'We are here': Exhibition aims to elevate Black representation in visual arts

A pair of Londoners have curated a visual arts exhibition that showcases solely Black artists from the London area.

Amsa Yaro co-curated the exhibition featuring 14 local artists

Amsa Yaro is the co-curator of the Black Arts Exhibition, a visual arts display showcasing the work of 14 local artists. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

When she first settled in London, Ont., a decade ago, Amsa Yaro says she struggled to see others who looked like her out and about, especially in a visual arts setting. 

The Black artist knew there was a talented Black community out there, but it seemed there was a lack of events and spaces that permitted them all to be showcased under the same roof. 

That's why when the London Arts Council put a call out to sponsor Black artists, she and Londoner Malvin Wright jumped at the opportunity to curate an exhibition that would bring multiple artists together under a theme they called The Future is Now

"What we really wanted to do was answer the question, 'Where are the Black artists here in London?'" Yaro said. 

The exhibition features the work of 14 local artist ranging in ages. This piece titled 'Black IS Beautiful' is by Janelle Allan, a third year Western University student. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

"Our aim was to say, 'We want to see your face. We want to know who you are. We want to know what you're doing. We want to see your art and we want to see your talents,'" she said.

"My hope is that [this exhibition] tells Londoners that we are here."

Within a few weeks, Yaro and Wright had assembled a selection of 14 artists, from young teenage students to professional artists, who either live or have a connection to the city and are featured in the exhibition. The collection features a variety of mediums, including mixed media pieces. 

While it lacks a title, this is one of Yaro's favourite pieces from her collection. The idea came to her a few summers back. She said it was the kind of perfect summer day where people from all different backgrounds were enjoying a local festival. 'With all that happened last year from the lockdown to George Floyd, it was so heavy I just felt like I wanted to hold on to that memory of a perfect day,' she said. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC )

Despite living through a gut-wrenching year of watching racial injustices make headlines, the artists's pieces — more than 50 of them — show more than just grief.

"There was so much trauma that was going on last year, but this is not what we are all about. It's not just the traumatic experiences. We also have the moments where we throw paint on canvas and are being present and we're being joyful," Yaro said. 

"We are also not a monolith. We don't all share the same experiences, but we all do need our voices to be heard. And this is one avenue of which many of us can express ourselves." 

Titled 'Strength and Unity,' this piece by Taiwo Apampa aims to represent the diverse communities in Africa all united with the goal of peace and unity. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

The Black Visual Arts Exhibition runs until the end of the month at Sommerville 630. That space houses a number of local food vendors that are still open during the provincewide shutdown. Those picking-up take out will be able to catch a glimpse of the exhibition.

Yaro hopes this exhibition sends a strong message about Black representation in visual arts. 

"There are more of us all around, meaning that more of us are coming along with our talents, with our different personalities and with different ideas."

'Generations' by Taiwo Apampa is one of the more than 50 pieces on display. Most pieces are available for purchase. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

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.