'We are changemakers': Celebrating Montreal's black women leaders by immortalizing them in wood

With her newest mixed media series, Shanna Strauss is honouring the black women who have worked to shape the city's communities.

Shanna Strauss is honouring the black women who have shaped the city's communities

Meet the artist celebrating Montreal's black diaspora... in wood

7 years ago
Duration 3:30
"Black women are not often acknowledged for the work that they do within their communities to create positive change within their communities." - Artist Shanna Strauss on why she's created the series Changemakers

Today marks the beginning of Black History Month, and we're starting it off by bringing you mixed-media visual artist Shanna Strauss — who along with her collaborator, photographer Kevin Calixte, is making Montreal's strong black women into literal icons. It's all through a series called Changemakers, which Strauss felt compelled to create as a way of honouring the black women who have worked to shape the city's communities.

Strauss, born in the U.S. and raised in Tanzania, says she feels like she's "rooted in a lot of different worlds" as an artist. So in Montreal, it became important to her to seek out women who were activists or community workers, taking steps to create positive change — women like Tali Taliwah, Shanice Nicole, Annick Maugile Flavien, Maliciouz, Patricia M. Jean and Maguy Métellus.

A glimpse of Shanna Strauss' Changemakers. (CBC Arts)

Now, she's immortalizing those women in wood, using the photographs by Calixte and techniques of wood burning and beading that blend her own practice with Tanzanian tradition. Why wood? Says Strauss: "I really love the idea of wood being symbolic of the diaspora in that a lot of the trees are not indigenous to this land. And much like people of the African diaspora, we have settled here and we have grown and we have flourished."

Strauss takes you into her process in the video above by Montreal filmmaker Noncedo Khumalo. And you can see more of Changemakers and Strauss's other work here.

Noncedo Khumalo is a recent graduate of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal. She is a native of Montreal, Canada, Johannesburg, South Africa and Mbabane, Swaziland. Her multicultural upbringing serves as an influence in her films and designs.

Watch Exhibitionists Sundays at 4:30pm (5 NT) on CBC.