British Columbia

Black Vancouverites respond to question 'Where are you from?'

A new art exhibit asks black Vancouverites how they feel about questions about their heritage, and what it says about belonging in a city that prides itself on multiculturalism.

Art exhibit tackles race and belonging through photos and testimony

This piece kicks off On The Coast's Black History Month series, "Race, Roots and Relocation: Delving into B.C.'s Black History." Check back at every day this week for more stories from B.C.'s black community.

"Where are you from?" might seem like a harmless question but for black Canadians living in Vancouver, it can bring a wide variety of responses and feelings.

Art gallery owner Anthonia Ogundele wanted to explore that question, and the way black Canadians feel about it in a new art project titled, appropriately, "Where Are You From?" at her gallery, The Cheeky Proletariat.

The project compiles photos of black Vancouverites and asked them how they felt about being asked about their origins.

The idea came from a conversation Ogundele was having with artist Floyd Sinclair Sandiford that turned to the subject of their respective backgrounds.

"We joked about our experiences living here in Vancouver and being asked that question, and we thought that would be something that would resonate within the black community," Ogundele told On The Coast's Jessica Linzey.

Artist Floyd Sandiford works on one of the paintings that will be included in the installation. (Shahanah Shivji)

"I say I'm from Toronto, and they'll be like, 'No, no ,no, where are you from?' … My husband [who is white] can very easily say he's from Ottawa without having to explain his lineage. But I have to talk about where my parents are from. It's an interesting experience."

Ogundele said constant questions about her origins sometimes made her feel like she didn't belong in Vancouver, but through interviews, she and her collaborators Sandiford and photographer Shahanah Shivji found a range of feelings.

"It either brings you closer to that person, so they ask you where you're from because they went to where my parents were or to Toronto or wherever, and they want to relate to you and build that rapport," she said. "But then in other times, it's a very awkward question in the sense that it's like, 'Why do you look at it that way?'"

Some samples of the responses the project drew can be seen in the photogallery above.

"Where Are You From?" opens at The Cheeky Proletariat at 320 Carrall Street on Feb. 11.

With files from Jessica Linzey


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