Meet the new generation of curators who are defining the Toronto art scene

You'll find them in DIY spaces, not museums. Meet four local talents you should definitely be following.

You'll find them in DIY spaces, not museums. Meet four local talents you should definitely be following

A piece from Zahra Siddiqui's The Invisible Majority. The exhibition, which appeared at Toronto's Daniels Spectrum in 2016, was curated by Elle Alconcel and Negarra Kudumu. (Zahra Siddiqui)

Curators are the unsung heroes of the art world. Tasked with the job of acquiring, storing, managing, overseeing and preserving exhibits and collections, they are simultaneously guides and gatekeepers of culture. And here in Toronto, a new generation of curators is rising. Festivals, community centres and DIY art spaces are the unconventional incubators for these new talents. Often receiving their training on the ground, these curators are discovering innovative movements by keeping their ears to the streets. Here are four local curators whose work you should definitely be following.

John Samuels

Where you've seen his work: Blank Canvas Gallery

Favourite Canadian artist right now: Oluseye. His portraits are bold, intimate and powerful vessels using vulnerability to express people of colour in valuable ways.  I especially love the materials he uses such as acrylic and charcoal.

Next exhibition: Black. Nuance. Shade. June 16, Blank Canvas Gallery

Black. Nuance. Shade (part of Pride Toronto 2017) is a multi-sensory art show exploring the nuances of queer black identity featuring local and international queer black artists. [It's presented] by Rude Collective and Blank Canvas Gallery.

What inspired you to become a curator? I wanted to be a reference point for people of colour who are seeking a career in the creative field, who don't want a 9-5 experience. I wanted to show them that there are options for us. It's important to hold space and have platforms to preserve culture and share a dialogue created by the black experience. I didn't see very many people of colour sharing their stories through social media when I first entered the field. It was my duty to contribute to the culture, and curating is my form of paying dues.


Elle Alconcel


Where you've seen her work: Daniels Spectrum

Favourite Canadian artist right now: Sandra Brewster. Every time she comes out with a new body of work, I am blown away. Her multimedia works examine and narrate concepts around identity and representation.

Next exhibition: Nuit Rose Opening Group Exhibition. June 14, Daniels Spectrum

I am [also] currently working with Yasin Osman, a young photographer from Regent Park.

What is the hardest part of your job? I work in the revitalized Regent Park as the curator at Daniels Spectrum, the cultural hub for the area. I work with many artists who haven't presented their work, or might not be "exhibition-ready." Mentorship plays a large part in my role, and I really enjoy it, but it can be hard too. My aim is to give young artists all the tools they need to succeed in order to know how to mount a great show, learn to navigate the art world and about how to represent themselves in this emotionally draining, immensely satisfying career. Here at Daniels Spectrum, art is integrated into the building so it's a challenge to get people to think about our Hallway Galleries as a "real" gallery space. Our hallways are filled with rotating series, from portraits of African grandmothers raising their grandchildren in the AIDS pandemic to the Nuit Rose queer art and performance festival. Making these often socially challenging topics integrate into a diverse surrounding community is something I not only enjoy, I love every aspect of it. I feel I successfully assist in the convergence of art and culture in a space where community is continually fostered and daily experiences generate new voices.

Ashley McKenzie-Barnes

Where you've seen her work: Manifesto Festival

Favourite Canadian artist right now: Esmaa Mohamoud and Marvin Luvualu Antonio. Both focus on, but are not limited to, important and educational installation work centred around racial politics and cultural appropriation. Both have also found unique ways of creating their pieces with re-purposed street materials and a collection [of] different mediums.

Next exhibition: Nuit Blanche. I will be presenting an installation at Nathan Phillips Square with my partner Merna entitled "Domesticate Me." The piece re-tells the story of the capabilities of women, by putting a focus on the importance of domestic labor through a visual language not often portrayed by mass media and our society.

What piece of advice would you give to an artist interested in exhibiting their work? Show as many places as you can while building up a CV. Get your name out there and build a brand for yourself. As an emerging artist, you have to start documenting your career highlights. It's important to have an updated website that can match your CV and give viewers a quick visual reference as well. Share your work over social media for accessibility and build an audience. Start showing in smaller, local galleries and institutions if you have to and expand from there. Travel and show other places your work. There are no limits.


Giles Monette


Where you've seen his work: Dais Gallery

Favourite Canadian artist right now: Brian Jungen. He uses unexpected found objects like Nike sneakers to create sculptural pieces that pay tribute to his Native American ancestry. This is a style that is super popular at the moment, but he was the first.

Next exhibition: My own work at Dais Gallery on June 30. It will be the last show of a six-month programming endeavour.

What inspired you to become a curator? I saw all the talent and possibility within Toronto but no support and no financial support. There's a huge disconnect with popular culture and the people who have the money. So I thought, "I'll create platforms for artists and do it so big and bad that everyone will have to take notice." Seven years later I think I've done an alright job.