Black Canadian contemporary art alongside From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-face Picasso

MTL Times, May 11, 2018

Black Canadian contemporary art – The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) invites a reflection on cultural diversity through the exhibition Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art, presented alongside the exhibition From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-face Picasso, Past and Present.

Developed by the Royal Ontario Museum, Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art challenges preconceived notions of Blackness in Canada through the work of eight contemporary artists, to which the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has added three Montreal artists in its presentation: Sandra Brewster, Sylvia D. Hamilton,Chantal Gibson, Bushra Junaid, Charmaine Lurch, Esmaa Mohamoud, Michèle Pearson Clarke and Gordon Shadrach, as well as Montrealers Eddy Firmin a.k.a. Ano, Manuel Mathieu and Shanna Strauss.

The artists express a multitude of viewpoints on the place of Canadians of African descent. The artworks in this exhibition use current and historical objects, images and ideas to blur the longstanding perception that Black bodies belong on the edge of Canadian history. Though Canada is widely celebrated as a triumph of cultural diversity, dominant narratives have reduced the Black Canadian experience to one of an everlasting immigrant or newcomer. These artists question this by exposing deep historical traces of Black presence in our country. In presenting multiple voices and sensitivities, this exhibition disrupts simplistic and comforting narratives, while affirming the longstanding relevance of Black people to the fabric of Canada.

“While our country is proud of its cultural diversity, it remains little celebrated. We are not immune to stereotypes or a truncated history. Audacious and necessary, the exhibition Here We Are Here, to which I wanted to add a Montreal segment, raises several points of view on the length and complexity of our interconnected histories. In it, each artist asserts their rightful place, enriching our common aesthetic imagination,” says Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator, MMFA.

“Here We Are Here: Black Contemporary Canadian Art shines the spotlight on the historical and current relevance of Blackness to the Canadian social fabric. Contemporary art allows us to explore perennial questions of race, exclusion and belonging from another angle. This exhibition renounces the idea of a single narrative, it shifts the paradigms and prompts us to unlearn, so that we may have a truer knowledge of our history, the history of art and the production of contemporary art exhibitions in a Canadian context,” adds Dominique Fontaine, independent curator and founder of aPOSteRIORi.

“The Montreal contemporary art scene enjoys a multiplicity of creators, many of whom are of African descent. As such, the Museum added a segment with three Montreal artists to the exhibition Here We Are Here. These talented artists present works that pay tribute to their forebears, and each of them revisits their own history in connecting with their Montreal reality. In these artworks, innovation marries seamlessly with tradition. The artists offer an up-front look at their world and reality. They poetically invite visitors to view the reality of the Canadian Black community with empathy,” concludes Geneviève Goyer-Ouimette, Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Curator of Quebec and Canadian Contemporary Art (from 1945 to Today), MMFA.

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