Black Canadian artists do exist, as new arts movement shows

Art educator Rosalind Hampton is participating in a convention about a new black arts movement because she says she is concerned for young black Canadians' sense of self.

Canadian Black Speculative Arts Movement bringing together black artists imagining future identities

'Typical Négus' by Montreal painter Maliciouz flips a pejorative phrase about black men with one that is a royal title in Ethiopian Semitic languages. (Maliciouz)

Rosalind Hampton, a researcher in art education, is participating in a convention about a new black arts movement because she says she is concerned for young black Canadians' sense of self. 

"This perception that there are no black artists in Canada, that, as one youth told me, visual art 'isn't for black people.' Of course that's not true," Hampton wrote in an email.

"Having a Canadian Black Speculative Arts Movement coordinated by a new generation of Black Canadian artists is a crucial way to build on this increasing visibility and to determine its terms."

Right now the Black Speculative Arts Movement of Canada is helping address some of Hampton's concerns.

A convention to launch the Montreal chapter of BSAM Canada is happening Saturday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Concordia's York Amphitheatre in the university's EV Building. 
Co-founder of BSAM Canada, Quentin VerCetty and me, Nantali Indongo. (Quentin VerCetty )

An important focus of this first-time event is sharing ideas around practice and production of art and to discuss issues around spaces to exhibit and present. It will also give artists a chance to meet and make connections.

BSAM Canada looks to bring together artists of African descent in Canada, city by city, who are using their imagination to create artwork that is not based on reality.

Like in literature, speculative refers to elements of science-fiction, and in the case of BSAM, speculative also means work with elements of horror, gothic, afro-surrealism and afro-futurism.

It is a branch of the movement that already exists in the United States, founded by Reynaldo Anderson and Maia "Crown" Williams

The work in Canada is being spearheaded by Gatineau-based, Toronto-born artist Quentin VerCetty

"It's helping us to contribute to the Canadian identity, really. We just had Canada 150. Now we're talking about what does the next 150 look like," VerCetty explained in our conversation on CBC Radio's The Bridge.

The idea is to bring together artists of a variety of disciplines who are imagining black Canadian experiences and identities into the future. 
Quentin VerCetty imagines a future statue at Queens Park in Toronto. (Quentin VerCetty)

Multidisciplinary artistic movement

BSAM Montreal's convention will have three panel discussions — one with visual artists, another between scholars including Hampton and one featuring performance artists. 

There is also a marketplace featuring the work of black artisans. 

Poet and theatre producer, Kym Dominique-Ferguson and singer and composer, Elena Stoodley are both participating in BSAM Montreal's launch, while putting on the last two productions of Phenomenal 5IVE.

Phenomenal 5IVE brings together individual black female performers to combine their respective works to create one fluid piece that incorporates tap, music and poetry. 
Phenomenal 5IVE is 5 black female artists from Montreal. (Kym Dominique-Ferguson)

"Phenomenal 5IVE is an artistically political act of resistance. Punctuated by the beauty and grace of 5IVE phenomenal women, rising no matter the challenges," Ferguson said. 

"With the exception of during the talk-back, onstage you see no male presence. The presentation and handling of it are by mostly women of colour, or Afro-descended people. They embody the mandate of BSAM." 

Works by BSAM artists

Montreal artist, Maliciouz, creates work inspired by a powerful sense of self in people of African descent. This is artist's self-portrait. (Maliciouz)

"As much being an artist participating, and a visitor at this convention, it seems to me to be an extraordinary regrouping of rich and diverse art," Maliciouz said.

"I have the impression that I'm going to discover new points of views, new narratives, new ways of imagining." ​
In this watercolour drawing, artist Jamie Bradbury includes the portraits of three iconic women of African descent: Mary Seacole, Sarah Baartman, and 'Portrait d'une négresse'. (Jamie Bradbury)

"The [African] diaspora and the discussions that happen with the diaspora are so complex that I think forums like this are so important," Jamie Bradbury said.

"So that we can kind of understand that we have different histories and we have different starting points, even with our own understandings of blackness is or where we see it going in the future, especially in the Canadian context." 

Jamie Bradbury's drawing of Cree student, Bertie; a student the artist met while on residency y with Mikwchiyam in Waskaganish, Northern, Quebec. (Jamie Bradbury)

"Going up to the North is really about creating the links between Indigenous people and people of African descent" Bradbury added. "I want to create dialogue dialogue and understanding."

'La Forêt Noire', multimedia installation by Montreal-based artist Anna Jane McIntyre examines memory and human nature through an abstract soundscape, shadowy printed forest and surreal hunter's cabin. On now until Oct. 14 at MAI. (Paul Litherland)

"Movements like the BSAM arise out of a sharp need, a hole in society, something that is not being provided," Anna Jane McIntyre said. 

"I feel like things haven't radically shifted since I was a kid. Not enough. Some things are fab and some things are still highly mediocre." 

Montreal-based artist, Anna Jane McIntyre's multimedia, installation work 'La Forêt Noire' is on now at Montreal Arts Interculturel until October 14 2017. (Paul Litherland)

"I want to see an unselfconscious variety in ways of thinking and being; hybrid overlapping intermingling cultures being presented as normal and unremarkable," Anna Jane McIntyre said. 

"Especially in kids shows. It shocks me and I feel motivated to try and fill those gaps, provide alternate views." 


Nantali Indongo is CBC's Arts & Culture contributor and host of The Bridge. Follow her on Twitter @taliindongo.