Friday, 27 January 2017


Museums and galleries are uniquely poised to showcase struggles for justice. The Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) in partnership with Black Artist’s Network Dialogue (BAND) has opened Power to the People: Photography and Video of Repression and Black Protest. This series of exhibitions throws light on various moments and forms of resistance by people of colour in the twentieth century.  As noted in the remarks made on opening night, you cannot fail to notice that these historical issues are timely. 

Attica USA 1971 at Ryerson Image Centre Photo: Kendra Campbell 

Power to the People includes
Each individual exhibition addresses the struggle of yesterday and today in a way that is poignant and profound.  The sprawling timeline in Attica, USA 1971 recounts the hour-by-hour struggle to regain control and the failed negotiations of the Attica Prison Riots.

Timeline of Attica Prison Riot at Ryerson Image Centre
Photo: Kendra Campbell
Perhaps even more sobering is the Declaration to the People of America Wall that outlines the practical proposals of the inmates. Number 1? Apply the New York State minimum wage law to all state institutions. Stop Slave Labour.  Number 4?  End all censorship of newspapers, magazines, letters and other publications coming from the publisher.

Attica USA, 1971 at Ryerson Image Centre
Photo: Kendra Campbell 
Compelling text is complemented by the voice of the struggle that can be heard in the exhibit space. Multimedia was an important tool used by the oppressed to write, sing, and resist. Songs of the era made subtle and not-so-subtle references to the political climate. TV appearances by lawyers, activists and public figures further amplified the voice of the oppressed. 

Attica USA 1971, Ryerson Image Centre
Photo: Kendra Campbell

Power to the People has framed the themes of power and representation in a way that balances the tragedy and resiliency of Black stories. I'd argue that the exhibit masterfully embodies Angela Davis who proclaimed that "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept." 

At this critical juncture in our history, what can museums change? What can they no longer accept?

Power to the People is a striking example of the ways in which museums and galleries cannot only preserve and showcase cultural memory, but also become a site for exploring the roots of historical tensions through dialogue and action. 

Power to the People is on display from now until April 9, with a number of guest lectures offered to the public.  On February 2nd,  Ryerson Image Centre and BAND will open a pop-up gallery titled No Justice, No Peace: From Ferguson to Toronto at the Gladstone Hotel.

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