Halifax is magic: How this project is increasing visibility for black and queer artists on the East Coast

In a difficult time for anyone belonging to a minority community, The Magic Project wants people to mobilize and channel their anger into art.

The Magic Project wants people to 'get angry and mobile'

The Magic Project launched in December. Its first initiative was the Black Girls are Magic photoshoot. (Joy Tagboto)

With headlines lately looking downright apocalyptic, particularly for anyone of any minority, "magic" might not be the first word on your mind. But for Halifax's The Magic Project, this is not the time to stagnate.

Formed by partners Kate Macdonald and Emma Paulson, The Magic Project is looking to increase the visibility of black and queer people and voices through photography and art.

"The Magic Project was spun out of Donald Trump being elected," Macdonald says. "There was this kind of universal sadness that I noticed amongst my group of friends." Talking with Paulson, they decided it wasn't a time to be sad, "but to get angry and mobile."


Together they've worked with other artists and photographers (Chudi Harris, Joy Tagboto and Helena Darling) to create three photo sets along with a community discussion and performance so far. The photo series focus on black women, black men and queer people respectively, while the discussion focused on issues affecting African Nova Scotian men.

"I found my key area of focus in what I cared most about, and then used my personal lens and experience of living as who I am to mold that," explains Macdonald, who's also an actor. "I care most about people, but primarily the world sees me as black, and sees me as a woman, and then figures out that I'm queer. So those are the lines through which I operate."

The project's first photo series, Black Girls Are Magic — a set of images of black women they recruited from the community in Halifax — launched online in December and spread quickly. "With our Black Girls Are Magic photos, the first half a day that they were posted, they reached 24,000 people [online]," Macdonald says, shared across social media. She's interested in "taking back the space of social media."

I care most about people, but primarily the world sees me as black, and sees me as a woman, and then figures out that I'm queer. So those are the lines through which I operate.- Kate Macdonald

Next, they launched a photo series focusing on black men. "We did Black Kings Are Magic in the middle of the snowstorm, so we had some brave soldiers come out and take some beautiful photos," she says.

With reaching out to Halifax's black community as a primary goal, in January they organized an event called Transparent, looking at issues facing black Nova Scotian men and combining them with musical and poetry performance. "We discussed the current state of politics in North America; we discussed gun violence, the education system; we touched a little bit on the prison system," Macdonald says.

She says that from the first discussion, they deduced that more targeted discussions on specific issues were needed — "that people had a lot more to say about one specific topic." In the next edition, they aim to focus on one of the areas discussed in the January discussion.

Macdonald and Paulson hope to ultimately expand the project with photo series targeting Indigenous men and women and two-spirited people, among other groups, and to expand across the country, travelling to different communities creating new photo series.

The Magic Project launches within a buzz of activity among African Nova Scotian artists and queer people of colour that's seen new collectives, activist groups and DJ nights start up over the past couple of years, including several curated exhibitions at university galleries focusing on African Nova Scotian artists over the past few months at Anna Leonowens Gallery and Dalhousie Art Gallery.

Macdonald, who's also worked with projects like Halifax's Youth Art Connection as a guest artist working with youth, acknowledges that the work of others in the community has been an inspiration.

"I think we've been really lucky with who we've crossed paths with, and a lot of people who have common shared goals or who are trying to do the same thing," she says. "We've kind of become a little squad."

"I would say that there's a level of support and appreciation and recognition that lives in this social justice arts world that's really beautiful and you can fall back on these people if you're starting to hit some road bumps. We've been beautifully supported and I hope that other people feel supported by us and know that we're rooting for them all the same."

The Magic Project will exhibit work from the photo series Black Girls Are Magic, Black Kings Are Magic and Queer People Are Magic at Alteregos in Halifax with an opening April 7 at 7:30pm and running through the month of April. See more photos on Instagram.


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