Chelsy Monie has been working on a photo series exhibition which aims to celebrate blackness
Third-year communications and art history student at Concordia University, Chelsy Monie will present her first art exhibition, BEING, on Aug.30. The exhibition, which runs until Sept. 3, is a photography series that observes skin, bodies and hair of various black individuals in Montreal. Chelsy Monie, the art director of the project, developed this idea alongside her team: photographer Kirubel Mehari and videographers Afoali Ngwakum and Jackie Batsinduka.
Two years ago, Monie started a YouTube channel called Ubuntu Talks, which she used as a platform to celebrate blackness. “I feel that we are being misrepresented in the media and that we are portrayed in a way that I don’t agree with. So I decided to start a platform that challenges those ideas and celebrates black people by having us actually talking about our experiences,” said Monie.
Ubuntu Talks discusses people’s stories, individuals and communities that haven’t had the opportunity to speak out and share their experiences in the past.
After working on her YouTube channel, Monie decided to take Ubuntu Talks into a physical space. “I really like the idea of having something tangible. It’s not just an online platform where people can have access anytime. In this exhibition, people can come and talk to each other — it’s a physical type of experience,” she said. Monie knew she wanted to create something using photography and decided to do so by showcasing three themes: hair, skin and body. “I’m still exploring blackness, looking at people’s individuality with photography to show people that Ubuntu Talks is evolving,” said Monie.
The first theme of Monie’s exhibition is skin and the types of skin products people use. “I am amazed by skin care –you were not born knowing exactly what to put on your skin– it’s a process, a journey,” she said.
The second theme is hair; it highlights the special relationship between the hairdresser and the client. According to Monie, this can be observed while black women get their hair braided. The women are given hair extensions, which they then pass along to the hairdresser. Monie added that most times, women go to the hairdresser’s homes to get their hair done. “It’s not a surprise that you might sit on the floor and the hairdresser might sit on a couch — I’ve had interesting conversations with people about hair environments,” Monie said.
The third theme is body image, fashion and how the media portrays the black community. “The body theme is really about appearances. I’ve heard people comment about the way that I dress but this is not their place. It’s my body and I can do what I want,” said Monie. “I hope that inspires people to wear what they want and to look the way they want.”
Through Ubuntu Talks, Monie’s mission is to celebrate blackness. “I just want to show the complexities and the layers of black people because we are not given that enough. I am portraying people as individuals, I am not portraying them as a one size fits all,” she said. “I would like people to feel that Ubuntu Talks is a platform for them to be represented. If anybody has any ideas, I want them to be open and come tell me so that we can work on it,” she said.
Ubuntu Talks taught Monie that being busy is not an excuse for putting your personal ideas or projects on hold. “I find that you will always be busy, there will never be the perfect time, it never gets easier. Ubuntu Talks encouraged me to just dive into things, for the most part. If you want to do something, you should have that fire inside of you and start it as soon as possible,” she said.
It’s also important to Monie that the black community takes up space. “For the five days of the exhibition, it will be a black space, it is open to everyone, but it will be showcasing us. It’s hard to do but we need to take up space to stop letting oppressors make us feel small,” said Monie.
BEING will take place at Mainline Gallery from Aug. 30 until Sept. 3. The vernissage will be on Aug. 31 from 5:30 p.m to 10 p.m. People are encouraged to donate what they can as this is a free event. All donated funds will be used towards future projects by Ubuntu Talks. This event is wheelchair accessible.
Photo courtesy of Ubuntu Talks