Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art at the ROM
Vittoria Tesoro STAFF WRITER
Thumbnail: Gordon Shadrach’s “In Conversation.”
The Black Canadian Contemporary Art exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) consists of nine contemporary artists who seek to challenge preconceived notions of “Blackness,” and explore what it means to embody Blackness in Canada. The exhibit consists of a variety of mixed media pieces, including paintings, poetry, artifacts, and photography. These works together confront the stereotypical narrative of Blackness as the “isolated newcomer” or “immigrant.”
Though all the pieces in the exhibit are fascinating works of talented artists, there was one piece in particular that stood out the most: Gordon Shadrach’s painting “In Conversation.” It depicts a confident and comfortable-looking young woman with shoulder-length curly hair, holding a silver iPhone in her right hand, as if she were going to take a self-portrait. Her clothing combines metropolitan and contemporary fashion with cultural garb. The hybridization of the outfit demonstrates her place in society, creating a harmony between both of the cultures to which she belongs. Her accessories, like her watch, jewellery, and fanny pack, all contribute to the modernity and independence of the woman. She appears self-assured, and embraces her Blackness in a fierce tableau.
The background merges the darkness of brick with the lightness of a plaster backdrop. This may be a mere aesthetic choice, but it has the effect of combining two worlds to form a cohesive and progressive whole, uninhibited by the myopic voices that once stood behind it. The outdoor element of the setting is one constructed by human design, and it signifies a sense of the artificial: a reminder to the viewer that human construction is the base of society.
As the woman stands in front of the wall, she looks the viewer in the eye. The title of the painting, In Conversation, describes exactly what is happening. Though the woman is, of course, not speaking, she is conversing with the viewer through her gaze, as if she were saying, “Here I am.” She stands strong, knowing who she is, comfortable in her own skin and unwilling to be confined or limited by any preconceived notions concerning her Blackness. This is precisely why I consider her the star of the show.
Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art is on at the ROM from January 27 to April 22, and features work from Sandra Brewster, Dawit L. Petros, Chantal Gibson, and many more.