Uncensored with Alexa Joy embraces Kinfolk — 'a space for us'
Why a BIPOC-centred artist-run studio is changing Winnipeg's artistic landscape for the better
"It's very important that Black folks have agency over what they do. We don't have to tell people how to do it, or when it needs to be done … we want to know how we can support the project."
Sappfyre Mcleod is a community organizer, artist and co-ordinator at Take Home, Winnipeg's first BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) gallery in the historic Exchange District.
In 2021, Take Home emerged as a BIPOC-led and centred space. Its key objectives are to provide a space for growth, development and support of BIPOC artists, through programming, exhibitions and community projects.
One collective, in particular, was the inspiration for this segment of Uncensored: Kinfolk. Kinfolk operates as an incubated collective in partnership with Take Home, and provides low-barrier access to programming and mentorship.
I met with Take Home's Sappfyre Mcleod and one of Kinfolk's resident artists, Glodi Bahati, a Winnipeg-based photographer eager to develop her practice to support and highlight Black women in her community.
"It always seemed like Black women around the city were the ones who were reaching out to me and offering support," Bahati told me. "I felt blessed by the Black folks in the art scene who have been anchors for me and very supportive."
Bahati and other Black artists in this collective make it a priority to support Black femme, trans, non-binary and queer voices in Winnipeg's art scene.
"One of the beauties of Take Home is that we understand this space isn't just for us. None of us own this space, in the sense that we exist for community," Mcleod said.
Take Home and Kinfolk are refreshing — a needed change that has reshaped Winnipeg's artistic landscape.
As a former organizer in the city, I know curating Black-centred art spaces in Winnipeg comes with challenges.
One of the things that we've done is to centre people of colour.- Sappfyre Mcleod
If not for the tireless efforts of BIPOC artist collectives like Kinfolk, I fear Winnipeg would be left in an era that refused to dismantle the eurocentrism in the Winnipeg art scene.
This common arts and institutional exclusion have often been felt among BIPOC artists, curators and arts administrators across the country. It made me think, what other barriers are operating in Winnipeg that hinder support for BIPOC artists, and how can we know if these barriers do exist?
Show us the funding
Two of the largest funding bodies for artists and arts collectives in Manitoba are the Winnipeg and Manitoba arts councils.
One of the major institutional barriers in supporting BIPOC artists is funding. Whatever art discipline it might be (i.e. installation, film, music, publishing), Winnipeg's funded arts community has historically struggled to prioritize BIPOC artist support.
In fact, the Manitoba Arts Council (MAC) committed in a 2021-23 strategic priorities report to "refine program assessment criteria that favour a Eurocentric concept of excellence to instead focus on impact."
Sappfyre said community donations helped support Take Home and Kinfolk, but funding needs to be stabilized to provide regular support for BIPOC artists.
"We're the only BIPOC physical space in the city," McLeod said. "A guiding principle for ourselves is or whiteness. For us to be successful, one of the things that we've done is to centre people of colour."
A visit to Take Home reminded me how having a space for the community to gather, curate, program events and provide room for artist development and growth goes such a long way for emerging artists and the community at large.
"My work is very personal to my experience as a Black woman, and working with other Black women felt like a sigh of relief. Finally people can see me," Bahati told me.
I hope to see more BIPOC shows exploring community, colonialism.- Glodi Bahati
Bahati then shared her hopes for the future of Winnipeg's arts community.
"I hope to see more BIPOC shows exploring community, colonialism," she said. "I want the people who are affected by those stories to tell those stories, to be in charge of that story."
Agency, support and development: key takeaways shared by the members of Take Home and Kinfolk, reminding all of Winnipeg's arts community to be mindful and think of ways to support artistic inclusion for BIPOC artists.
One thing I hope moving forward is that initiatives like Take Home and Kinfolk are additionally supported and funded, making systemic changes for BIPOC artists for generations to come.
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.