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These photos of nude black women in the Canadian landscape are here to question our assumptions

In her show The Ecstatic Nudes, artist Ella Cooper wants to subvert and empower through a photographic exploration of black joy.

Artist Ella Cooper wants to subvert and empower through a photographic exploration of black joy

Artist Ella Cooper on why she created her Ecstatic Nudes series. 3:33

Ella Cooper is many things. She's an interdisciplinary artist and educator, working in both photography and video, as well as being the founder of Black Women Film! Canada. What she is not, however, is a boudoir photographer. In fact, she had never taken nude photos prior to this body of work — until, when thinking about Canadian art history, she identified an absence of black female bodies in the visual language.

"When you think of Canada's national identity and what that looks like, I often think of the Group of Seven, moose, Canadian mounties," Cooper explains. "Rarely do I see black women depicted in the Canadian landscape."

So she began an auto-ethnographic inquiry intent on changing the dominant visual culture through an exploration of her own mixed race heritage. However, that inquiry may look very different than one may expect: eating, jumping, dancing. nudity. Instead of fuelling the internalized trauma of racism and exclusion with anger, she decided to subvert and empower through an exploration of black joy.

An image from Ecstatic Nudes series. (CBC Arts)

"I think that there is a power in nudity," she says. "To be able to stand with a group of black women and stand with pride in our fully naked bodies is incredibly revealing — but it's also incredibly radical."

The Ecstatic Nudes. With work by Ella Cooper. Gladstone Hotel, Toronto. June 22 - Aug 1. Xpace Cultural Centre, Toronto. July 28 - Aug 26. www.ellacoopercreates.com

Watch Exhibitionists on Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.

About the Author

Lucius Dechausay

Lucius Dechausay is a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.