Monday, 5 October 2015




African Canadian history is equal to African Canadian experience. History is constant, and in order to be relevant, this column will also address contemporary histories. Trust me, you'll love me for it.

Reflecting upon such a diverse community of history and culture in Canada, a focus on experience gives me the freedom to share interesting topics, events, and stories beginning with the Scratch & Mix Project at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). This past summer, emerging artists from the Black community across the Greater Toronto Area competed in a youth art competition launched by the MichaĆ«lle Jean Foundation. The winners were then given the opportunity to showcase their work at the Scratch & Mix exhibition at the AGO.

Winners! (Image Source)

I thought that this exhibition would be an excellent entrance into locally revisiting contemporary Black histories. This was a powerful project which brought together members of various communities through art and culture. The individual winners of the competition come from diverse backgrounds with extraordinarily unique talents. Consequently, the exhibition was greatly diverse, not only culturally but artistically and critically. A friend who attended the exhibit summed it up perfectly: 

"It was a very diverse exhibit that featured immigrant children from Africa and the Caribbean and addressed themes of love, loss, blackness as a thing we see (i.e skin), colonialism, etc. And it heavily featured the artists' friends and their own lived experiences so it was more of a look inwards (rather than them studying or commenting on another person's Black experience, they focused on their own). At the same time it didn't claim to represent the entirety of all Black experiences/didn't say 'blackness in Canada is this specific thing' making it more authentic in my opinion. It was good! Alhamdulilah!" (Female, 22).

"Outsiders" by winner Olyseye. The piece dismantles the idea of the Black male and his over-representation in contemporary society. (Image Source)

Continuing on the topic that curator Melana Roberts left us with during the interview, I am a supporter of grassroots efforts and collaboration between cultural institutions and the community. Therefore you can imagine how my heart smiled when I learned of the exhibition, its goals, and its partners. The show itself was quite moving, and the artists beautifully communicated profound messages of their own experiences within their communities. Further, it was concurrent with the Jean-Michel Basquait: Now's the Time (my heart is smiling) exhibit at the AGO. Both exhibitions provided the space to address Black experience in two different regional contexts while allowing the visitor to engage with the artistic medium. If you happened to miss the Scratch & Mix exhibition, the project is an ongoing research initiative, and promises future events that focus on the arts as a vehicle of empowering the voices of Black youth.

If you did catch them, I would love to hear what you thought about both the Basquiat: Now's the Time and the Scratch & Mix exhibitions. Comment below!

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