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.

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: Carbon 14 – Climate is Culture Exhibition at the ROM

Science meets art and inspires activism for the environment at the ROM!

“In 2001 the artist David Buckland founded Cape Farewell to instigate a cultural response to climate change. Cape Farewell is now an international not-for-profit programme based in the Science Museum’s Dana Centre in London and with a North American foundation based at the MaRS centre in Toronto.”

Now Cape Farewell has partnered with the ROM: Contemporary Culture to produce the exhibit Carbon14: Climate is Culture and ask ” how does landscape change a culture and how does culture change a landscape?”  Utilizing photography, film, multi-media and performance this question is explored with the audience.

Because of the mandate of promoting dialogue, the programming for Carbon14 has included public talks, discussions and conferences around the issues of climate change, sustainability and our cultural responses to them.

Last Sunday the ROM hosted The Changing Arctic Landscape: Day of Dialogue that brought together environmental experts along with Inuk activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier and artist Susan Aglukark. The day ended with Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.

“Both ancient and modern, Tanya Tagaq’s performances with long-time collaborator Michael Red fuse her highly personalized throat singing style with Red’s electronic sound art. When the two perform, Tagaq’s powerful, fervent vocals enmesh with layered rhythms and melodies built from Red’s collection of natural Arctic sonic elements (wind, ice, birds, etc.). The collaboration yields a fascinating, highly improvised mix of digital effects, dance and dub-inspired beats and bass, and shape shifting soundscapes.” Read more on Tanya…

This Sunday Staging Sustainability, a conference whose aim is to “focus on ways in which performance can positively affect our planet”, begins and runs until Wednesday, February 5.

To register for Staging Sustainablity click here…

Don’t miss out on the final days of Carbon 14! For more information visit the Carbon 14 website and follow on Cape Farewell’s Facebook Page.

Image from the Cape Farewell’s Carbon 14 website.

Global Warming by Jaco Ishulutaq

“Using media from the land — soapstone, bone and ivory — Ishulutaq’s carving explores global warming and its impacts on glaciers, ice, wildlife, and weather, while encouraging the cultures of the North and South to join hands in taking care of the environment and each other.”  Read more…

Image from the Cape Farewell’s Carbon 14 website.

Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change by Zacharias Kunuk + Ian Mauro

“Qapirangajuq is the world’s first Inuktitut language film on climate change and includes the traditional knowledge and experience of Inuit elders and hunters from across Nunavut. Travelling on the land, the viewer sees firsthand the Arctic and its people, and how they are interconnected and affected by a warming world.” Read more…

Image from the Cape Farwell’s Carbon 14 website.

Deep Time by Melanie Gilligan + Tom Ackers

“Deep Time, a new multi-screen work by Melanie Gilligan and Tom Ackers, blends fiction, animation, and documentary to investigate the complex relationships between systemic phenomena created by humans (such as global warming, ocean chemistry change, and capitalism) and ocean ecosystems, the often-forgotten foundation of life on this planet.” Read more…

Image from the Cape Farwell’s Carbon 14 website.

 Beekeeping for All by Myfanwy MacLeod + Janna Levitt

“In every bee colony, thousands of individuals work in a highly intelligent, co-dependent and hierarchical manner to build hives, and in the act of doing so, provide a fundamental service to all of nature and, almost incidentally, to human survival. Without pollination, there is no agriculture. Without bees transmitting genetic information triggering the creation of new life, new food, new beauty, and growth, we as humans cannot nourish successive generations or ourselves.” Read more…

Image from the Cape Farwell’s Carbon 14 website.

The Potential Project by Mel Chin

“A collaborative presentation by Mel Chin, with the people of the Western Sahara, Ahmed Boukhari, Dr. Richard Corkish, Markus A. R. Kayser, Mohamed Sleiman Labat, Jonathan Teo, with thanks to Robin Kahn, Kirby Gookin, and Representative Mohamed Yeslem Beissat.” Read more…

TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: Sebastião Salgado: Genesis at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

A line of zebras drinking insync at a pond
© Sebastião Salgado Courtesy of Amazonas images

“Deserts that we made, that we provoked with our own hands.”

The beauty of Sebastião Salgado’s message in Genesis? That the solution really is so simple! It’s not without hard work but if we want to start to reverse the damage done it is doable and Sebastião has proven it with his own hands on his own land.

Upon inheriting his parent’s cattle ranch in Brasil, the rainforest that was already almost 50% gone when he was a child was now diminished to 0.5%. Experiencing the devastation of the deforestation that had occurred over the decades of living far away, the love of his life, his wife Lélia, dared him with a “crazy idea.”

“Why don’t you put back the rainforest that was here before. You told me you were born in paradise. Let’s build paradise again.”  And so began Instituto Terra.

The result?

From this…

Image of land that no longer has trees. In a valley a cluster of buildings stand.

To this!

The after shot of the land with no trees now completely covered with trees. In a valley a cluster of buildings stand.

GENESIS is a global call to action.

Steven Laurie, the Associate Project Manger at the ROM, recounts this story:

I was lucky enough to have a brief conversation with a visitor in the gallery a few days after Genesis opened to the public. The individual, who was in their mid 20’s, questioned Sebastião Salgado’s notion of untouched landscapes by presenting a compelling argument: “The landscapes, people and animals depicted in the photos cannot be removed or isolated from the environmental impacts experienced globally.”

While initially Salgado’s idea of untouched landscapes presented a problem for the visitor, it also provided a great starting point for a richer conservation. We discussed how Genesis, conceptually from title to the photos shown, communicates a desire to prospect a “truth” or in the least seek an “origin” from which to measure, map or index change. From this viewpoint, the visitor suggested the idea of Genesis possibly being a story created to incite environmental activism through an individual’s “revelation” and journey for “faith”.  He finished our chat by saying, “You can’t fault Salgado for trying!”   

“Curated by Lélia Wanick Salgado, GENESIS takes you on a journey to rediscover the far corners of the world and urges you to consider what is left of our planet, what is in peril and what is left to be saved.”

The images in the exhibit that moved me the most were the ones where human beings are wrapped in the intimacy of their relationship with their environment. I am in agreement that the people pictured in the images cannot be “removed or isolated” from the rest of the world and are part of the cumulative impact but what comes forth from their relationship to their environment is an understanding of how to innovate with design – design that is sustainable leaving the lightest of footprints.

A group of dark skin women stand with their backs to the camera. Long woven bags, like sacks, hang from their heads. Yali women. West Papua, Indonesia. 2010. © Sebastião Salgado. Courtesy of Amazonas images. 

The image above is of women in Indonesia with the ‘perfect bag’! These beautiful bags are hand woven with orchid fibers.

Groupd of dark skin men and women huddled close to each other making fire. San people make a fire. Botswana. 2008. © Sebastião Salgado. Courtesy of Amazonas images.

Despite what we may assume, the subsistence life of the San of Botswana leaves much time for leisure and days spent in the familiar company of family and friends.

Snow storm conditions with sun shining through the squalls. A woman in with sleighs and a hide tent pitched behind her.North of Ob River. Inside the Arctic Circle. Yamal Peninsula. Siberia. Russia. 2011. © Sebastião Salgado Courtesy of Amazonas images.

Sebastião’s images of the Nenets of Siberia show the lightness of being that comes with a nomadic culture that follows the seasons for the sake of their reindeer herds. Easy come. Easy go. The freedom of a sustainable lifestyle.

Important lessons for a post-modern world weighed down by the burdens of a lifestyle of accumulation.

GENESIS CLOSES THIS LABOUR MONDAY, SEPT 2. DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO SEE THIS MOVING & BEAUTIFUL EXHIBIT!

Follow Genesis and the ROM on Facebook and twitter @ROMContemporary

TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: Where to begin?

A line of penguins running off an iceberg plunging into the water.
Chinstrap penguins. South Sandwich Islands. 2009.  © Sebastião Salgado. Courtesy of Amazonas images.

Start with art.

More than several times a day my heartbreaks as I watch what comes through my Facebook feed, like today as more information regarding the children of Syria killed by chemical weapons punctuated a moment. In these Orwellian times when we discover that Big Brother is indeed watching the wonder of the internet and social media is that we are watching too. We participate in bearing witness.

The other stunning quality of social media is that for every story that crushes me and makes me weep there are double, even triple, stories of action and resistance that offer hope and inspiration.

For example, my feed also includes what’s happening right now at Canada’s major cultural institutions and auxiliary events and projects surrounding these exhibits.  We have amazing curatorial teams that have produced shows that challenge the Chinese Government’s position on Human Rights, Canada’s policies on Aboriginal issues and the Economy of Oil, and global attitudes regarding the Environment.

My concern – do we walk away from these shows changed at a deep core level? Do we return to our daily lives radically motivated to stop being part of the problem and act in service of social justice and environmental causes? Will we change our level of comfort for the sake of stopping someone else’s pain or the loss of natural resources?

I pray that all the illumination will indeed cause a spiritual shift towards a tipping point that will alter the world. I want to see civilizations that are socially and environmentally just because today as children’s lives are ended by chemical warfare in Syria in this country Aboriginal women are being sold into the sex trade and the land along with the women is being violated.

It’s time to get radical folks.

What we experience in these exhibits can be our entry points into living with intention.

RECOMMENDED SHOWS THAT WILL CHANGE PERSPECTIVES:

Sakahàn @ The National Gallery, Ottawa on until Sept 2

Indigenous and Urban @ The Museum of Civilization on until Sept 2

Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis @ The ROM, Toronto on until Sept 2

Edward Burtynsky: Oil @ Museum of Nature, Ottawa on until Sept 2

Decolonize Me @ Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor on until Sept 15

Edward Burtynsky: The Landscape The We Change @ The McMichael, Kleinburg on until Sept 29

Ai Weiwei: According to What @ The AGO, Toronto on until Oct 27

& BIG FYI

Ghost Dance: Activism. Resitance. Art. @ Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto opening Sept 18 thru to Dec 15

“For centuries, colonialism has been the cause of suffering, oppression and violence perpetuated against Indigenous people in Canada and many other countries. But attributing the rise of resistance, activism and the associated art to colonialism itself is disingenuous. The destructive ideologies inherent in colonialism are manifest by the interactions of people. The events caused by these interactions change people and their societies. Indigenous art is not predicated on “colonialism,” but on the events that it causes…Ghost Dance examines the role of the artist as activist, as chronicler and as provocateur in the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and self-empowerment.” Steve Loft, more on RIC’s website

Series of ads for exhibits at Canada's major cultural institutions.

MARCH BREAK: What is Happening Around Toronto for 21st Century Kids

Advertisement for kids exhibit at TIFF called DigiPlay Space saying it is an interactive adventure

“The future is in the hands of kids.”

Designed by Toronto talents Mason Studio & aftermodern.lab digiPlaySpace is “an interactive exhibition where kids will engage with emerging creative media technologies and innovative artistic experiences!” (cited www.tiff.net)

In its 2nd year, this popular event opened in time for March Break but will be running until April 21.

Find out more about the exhibit events on Tiff’s website.

Also check out 3 great upcoming workshops:

Spy Mystery Workshop Saturday March 23

Maker / Creater Workshop Saturday March 30

3D Printing Workshop Saturday April 6

Sounds like a lot of fun! Are adults allowed?

Also around town, March Break programming at Design Exchange, The Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario.

HAPPY MARCH BREAK!

Children holding up eggs to camera showing the activities during March Break at Royal Ontario Museum