Black History Month 2018: Your guide to arts events around Canada

From Vancouver to Halifax, this is your list of must-see arts and culture to meaningfully engage with the experiences of Black Canadian communities.

From Vancouver to Halifax, this is your list of must-see arts and culture

Measha Brueggergosman stars as Mama Ache in Brown Girl Begins. (Marc Forand)

What a way to begin Black History Month.

On Tuesday, the federal government held a press conference to announce its official recognition of the International Decade for People of African Descent. It's an initiative that was launched by the UN three years ago, and its goal is to combat racism and promote recognition, justice and development for people of African descent.

Following the announcement, Prime Minister Trudeau, alongside a number of Black MPs, the Federation of Black Canadians and the federal Black caucus took questions.

None of the questions he received from the reporters in attendance had anything to do with the initiative or the experiences of Black people in Canada. Rather, reporters asked Trudeau about the wave of sexual harassment allegations in Canadian politics and the legalization of marijuana.

As Vicky Mochama so aptly put it in her recent column for Metro News: "At the event about Black people, no one asked about Black people."

It was a moment that highlighted not only the lack of literal diversity in the press but also the unwillingness of many who dictate the headlines of our day to have a meaningful and critical engagement with the issues directly concerning Black communities — even when the experiences of Black Canadian communities was the very reason for their invitation.

With that in mind, this year's Black History Month holds an even greater significance as Black Canadians are reminded that while institutions in this country continue to ignore and disregard our presence, we must create and claim our space anyway.

Here is a roundup of some of the arts and culture events happening across the country this month. I encourage you to attend them and use them as an opportunity to do what Canadian press didn't do on Tuesday: meaningfully engage with the experiences of Black Canadian communities.


JR Smith Quartet Live

Feb. 1

Halifax North Memorial Public Library

A free concert to kick off African Heritage Month featuring drummer, composer and multi-instrumentalist JR Smith.

A Legacy at Risk - The Struggle for Land Titles in North Preston

Feb. 10

Cole Harbour Public Library

An afternoon of discussion, featuring a screening of short films from "Untitled: The Legacy of Land in North Preston," a student journalism project from the Nova Scotia Community College.

Righteously Political Poetry - Canticles vs. Slavery and vs. Imperialism with George Elliott Clarke

Feb. 17

Paul O'Regan Hall

Former Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke will read from select works including his ongoing project, Canticles.

Africville: Can't Stop Now - Film Screening and Discussion with Juanita Peters

Feb. 21

Central Public Library

Filmmaker Juanita Peters presents a screening of her documentary, Africville: Can't Stop Now.


Vernissage: Symbols of Resistance

Feb. 1-28

Galerie Mile End

An art exhibition exploring the nuances in Black identity and representation in Montreal. Featuring artists Kay Nau, Glowzi, Sika Valmé and more.

Black Future Month: Screening and Reception

Feb. 8

Cinema Beaubien

See Brown Girl Begins, the first ever Canadian-Caribbean sci-fi feature film. The movie stars Mouna Traoré and Measha Brueggergosman.

Mouna Traoré stars as Ti-Jeanne in a scene from Brown Girl Begins. (Brendan Adam-Zwelling)

Master Harold and the Boys

Ongoing to Feb. 11

Segal Theatre

Directed by Philip Akin, South African playwright Athol Fugard's acclaimed drama follows a 17-year-old schoolboy and two servants who explore the collision between the personal and the political.

A scene from Segal Theatre's production of Master Harold and the Boys. (David Cooper)


Evensong with JustJamaal ThePoet

Feb. 2

Live on Elgin

Ottawa's Poet Laureate Jamaal Jackson Rogers (a.k.a. JustJamaal ThePoet) collaborates with the musical quintet EvenSong to perform a night of music and poetry using the rhythms of jazz, gospel and folk.

The Gift of Jazz / From Africa to New Orleans to The True North Strong and Free

Feb. 15-16

National Gallery of Canada Theatre

A musical history celebrating the struggles and determination of early jazz artists. Featuring Deborah Davis and Segue to Jazz, Michael C. Hanna and Darin Kyle.

Retrograde: The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Feb. 15

Mercury Lounge

Straight from Chicago, The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble performs live on stage.

Underground Comedy Railroad

Feb. 19

Absolute Comedy

Now in its seventh year, the popular comedy tour returns to Ottawa. Hosted by B Black, the lineup includes Dawn Xanklin, Keesha Brownie, Rodney Ramsey and Daniel Woodrow. 

A Concert with Jully Black

Feb. 20

National Arts Centre

The Canadian R&B legend (and upcoming Canada Reads panellist) brings an R&B dance party to the NAC's Azrieli Studio.

R&B singer Jully Black.


Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art 

Ongoing to April 22

Royal Ontario Museum

See Canada through the eyes of nine Black Canadian artists as they tackle themes of belonging and "Black Canadian presence and history." Featuring work by Sandra Brewster, Michèle Pearson Clarke, Sylvia D. Hamilton and more.

Emeka Ogbo - The Song of the Germans

Ongoing to May 13

The Power Plant

The Power Plant presents Nigerian-born artist Emeka Ogboh's 10-channel sound installation The Song of the Germans.

Kader Attia - The Field of Emotion

Ongoing to May 13

The Power Plant

While you're at the Power Plant, make sure to also see this French artist's first solo exhibition in Canada. The show includes a new film work that explores Canada's history with colonization and slavery.

Michael Chambers: Shadows to Silver - A Retrospective

Ongoing to March 18

BAND Gallery and Cultural Centre

Look back on work from the Toronto-based artist's long photography career, covering material from the '90s to today. 

"Blue" by Michael Chambers. (Courtesy of the artist)

AGO First Thursday - Shake It

Feb. 1

Art Gallery of Ontario

Honouring the season and history of Carnival, the February edition of the AGO's monthly art party features music by Juliana Huxtable, a performative tableau by Jasmyn Fyffe and work by Rhoma Spencer.

You Done Taken My Blues and Gone

Feb. 1

Ignite Gallery

Inspired by a line from a Langston Hughes poem, this art show aims to explore the various ways that Black art is frequently appropriated and co-opted. Featuring work from Sydne Barnes Wright, Kevrine, Timothy Yanick-Hunter, Oreka James, Aaron Jones, Ekow Stone and Destiny Grimm.

Long Table Series featuring B. Denham Jolly

Feb. 1

b current

Enjoy a gourmet meal, then listen to the Canadian civil rights icon discuss his award-winning 2017 memoir.

WATAH Theatre Double Bill: I Cannot Lose My Mind and Once Upon a Black Boy

Feb. 1-17

Scotiabank Community Studio

A back-to-back feature of two plays. I Cannot Lose My Mind by Najla Nubyanluv tells the story of one young woman's experiences with depression and her attempt to overcome. Once Upon a Black Boy is a coming-of-age story about a young boy grappling with his mother's cancer diagnosis.

Wedge Curatorial Projects presents: Of Ourselves

Feb. 1-24

Gladstone Hotel

Of Ourselves explores the various layers of Black Canadian experience and identity through the work of Toronto-based photographers Yannick Anton, Curtiss Randolph, Nathalia Allen and Neva Wireko.

Neva Wireko is among the artists featured in group exhibition Of Ourselves. (Courtesy of Wedge Curatorial Projects)

KUUMBA Festival

Feb. 3-24

Harbourfront Centre

This annual festival features the Black Diamond Ball, a night of theatre with Trey Anthony, a panel discussion with authors Rinaldo Walcott, Whitney French and Simone Dalton, a photography and video exhibit by Ajamu and Khalil West and more.

Obsidian Theatre Presents hang by debbie tucker green

Feb. 6-25

Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre

Philip Akin and Kimberley Rampersad direct the Canadian premiere of hang by U.K. playwright debbie tucker green. The play explores how one woman confronts a fundamentally life-altering decision.

24 HRS of Blackness

Feb. 9

OCAD University, Ada Slaight Galleries

Presented by OCAD U's BLXCK Association, this art installation aims to give audiences an interactive and inside look into Black life in the Canadian landscape.

Hot Docs Game Changers Film Series - BHM Edition

Feb. 11-25

Hot Docs Cinema

The Game Changers film programme takes a Black History Month focus. Screenings include I Am Not Your Negro, Journey to Justice, Sisters in Struggle and Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.

Scene from the documentary I Am Not Your Negro. (Kanopy)

Before the 6ix: Northern Touch

Feb. 12

Toronto Reference Library

"Northern Touch" by Rascalz turns 20 this year, so join producers Mr. Attick and Nick Holder, along with rapper Thrust and radio host Motion as they discuss the song's place in Toronto hip-hop history.

The 6th Annual Toronto Black Film Festival

Feb. 14-19

Various locations

The annual festival features more than 60 films from 20 countries, plus panels, workshops and parties. Films include The Rape of Recy Taylor and KALUSHI: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu.

Black Men in Theatre

Feb. 15-17

Fairview Library Theatre

Presented by the Piece of Mine Festival, Black Men in Theatre is a platform for new plays, dance, music and visual arts by Black men. This edition will see work by Troy Crossfield, Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison, Peter Bailey and more.

Black Men in Theatre comes to the Fairview Libarary Theatre in Toronto February 15. (Courtesy of Black Men in Theatre)

Brown Girl Begins: Screening and Reception

Feb. 24

Art Gallery of Ontario

Director Sharon Lewis, along with author Nalo Hopkinson and star Measha Brueggergosman, will be in attendance. Join them for the gala premiere of this Afrofuturist adventure. Stick around after the film — music and a Q&A will follow.

Black Boys

Feb. 28 - March 11

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

The story of three men grappling with their Black and queer identities, the acclaimed play returns to Toronto after touring select cities around the country.

Ajax, Ont.

Back to the Future! The 11th Annual Durham Black History Month Celebration

Feb. 3

J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate

A community celebration hosted by comedian Jay Martin with performances by Sandra Whiting and AFIWI Groove.

Hamilton, Ont.

2018 Reverend John C Holland Awards

Feb. 10

Liuna Station

Now in its 22nd year, this annual awards ceremony recognizes Black Canadians' contributions to the city of Hamilton.

Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton

Feb. 15

Turner Park Branch Library

Learn about Hamilton's history as author Adrienne Shadd shares some of her original research about the first Black families in the area.

Waterloo, Ont.

A Tribute to the Legends of Reggae

Feb. 15

Maxwell's Music House

Before playing Toronto (Feb. 17) and Brampton, Ont. (Feb. 20), this reggae revue pays tribute to Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Marcia Griffiths and Jacob Miller in Waterloo. Hosted by Master T, Juno winner Exco Levi and Andrew Tosh are among the performers.


Black History Month Mini-Talks

Feb. 3-17

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Beginning with a talk about Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, this three-part series traces the history of racism against Black Canadians.

Afro Prairie Film Festival

Feb. 23-25

Winnipeg Cinematheque

It's the first Black-centric film festival in all of Western Canada, and it happens in Winnipeg. The 2018 edition will welcome special guests including Amandine Gay, Charles Officer and Charles Burnett.


Black History Month Film Screenings

Feb. 2-25

Metro Cinema

All February, Metro's programme is marking Black History Month. Look for screenings of The Brother from Another Planet, Unarmed Verses and Charles Bradley: Soul of America.

Francine and her Art Starts music teacher, Krystle Chance, in a scene from Unarmed Verses. (Courtesy of NFB)

What (Black) Life Requires

Feb. 1

Spazio Peformativo

Part of Mile Zero Dance's Dirt Buffet Cabaret, the show explores Black life through poetry, live music and all sorts of dance — modern, contemporary, ballet, Afrobeat and hip hop.

One Night in Harlem - 5 Artists 1 Love

Feb. 10

Allard Hall

Every year, local musicians come together to trace the evolution of Black music in North America, but 2018's special focus is the Harlem Renaissance. Hear tunes from 1922 through the 2000s. 


Kapwani Kiwanga: A Wall is Just a Wall (and Nothing More At All)

Feb. 3 - May 6

Esker Foundation

In this exhibition, Hamilton-born artist Kapwani Kiwanga takes her inspiration from the poem "Affirmation" by Black Power freedom fighter Assata Shakur to explore how environments impact the behaviour of individuals and communities.

Kapwani Kiwanga. A wall is just a wll. Installation view: The Power Plant, Toronto, 2017. (Toni Hafkenscheid/Courtesy of the Power Plant)

Unganisha Dance Theatre Showcase

Feb. 17

Wright Theatre

Tap, jazz, hip hop, samba, capoeira and step dancing: they all have roots in the African diaspora. This event will show you their origins, while introducing you to local dance talent.

Richmond, B.C.

Black History Month Exhibition

Feb. 17 - March 2

Richmond Arts Centre

An exhibition of photography, illustration and paintings by Black artists living in the lower mainland of B.C.


The Feels

Feb. 1-28

Cheeky Proletariat Storefront Gallery

In this original installation, local artist Nanyamka Lewis puts the spotlight on mental health issues in Black communities.


Feb. 2-17

Pacific Theatre

Set in during war time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning play centres on a bar caught in the middle of the strife.

Freedom Singer Album Release

Feb. 2

York Theatre

Freedom Singer, the debut solo album by Khari Wendell McClelland, is inspired by the freedom songs he believes his great-great-great grandmother may have heard when she arrived in Canada through the Underground Railroad. For this album release show, the gospel singer is joined by The Sojourners, Tonye Aganaba, Desiree Dawson and more.

Singer Khari Wendell McClelland. (Andrew Querner)

African Fashion and Arts Movement

Feb. 3

PAL Studio Theatre

A fashion show for emerging African designers from around the country.


Ongoing to Feb. 11

BMO Theatre Centre

A Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about rival brothers (and card sharps), the play is on now in Vancouver.

The Jazz Epistles

Feb. 18

Chan Shun Concert Hall

Abdullah Ibrahim was one of the original members of the legendary South African jazz band The Jazz Epistles and at this tribute concert, Ibrahim performs their music with special guest, New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

Black History Month Film Screenings at VIFF

​Feb. 5-26

VanCity Theatre

This year's BHM screening series includes Whose Streets, Félicité, Black Cop, Brown Girl Begins and more.


Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays and watches too many movies. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.


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