British Columbia

Portraits featured in Richmond art show highlight complexity of Black experience

Sade Alexis, one of the artists featured in a new exhibit at the Richmond Cultural Centre, says her hope is that visitors come away with an understanding that Black people are as multidimensional as anyone else. 

Exhibit features artwork by local artists Sade Alexis and Joella Daniela

A piece of digital art by artist Joella Daniela is pictured here. It's one of the seven portraits by Daniela featured at the Black History Month exhibit at the Richmond Cultural Centre. (Joella Daniela)

One of the artists featured in a new exhibit at the Richmond Cultural Centre says her hope is that visitors come away with an understanding that Black people are as multidimensional as anyone else. 

Sade Alexis says showing the Black experience through portraits humanizes Black people and allows them to live authentically.

"Blackness is joyful. It's suffering, it's love. It's kindness, it's contemplation. It's so much more than just one thing," Alexis said. 

The exhibit, which is on for the duration of Black History Month, features several portraits by Alexis and Joella Daniela. It's a joint initiative of the City of Richmond and Richmond Black History Month. 

Richmond Black History Month was initiated by Mary Wilson in 2016 to acknowledge and celebrate the vast contributions that people of African descent have made to Canada.

The Black History Month art exhibit at the Richmond Cultural Centre features the work of local artists Joella Daniela and Sade Alexis. (The City of Richmond)

Johnny Trinh, community arts coordinator with the City of Richmond, says Alexis and Daniela were chosen after presenting their art to a committee. Trinh says the purpose of the exhibit, which has taken place since 2018, is to celebrate the diversity of the community. 

"This exhibition really speaks to connecting to our roots and showing and recognizing how our ancestors are like our protectors and pave the way for us," he said.

Vancouver-based artist Daniela says she has seven digital illustrations on display that focus on different themes like familial relationships between parent and child, skin colour, and hair. 

Daniela says these pieces allowed her to think deeply about how she defines herself and how she views other Black people around her. 

"There's no one way to be Black, but also ... there are so many things about being Black that deserve to be celebrated," she said.

Safe Home Sarah 

Alexis's project for the exhibit is called Safe Home Sarah. It depicts portraits of Sarah Baartman, an African woman who was used as a freak show attraction in 19th century Europe.

She was part of the show because of her body type, which had high levels of tissue in the buttocks and thigh area.

Sade Alexis's project Safe Home Sarah is shown here at the Richmond Cultural Centre. (The City of Richmond)

Alexis said researching Baartman's story filled her with sadness. She wanted to honour her with kindness, because other visuals of Baartman focused on her body as a spectacle, she said.

Accompanying Baartman are portraits of other noteworthy Black women: writers Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison, and musician Nina Simone.

"I feel protected and cared for by them, even if they didn't know me," Alexis said. "I'm really inspired by them."

An artist talk presented by the Richmond Art Gallery Association featuring Alexis will take place on the night of Feb. 24 where she will explain her artistic process.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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