – Sunday, Opening Party Tonight)

The Artist Project Toronto (Thursday – Sunday, Opening Party Thursday Night @ Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place)

The State of Blackness Conference (Open to the Public on Saturday @ the Harbourfront Centre)

Face Value (Thursday – March 2nd, Opening Reception Thursday Night @ Gallery 1313)

Daniels Spectrum Black History Month Shows (on now for the remainder of the month)