Wednesday, 24 January 2018

AN EMPATHETIC VISION: HACKING BLACK FUTURES AT BAND GALLERY

EXHIBITION REVIEWS

BY: SADIE MACDONALD

This weekend, accompanied by Musings Editor-in-Chief Serena, I paid a visit to BAND Gallery and Cultural Centre in the Parkdale region of Toronto to see the exhibition Hacking Black Futures. BAND partnered with the Toronto Design Offsite Festival to host this exhibition from January 15th to the 21st this year.

Approaching BAND. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

It was the first time that I had encountered a project associated with BAND. Founded in 2009, BAND (which stands for Black Artists' Networks in Dialogue) "is dedicated to supporting, documenting and showcasing the artistic and cultural contributions of Black artists and cultural workers in Canada and abroad." The BAND Gallery is located in an old Victorian house painted entirely black on the outside, and its familiar, comforting interior space is a far cry from the traditional “white cube” style of art galleries. When Serena and I walked into the BAND Gallery, we were warmly greeted by Addae, who was assisting in the gallery, and invited to engage with the exhibition.

Hacking Black Futures invites speculation on what a Black-centric future society could look like. The exhibition houses multimedia artistic projects by artists of colour and is informed by the values of Afrofuturism. This philosophy draws on Black cultural perspectives and Black imaginations to create optimistic visions of the future that challenge white-centric speculative models. Through this lens, the exhibition artists examine concepts such as food sovereignty, which is expressed through the idea of Black societies determining and controlling their own food systems. Other concepts on display include social economy, as explored through works such as Addae Nurse’s intimate photography. A form of sustainability is present in Renée Mathews’ Denim Wigs, which notes the importance of hair in Black cultural expressions and repurposes old jeans to create hairstyles that serve as an alternative to synthetic methods of styling.

A common thread throughout the exhibition is the belief that personal and community connections will ultimately form the lifeblood of equitable futures.

One of Renée Mathews' Denim Wigs. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

While we were at the gallery, Serena and I had an opportunity to chat with Andre Baynes, who curated Hacking Black Futures with Chiedza Pasipanodya. Andre told us how he approached artists of colour from the OCAD community and invited them to contribute works that support the exhibition’s themes. In addition to Andre Baynes and Chiedza Pasipanodya, the artists featured in Hacking Black Futures include the aforementioned Addae Nurse and Renée Mathews, along with Ene Agi, Denzel Arthur, Toni Cater, Lequanne Collins-Bacchus, Daejuawn Hamilton, Thomas Graham, Ashley Jane Lewis, Maisha Marshall-Ende, Kelvin Mendie, Michael Otchie, Kimani Peter, Peter Scott, and Olivia Spence.

A view of Living Lab by Andre Baynes and Ashley Jane Lewis. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

In addition to curating the show, Andre also collaborated with Ashley Jane Lewis to make the plant-covered piece shown in the photo above, entitled Living Lab. Andre told us that this work started with him envisioning a typical desk workspace and then imagining it supporting living plant life. Serena and I were mesmerized by this piece. You become transfixed by the soothing fluidity of the moisture spreading out over the greenery. Living Lab is truly living, and never stagnant; it is maintained by the generated streams of gentle fog, and Andre also gave it a spritz of water during our visit. He told us that the look of the lab can change during the day depending on the humidity and temperature in the air. By having a miniature ecosystem occupying a desk, nature is beautifully incorporated into a home environment.

Tree Tank by Ashley Jane Lewis. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

Another exhibit that blended science with domestic-focused art was Ashley Jane Lewis’ Tree Tank, which contains a living Jamaican orange tree bearing bright fruit. An accompanying booklet explains how some people of colour “want to feel connected to their heritage through the food they eat, while avoiding the oppression that comes from the growth, production, and transit of that food from its country of origin to their plate.” The orange tree on display is housed in a tank made of accessible materials, and as such provides a tangible vision of what it might look like for people to grow food from their own cultures within their own homes.

As Serena and I explored the exhibit, we also had the pleasure of speaking to Toni Cater, one of the artists in the show. A designer by trade, Toni created for this show a textile-inspired wallpaper design that envisions a connected unity between Black people and illustrates how community narratives are woven together through storytelling and sharing. Toni also explained to us the initiative behind another work on display, the LOUD Micro Studio Kiosk presented by Kimani Peter. This transportable kiosk contains a sound booth for Black artists to record their own music in, the output of which is then managed through the app produced by LOUD. This Black-owned initiative provides hopeful artists with an accessible way to make their voices heard, and supports them through every step of the process.

Artists are invited to sign up to use the LOUD Micro Studio Kiosk. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald. 

The LOUD Micro Studio Kiosk, along with the other works in Hacking Black Futures, demonstrate the core meaning of the exhibit. Hacking Black Futures uplifts and mobilizes mindful community empathy. The artworks on display aim to show that marrying this communal empathy to new technologies and ideas will be the key to realizing a better Black future.

Hacking Black Futures ended its run at BAND on January 21st. However, I encourage you to visit BAND Gallery to explore its other offerings. Black History Month is approaching, but that doesn't mean you should only engage with the ideas of Black creators in February. These ideas are always present at any time, and everyone should become familiar with them. As Addae told us, “everyone is welcome” at BAND Gallery.

I also suggest you keep an eye on the artists involved in this show and see how they will continue to create new futures.

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